Once, there was a woman named Hannah. She had a husband who loved her, but no children. And her husband’s other wife would “provoke her grievously to irritate her” (1 Samuel 1:6, ESV) because of this. It went on year after year. All Hannah wanted was a child, but she remained barren for what must have seemed like forever.
Can you relate? Do you have something for which you have longed for years? As time goes on, are you tempted to give up hope?
Hannah was so distressed that she wept bitterly and would not eat. And then she was moved to pray a hard prayer and make a brave vow.
And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” – 1 Samuel 1:11 (ESV)
After she poured out her heart to God, she “went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad” (verse 18), and worshipped, though it wasn’t until later that she knew the result of her passionate petition:
And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.” – 1 Samuel 1:20 (ESV)
Hannah’s encouragement to you: God hears.
In one of Jesus’s parables, He painted a picture of a woman whose husband had died and left her a widow. As you can imagine, life on her own must have brought all sorts of troubles and likely financial hardship. On top of this, she had an “adversary” who made her life even more difficult. And this widow wanted justice.
So she went and knocked on the judge’s door and said, “Give me justice against my adversary.” The judge turned her down. This particular judge “neither feared God or respected man” (verse 2), unfortunately for the oppressed widow. So she came again. “Give me justice against my adversary,” she said. The judge refused again.
But the widow kept coming again no matter how many times the judge said “no.” And finally, the judge said, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” (Luke 18:4-5, ESV).
Think of what it would be like to be in the widow’s shoes. At last, justice! All that persistence was worth it.
Jesus told this parable to his disciples “to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (verse 1).
And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? – Luke 18:6-7 (ESV)
The judge in the parable was unrighteous and unjust and evil and unloving, but God is righteous and just and good and loving. I think you can guess what the answer to Jesus’s rhetorical questions is.
The widow’s encouragement to you: Keep heart.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. – James 1:5-6 (ESV)
Back in the days of 1 Kings, the Israelites were having a tough time deciding whether to follow lifeless statues of the false idol Baal or the one true God, Yahweh. So Elijah decided to challenge 450 prophets of Baal to cut up a bull and lay it on wood, and Elijah would do the same. Then there was the trickier part:
And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” – 1 Kings 18:24 (ESV)
This should’ve been simple for a god like Baal who was thought to have power over lightning and fire. But the 450 prophets of Baal wailed, “O Baal, answer us!” (verse 26) from morning to noon, but there was no response at all. They went crazy and cut themselves, doing everything they could to get Baal’s attention, but Baal was silent.
Then Elijah built his own altar, and before he called out to God to set it on fire, he asked some men to pour four jars of water on the burnt offering and wood. Can you imagine what the prophets of Baal might have been whispering as they watched? “What in the world is that Elijah dude thinking? Doesn’t he know that wet wood doesn’t catch on fire? He must be loony!” Now imagine the look on their faces when they saw what Elijah did next…
And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. – 1 Kings 18:34 (ESV)
Twelve jars… That’s a lot of water! The altar was so drenched by the end of it that the water overflowed and ran around it too. I’ve tried to set fires on dry wood before and it’s not easy, so I can’t imagine what setting a fire on a soaked altar is like.
Think about how much faith Elijah had! He didn’t need to dowse it with all that water to prove Baal to be a false god, but his belief that God could burn that altar was so firm that he had twelve jars of water poured on it. And look at what happened next when Elijah prayed in faith:
And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” – 1 Kings 18:36-39 (ESV)
Elijah’s encouragement to you: Have faith.
I put this example of Elijah so you could see his faith, not so you could copy him exactly by testing God. I’ll talk more about that next week. =)
Also, I wanted to include this quote from another article I read, because if Hannah had become complacent with thinking that God had predestined her to never have a child, or the widow had become complacent with thinking that God had predestined her never to see justice, their stories would have been so different.
To say we don’t need to pray because God has determined all outcomes is as ridiculous as saying we don’t need to take medicine, work for a living, or look for a spouse because God has determined all outcomes. It is true God has determined all outcomes, but God has also determined the means by which those outcomes will take place.
Know that God hears, keep heart, and have faith, my dear Christian brothers and sisters.
What do you think?
Have any of these Bible stories encouraged you? How is your prayer life going this month? What prayers has God answered in your life?