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Overcoming Wilderness Thinking

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"I don't know why you continue worshipping and crying out to the Lord," the droning, impatient voice offers. "God doesn't love you. If He did, He would bless you with children. You must have sinned greatly to be so barren, and you aren't getting any younger."

Our main character, Grace, rudely awakened by these incessant ramblings, cracks open her puffy, tear-stained eyes to see an imposing figure, Penny, with a haughty smirk on her face.

"Get up!" Penny trumpets, without a flicker of kindness. "It is time to take the yearly trek. Time for you to bawl your eyes out like you always do." And off she goes with a dismissive wave and a sniff, with her precious children following behind her.

If only this were a movie script. If only this were just a fictitious story. But it isn't. It is real life. This is your life, in fact. Barren. Empty. Full of wilderness.

All your dreams seem so far out of reach. You wonder if you can even hope for them. You wonder if it is too late to ask God. Perhaps this is the impossible thing to ask. Perhaps your life will never change. You wonder if you are destined to be a cracked pot, unable to hold the precious gifts of God, relegated to the back of the shelf where all the unusable items gather dust.

If that is the way you feel, there is good news. This story does have a happy ending. How do I know? Because your story sounds so much like the story of a woman I know. You may recall it, too.

This tale has the name Hannah written all over it.

The Biblical Account

See, Grace's story is nothing more than the tale of Hannah (which means Grace) and her rival, Peninnah, or Penny for short. We find the tale in 1 Samuel 1 through .

Each year, Elkanah would take his two wives, Hannah and Peninnah, to Shiloh to present a sacrifice to God and worship the Lord at the Tabernacle there. And every year it was the same for Hannah: the same insulting comments from Peninnah; the same emptiness that her husband could never fill. She walked away with her deepest longing unmet. She desired children, yet God had not opened her womb.

Childbearing was a very important part of Middle Eastern culture during Old Testament times. Children were a source of labor for the family and a sign of success for the women who bore them. Having no children was a sign of failure, so Hannah was a marked woman, a social outcast, a loser.

Showing Up at Shiloh

Who knows how long Hannah went through the annual routine. It could have been a couple of years, or ten or more years. Maybe she went to Shiloh out of duty. Maybe she went as a means of honoring her husband. Perhaps she simply went because it was tradition. Yet Hannah went.

Put yourself in this situation. Maybe there are things you do for God that you don't have the best attitude about. Your heart isn't in it. You do your duty begrudgingly. You can't wait to get it over with. Should you wait until your heart is pure and your motives are right before approaching God and fulfilling your duty?

Our initial response might be, "Yeah, you had better get cleaned up first if you want to honor God." But if that were the case, none of us would make it even half-way to Shiloh. Half the battle in our Christian walk is showing up for the task. If we can just get into His presence, even with our downcast hearts and bitter thoughts, God can change us from the inside out so that through Him God can do miracles on our behalf.

That's what Hannah did year after year. She "showed up." She didn't wait to get cleaned up to enter the Tabernacle at Shiloh. She entered broken, resentful, bitter, unhappy, defeated. Try as Elkanah might to lift her spirits and offer her faith in God, Hannah literally couldn't stomach the whole worship ceremony. While Peninnah ate of the sacrificial portions Elkanah gave her, Hannah would have none of it. Although Hannah was there physically at Shiloh, the place considered the religious center of the nation, her mind and her heart must have been far away, lost in the rejection and shame she felt for her lowly position brought on by her barrenness.

But one year, Hannah decided to focus on God and His provision instead of dwelling on her unchanging circumstances. Instead of standing in the outer courts of praise before the throne of God, Hannah did something that brought her into the inner courtyard of God's presence: she prayed. And her relationship with God went from the possible to the personal, from inactive to active, from nominal to phenomenal.

Making Worship Personal

In verse 9 and verse 10, it notes that after supper Hannah went to the Tabernacle to pray and weep bitterly before the Lord. Why after all those years did Hannah decide to pray? Nothing had changed outwardly. Why this particular day?

Maybe Elkanah's love changed her mind and Hannah realized that if her husband still loved her though she was barren, perhaps God also loved her. Maybe Hannah recalled the words of a God-fearing neighbor or the words of one of the prophets of old. Either way, Hannah must have come to her senses. She heard the voice of her Heavenly Father calling her back to Him. She felt His presence. She believed. Deep, deep down inside of Hannah, buried under years of deferred hopes and dashed dreams was a kernel of faith, just enough to get her to the altar to plead in anguish before the only One who could change the situation. So she ran and opened the floodgates, no holds barred, as she wept honestly and profusely before God and asked God boldy for a son.

Having been beaten down and disappointed, do you find it hard to boldly and specifically ask God for something in prayer? I know I do. But here Hannah was, at the lowest point in her life, offering up a request that she had probably thought a thousand times. The Bible says we don't receive because we don't ask. Don't give up on asking for what you most desire. If it is children, ask of Him. If a husband, ask. And do it believing that God gives good gifts to those who ask because He does. He is a rewarder of all who seek Him. We shall see later that God does exactly that for Hannah.

Hannah kept wailing even when Eli the priest mistook her for a drunk and questioned her sincerity. She simply set the record straight by telling him, "I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief" (verses 15-16).

When was the last time you took your grief to the Lord? Are you prone to run away? Are you prone to stay away from the temple of the Lord and quit worshipping Him because you have experienced a great disappointment? Or have you in your pain run to the Lord and even been so transparent with Him that you can tell the truth before others --"Hey, I am hurting here"?

Satan tries to stop us from worshipping the Lord. He tries to keep us away from God's presence like Peninnah did with Hannah. But the power of God is greater. God's purposes will prevail as they did with Hannah.

Inner Healing

Eli finally realized Hannah was a God-fearing woman after all and blessed her by saying, "May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him" (verse 17). And Hannah, satisfied with his response and finally at peace with herself and her Maker after wrestling in prayer, came out the other side, full of joy and renewed purpose (verse 18).

Though Hannah didn't know when she would conceive, she reacted as if she was completely healed. God healed not just her physical body so that she could bear children, but God also restored her spirit through renewed faith and her emotional state by giving her gladness.

Isn't that just like God? He is concerned with the whole person -- body, mind, spirit, soul. And He is able to restore all parts of a person in due time.

Birth of a Promise

Speaking of in due time, Hannah did give birth. She had a son she named Samuel. And with this birth, God kept His promise.

But what about the promise Hannah made to God? In verse 11, Hannah made this vow to God: "O Lord Almighty, if you will look down upon my sorrows and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you ". After a year of weaning the babe, Hannah fulfilled her vow by giving young Samuel to Eli's care.

What a testimony! Hannah quickly learned how to hold onto God's provisions loosely, recognizing that all things are God's and are best when given back to Him. She didn't argue with God or go back on her vow. She didn't tell God that she didn't mean what she said that day. No, she gave that life away, willingly.

Hannah understood a principle that we as Christians must remember: we are given life to give it away. We pour out what God has given us -- our talents, our gifts, our money, our joy, whatever it may be -- as a blessing to the nations.

When we do this, we are not only following in Hannah's footsteps, but we are also following in the footsteps of the greatest New Testament figure ever to walk the earth: Jesus. God gave His Son, Jesus, away to be raised up as a priest, our High Priest. And Jesus is still blessing the nations as more and more are accepting His gift of life and grace.

A Brush with Greatness

Because Hannah believed God for a son and gave Samuel back to God, God did something else amazing. Not only did He allow Hannah to conceive, thus reversing her shame and giving her a new position as a mother, but God blessed Hannah's legacy. Her faithfulness to God continued on in her son, Samuel, who became a priest. Samuel was the one who later set David apart as the next king and anointed him. Jesus came from the line of David. Wow! Hannah's faithfulness didn't just impact her life and family; her faithfulness affected an entire nation!

A Double Portion

Two times Hannah got a double portion of God's blessing: She got a double portion of meat from her husband, Elkanah, every year at Shiloh (verse 5) before Samuel's birth. She also got a double portion from God in the form of more children. God gave Hannah three sons and two daughters (see 2 Samuel 21). That's five children. Hannah might not have ever experienced a large family had she not given Samuel directly to God.

Hannah: Our Response

Let's not linger at the gate of God's presence, going through the motions of worshipping God and yet holding sadness and bitterness in our hearts. Let us not be bystanders but enter into His inner courts of praise. My prayer is that we would come before the Lord, desperately falling on our faces before the One who can solve all of our problems and bless us with all that we lack in His perfect timing. Let's count ourselves as ones who have been brushed by His greatness and honored to extend His legacy however God wishes to fulfill that through us. Amen.


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About The Author


A Tennessee native, Laura first came to sunny Virginia Beach to attend graduate school at Regent University after a brief and exciting summer working in Yosemite National Park in California (whoo-hoo!). After graduating from Regent with a master's degree in communication (emphasis on film studies) and a master's degree in journalism (emphasis on photojournalism), Laura came to work for CBN as an Internet Producer. That is when she discovered she had a God-given talent for writing. Laura hopes to see the Body of Christ healed, whole, and actively pursuing a godly life full of wisdom, joy, and