Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Courage & Confidence

God's Word is just so amazing. It is so clearly evident that every word, every verse, every chapter, every book - from Genesis to Revelation - belongs as part of one unit. Though God inspired so many different authors over a wide span of time to pen so many different types of writings, they all work together to paint the same picture and tell the same gospel story.

One of the ways this has become most evident for me is by reading systematically through several different parts of the Bible at the same time. All at the same time, I am doing a Bible study in Matthew on my own and also teaching that to my teen Sunday School class, reading Proverbs and Exodus with my kids, and reading and studying 1 Samuel with my small group study/fellowship group.

Several weeks ago we started digging into 1 Samuel 1 and its about a woman named Hannah who is upset because she has no children. Although she is favored by her husband, he has another wife who has borne him children and she loves to rub this in Hannah's face. For years Hannah has made the annual trip with the family to the tabernacle to worship and sacrifice to God. On this occasion, "in bitterness of soul, Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord." She vowed to God that if he would bless her with a son, she'd give him back to the Lord in service at the temple.  She kept on praying in her heart; her lips were moving but she was not using her voice. The priest saw her, thought she was drunk, and told her to get out.  She corrected him: "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord." The priest tells her to go in peace and may God grant her request. At this point she has no guarantee that God will answer her request yet "she went on her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast."

Why she was no longer downcast when she left? Her prayer had not yet been answered. The Bible doesn't say that God told the priest that it would be. If you read on, you see in the next chapter that her prayer does get answered and she has Samuel. Chapter 2 includes her amazing prayer of praise and thanks to God in response.  That prayer not only reveals truths about who God is but reveals the kind of woman of faith she is and the close relationship she has with God to know those things about Him to be true. Still, going back to Chapter 1, it does not explicitly say why her frown turns upside down after she leaves the tabernacle that day.

Fast forward a few days and I was reading Matthew 15:21-28 (and same story in Mark 7) where Jesus takes his disciples outside of Israel for the first time to Tyre. A woman who is not a Jew but has obviously heard about Jesus came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession!" Jesus doesn't say anything but his disciples urge him to send her away because she kept crying out after them. Jesus responds to her that he came first to the Jews, but she falls/kneels before him and begs for him to help her. He again responds as a Jew would that she was asking for something that was the first right of the Jews. She responds that she wants it too and she should have access to what they have rejected. He then commends her for her great faith and tells her that her request has been granted and her daughter was in fact healed.

I struggled at first with Jesus' response to the woman in Matthew 15. Why did he not respond at first, and then tell her twice that he came first to the Jews, knowing she was not one. It didn't seem like his typical compassionate response. Through their conversation, Jesus clearly confirmed that he was the promised Messiah to the Jews. Although he did come to them first, many of them rejected both his claim to be the Son of God and his message of repentance and forgiveness through faith in him. He did, and still does, offer his love and forgiveness to anyone (Jew or not) who believes in their heart and confesses with their mouth that he is Lord. She proved that. But that wasn't what I really got out of this passage.

Something else hit me that helped me make sense of Hannah's situation in 1 Samuel 1. By waiting to respond the way she wanted him to, Jesus allowed her to demonstrate her faith that was strengthened the more time she spent with him and talking with him. She was not afraid to initially approach him crying out and then continued to stay in his presence kneeling before him. Granted, he did immediately grant her request because of her faith so she would have left his presence happy about that. So why did Hannah also leave happy when her request had not yet been granted? The common denominator was time spent in the presence of God, a sad heart that was poured out to Him, and desperation mixed with faith.

Having faith does not mean you never cry or experience the emotions of your situation. Who had the kind of faith that God responded to? These women who had the courage to go to God and pour out their hearts to him. One wept much and prayed in her heart when the words wouldn't come out. One cried out loud to him. One stood up and the other kneeled in his presence. They both praised him as Lord. They both purposely went to God and spent time with Him. Both were deeply troubled and full of faith. Both were encouraged because of their time spent with their Lord and both were rewarded for their faith.

If you're in need of courage and confidence then go to Jesus in prayer. Be emotional in his presence. Spend time pouring out your eyes and your heart to Him. All while praising him as Lord and believing that He will do what you ask in His name. May your face no longer be downcast, whatever the future may hold.

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