Overcoming Wilderness Thinking
By Laura J. Bagby
CBN.com Sr. Producer
"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
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
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 1 Samuel 2:1-21.
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
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
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.
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
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
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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