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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Broken bows and stumbling feet

This morning, I was re-reading the account of Elkanah and his two wives - Hannah and Penninah.  The story starts with an account of Elkanah's lineage, but quickly gives us the state of his potential legacy - Penninah had born him children, but Hannah was barren.  In the time this was written, being unable to bear children was a huge issue - for children ensured not only the continuation of a line, but the "substance" of a man's wealth, at times.  Children meant the fields could be worked, and the trade could be taught to a future generation who would provide for their families.  So, being without children was not only a big deal - it was also a thing which would cause unrest in the home.  Hannah knows she is loved very much by Elkanah - but she still longs for the privilege of bearing him a child. Hannah finds herself praying repeatedly for a child.  She longs for the honor of being a mother and to this end, she lays her heart out before God in the Temple on one of the times they come to offer sacrifices.  She is observed in her silent, but heartfelt pleadings one day by the priest, Eli, who immediately interprets she must be drunk.  Of course, she wasn't, so she explains her plight to him and he gives her a word of promise. He tells her to get up, dry her eyes and go home, for she will have her wish. Samuel is born into the family of Elkanah and Hannah - a child who would be dedicated to the service of the Lord and would become a great prophet. In her offering of Samuel back to God for his service, she prays another prayer. Today, we explore just one line from that prayer - words which reflect something I think Hannah had learned in her times of waiting upon God to bring into her life something she longed for with all her heart.  The lesson she learned:  God gives strength to all who stumble.

Our Lord, you break the bows of warriors, but you give strength to everyone who stumbles. (I Samuel 2:4 CEV)

Waiting can be serious times for all of us - often marked with a great deal of struggle and sometimes even with a little bit of stumbling.  Our faith wavers when the wait gets too long and we find ourselves sometimes even breaking the rules of what we know to be right in life.  We compromise because we think there must be some other means God wants us to use to get what it is our heart longs for.  I have observed this many a time with men and women in their singleness - thinking they will never receive the answer they so long for.  They compromise with their heart's affection and find themselves taking steps into compromises with their sexuality they promised they'd never take.  In the end, they are not only left disappointed by the failure of relationships, but by the shame of having violated themselves in those moments of doubt.  I have seen parents think there was no other way to reach a child than to continually bail them out of troubles galore, only to find the child returning to their troubles again and again. The wait for their redemption seems too long and the doubts creep in.  Although the parent knows the child needs to come to an end of their sin, they cannot allow them to "suffer" any longer, so they step in and provide an "out" for them.  In the end, the parents are faced with yet another downward spiral with the child and they go through the emotional unrest all over again.

Warriors are those who step out in battle - bold, brave, unerring in their strategies.  Warriors are taught to be strategic in their maneuvers - rehearsing them time and time again until they get them down pat.  Warriors trust in these strategies and their strength, fortitude, and abilities.  What warriors don't realize is the one who controls the battle is not impressed with his/her abilities, strength, or strategies.  The one who controls the battle is impressed with the warrior's heart and nothing else!  The warrior finds his weapons worthless in the presence of a mighty God!  Those who trust in their own abilities, strategies, and strengths will find themselves eventually at the end of their ropes - looking defeat in the face.  At that point, Hannah gives us the hope she received many years ago: God gives strength to all who stumble! When doubts enter in - God gives us strength.  When waiting becomes too long - God gives us renewed hope.  When doubling and re-doubling our efforts to be strategic in our walk - God gives us his strength, his strategy, and his ability!

We cannot overlook what else Hannah discovered, though.  God breaks the bows of the warrior.  At first, we think this is God intervening to keep Hannah safe, but I think it is much more.  I believe Hannah had come to the place of realizing her own power and ability would never "win the battle" which was raging within her mind and heart.  The "bow" she held against the fear of being childless, of possibly losing the one she loved because she could not provide what he so much desired, needed to be laid down.  SHE could not do what needed to be done - only God could.  Sometimes God breaks the bow in order for us to realize we cannot make a go of it alone and in our own strength. We are being given a second-chance.  A chance to refocus our lives on the one who makes all things and orders all things according to his purpose - squarely upon the face of God himself.  Broken bows indicate a state of vulnerability - for a warrior cannot fight without his weapons.  He becomes vulnerable.  Hannah was reminding us of our need to remain vulnerable - open to God and his direction. As long as we think we have it figured out in our own strength, ability, and strategies, we won't be open to God.  In breaking our "bow", God isn't breaking US - he is breaking INTO us!  The one who is broken is vulnerable - not because God wants "broken" people, but because in us recognizing our "lack", he can reveal to us his wholeness.  Just sayin!