I have heard it said, and believe it to be mostly true, “Americans love success and hate successful people!” We are surrounded by a culture that is focused on success. For some, the cultural definition of success, whether that is money, position, or knowledge, is what determines a person’s value and significance in life. Yet the Bible presents a different picture of success or as I have chosen to call it, “Greatness.”
This past week we kicked off our Annual Celebrate Summer series that focuses pn the study of a New or Old Testament book. This year our focus is on the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel. It is in these recorded accounts from the end of the period of the judges and the transition into an age of a monarch that we are presented with pictures of those that realized “Greatness” and those that did not. There are many practical insights that we will glean in the next three months of this series. The focus this week was on Hannah and the birth of Samuel. Here are a few practical insights that can help us “Realize Greatness” in our lives.
Realizing greatness does not come easily or quickly. If you know the account of Hannah, you know that she was unable to produce an heir for her husband. Many scholars also believe that her infertility lead her husband to take a second wife who was very productive. This Godly woman suffered with the reality that she was barren. There was not a pill that she could take to get what she wanted. She had to trust the Lord. The text just states that her situation continued “year by year.” One top of this personal struggle she also faced the jealously of the other wife since her husband loved her more even though she was barren. It is easy for us to give up, become depressed, consumed with worry or even fall into bitterness when we fail to experience God’s presence in the midst of our difficulties. Yes, it was a difficult time. Yes, it was emotionally painful, but God had a plan. He was helping Hannah to realize true greatness through her struggle. What is true for her, is also a lesson for us today.
I also noticed in my study of this passage that “Realizing Greatness” does not mean that we are perfect. The Biblical account in 1 Samuel begins to reveal God’s plan when things just seemed to be at their worst for Hannah. It was another “family vacation,” the annual family pilgrimage to Shiloh to celebrate one of the festivals. It is implied that during their road trip the persecution from the other wife overwhelmed Hannah. It is during this time that her husband says to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad?” (1 Samuel 1:8) . The literal translation of the last question is “Why is your heart bad?” A bad heart in other Bible contexts is a bitter heart. It is an angry heart. Her husband’s questions is, Hannah we are going to worship the Lord, why do you have a bad heart? She finally cannot take it anymore and turns the Lord for help by going to the Tabernacle to seek a son from the Lord. It is there, in an encounter with Eli the High Priest, that he blessed her and says, ““Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” (1 Samuel 1:17) Something amazing happens when she brings her burden to the Lord, she is set free. I am reminded that dealing with struggles is not easy, and we do not always respond the right way, but part of realizing greatness is bringing those struggles to the Lord so that He can set us free!
-Pastor Joe Parkinson