It is time once again to dive down deeper into last weeks sermon. We started out in 1 Samuel chapter 1. The first 11 verses of 1 Samuel 1 are below:
“There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. 2 He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
3 Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. 4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. 6 And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7 So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. 8 And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”
9 After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 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 tells us about a man named Elkanah who had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Mark did a great job talking about polygamy in the Bible and he made a short clip about polygamy in the Bible, which you can watch here. Peninnah has multiple children whereas Hannah has no children. This created great tension between the two women. Peninnah would provoke Hannah ‘grievously’ and she did so ‘year by year.’ Matthew Henry commenting on this portion of Scripture says that: “We ought to bear one another’s burdens, not add to them.” However, not only does Peninnah neglect to bear Hannah’s burden, she sought to increase Hannah’s burdens by irritating and provoking her.
What does Hannah do under all of these burdens? She is feeling the weight of not being able to have children. She watches as her rival Peninnah has child after child after child. She has dealt with Peninnah’s cruelty year after year. Under all of these burdens Hannah, being deeply distressed goes to the Lord in prayer. Verse 10 says: “She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.” This is a powerful verse and a great example of someone who took her dirty cup of water and just poured it all out at the throne of grace. We all need to learn from Hannah and take our sorrows and our pain and our tears to the Lord in prayer. We just need to be transparent before the Lord in prayer.
I haven’t suffered that much in my life, but I will share a brief story about a small amount of suffering I went through. It is not really even suffering, just a small scare. Before I got married I was living in a small city south of Atlanta and I came back to Watkinsville to see my parents and discuss wedding plans. My Mom wanted to go for a walk in the neighborhood and she asked me if wanted to go. My Mom walks 3 miles every day and it is no joke to go walking with her. It is more like jogging. It was a nice day and we were walking rather quickly up a decent size hill in the neighborhood and all of a sudden I started having a hard time breathing. I got shortness of breath and I told my Mom that I had to stop. It was a little scary and my Mom was a little panicked. She told me to go to the doctor ASAP.
So, I rushed over to the Doctor’s office and got right in. They told me that they wanted to do an x-ray right away to make sure I didn’t have an enlarged heart or something serious. So, I went back to this dark room and they took some x-rays and then they left me alone as they went to examine the x-ray. Now in those few minutes that I was left alone in that x-ray room, do you think I was twiddling my thumbs? Do you think I was thinking about my dinner plans, or my favorite sports team? No, I was thinking about death and eternity, and I ran to the throne of grace and just poured out my heart to the Lord. In those few minutes I enjoyed sweet communion with God. I told the Lord in part that if this was the end of my life I was simply clinging to the cross, and trusting in His perfect righteousness to cover all of my sin. It was just a few sweet precious minutes in that x-ray room. The physician’s assistant and nurse came back and said everything looked fine and they prescribed an inhaler for me that I never really needed. The point is that the throne of grace is open and if anything is burdening us, anything at all, let us run quickly to the the throne of grace.
If you just had a dating relationship come to an end and are sorrowful, run with your tears to the throne of grace. Hannah ‘wept bitterly’ before the Lord. If you are single and feeling discouraged in your singleness, take it to the Lord. If you don’t like your job, or if you are unemployed and are struggling to find a job, take your frustrations to the Lord. If you are excited and happy that summer is almost here, go to the throne of grace with thankfulness to the Lord.
Gaze Upon the Beauty of the Lord
I want to go a slightly different direction for the last part of this post. I was listening to a short interview with Paul Tripp this week and he said that one of the first things we should do every day is to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. I thought this was a helpful piece of advice and I thought I would spend a few paragraphs just laying out the beauty of the Lord for us. Just to remind us who God is and who we are going to when we go to the throne of grace.
John Piper wrote a little book called Doctrine Matters and in that book he writes about ten theological trademarks from his 30 years of pastoral ministry. His first trademark “is that God is. Or to say it the way our text says it, God is who he is. Or to say it more philosophically, God absolutely is. This is the most basic fact and the most ultimate fact. Period. Of the billions of facts that there are, this one is at the bottom and at the top. It is the foundation of all others and the consummation of all others. Nothing is more basic and nothing is more ultimate than the fact that God is. Nothing is more foundational than that God is. Nothing is more foundational to your life or your marriage or your job or your health or your mind or your future than that God is. Nothing is more foundational to the world, or the solar system, or the Milky Way or the universe than that God is. And nothing is more foundational to the Bible and the self-revelation of God and the glory of the gospel of Jesus than that God is.”
Piper then asks: “What does it mean for God to be who he is?” He then includes a list of ten things in response to this question. I want to include them all here.
- God’s absolute being means he never had a beginning. This staggers the mind. Every child asks, “Who made God?” And every wise parent says, “Nobody made God. God simply is. And always was. No beginning.”
- God’s absolute being means God will never end. If he did not come into being, he cannot go out of being because he is being. He is what is. There is no place to go outside of being. There is only he. Before he creates, that’s all that is: God.
- God’s absolute being means God is absolute reality. There is no reality before him. There is no reality outside of him unless he wills it and makes it. He is not one of many realities before he creates. He is simply there as absolute reality. He is all that was eternally. No space, no universe, no emptiness. Only God. Absolutely there. Absolutely all.
- God’s absolute being means that God is utterly independent. He depends on nothing to bring him into being or support him or counsel him or make him what he is. That is what the words “absolute being” mean.
- God’s absolute being means rather that everything that is not God depends totally on God. All that is not God is secondary, and dependent. The entire universe is utterly secondary. Not primary. It came into being by God and stays in being moment by moment on God’s decision to keep it in being.
- God’s absolute being means all the universe is by comparison to God as nothing. Contingent, dependent reality is to absolute, independent reality as a shadow to substance. As an echo to a thunderclap. As a bubble to the ocean. All that we see, all that we are amazed by in the world and in the galaxies, is, compared to God, as nothing. “All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isaiah 40:17).
- God’s absolute being means that God is constant. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He cannot be improved. He is not becoming anything. He is who he is. There is no development in God. No progress. Absolute perfection cannot be improved.
- God’s absolute being means that he is the absolute standard of truth and goodness and beauty. There is no law-book to which he looks to know what is right. No almanac to establish facts. No guild to determine what is excellent or beautiful. He himself is the standard of what is right, what is true, what is beautiful.
- God’s absolute being means God does whatever he pleases and it is always right and always beautiful and always in accord with truth. There are no constraints on him from outside him that could hinder him in doing anything he pleases. All reality that is outside of him he created and designed and governs as the absolute reality. So he is utterly free from any constraints that don’t originate from the counsel of his own will.
- God’s absolute being means that he is the most important and most valuable reality and the most important and most valuable person in the universe. He is more worthy of interest and attention and admiration and enjoyment than all other realities, including the entire universe.
I think it is good to remember who God is and to gaze upon His beauty and majesty as Paul Tripp says. I think this will encourage us to go to him in prayer. Isaiah 40:28&29 remind us:
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Application and Illustration
So, how do we actually start taking our cares, sadness, and grief to the Lord in prayer? I think the answer is simply that the next time anything is bothering us, or causing us to be sorrowful, then we just take it straight to the throne of grace. Something may be bothering us right now, if so, stop reading this blog post and go to the throne of grace right this second. We just need to start actually casting our cares on him because he cares for us. Let us learn to be more like Hannah. Charles Spurgeon said that Hannah’s “sorrow drove her…into much communion with her God.” May our sorrows drive us all into much communion with God.
Lastly, I want to use an illustration from the life of Charles Spurgeon, who suffered a great deal from depression and gout. Gout is an extremely painful form of arthritis. Spurgeon wrote a letter to one of his friends and said: “Lucian says, ‘I thought a cobra had bitten me, and filled my veins with poison; but it was worse—it was gout.’ That was written from experience, I know.” In 1871 when he was dealing with terrible pain from gout, he takes it to the Lord in prayer. He said:
“When I was racked some months ago with pain, to an extreme degree, so that I could no longer bear it without crying out, I asked all to go from the room, and leave me alone; and then I had nothing I could say to God but this, “Thou are my Father, and I am thy child; and thou, as a Father art tender and full of mercy. I could not bear to see my child suffer as thou makest me suffer, and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I could to help him, and put my arms under him to sustain him. Wilt thou hide thy face from me, my Father? Wilt thou still lay on a heavy hand, and not give me a smile from thy countenance?” . . . So I pleaded, and I ventured to say, when I was quiet,…“I shall never have such pain again from this moment, for God has heard my prayer.” I bless God that ease came and the racking pain never returned.”
Let us follow the example’s of Spurgeon and Hannah and take our sorrow and pain to the Lord. Matthew Henry says that it is good for us to be at the throne of grace. He says: “In all our approaches to this throne of grace for mercy, we should come with a humble freedom and boldness, with a liberty of spirit and a liberty of speech we should ask in faith, nothing doubting; we should come with a Spirit of adoption, as children to a reconciled God and Father. We are indeed to come with reverence and godly fear, but not with terror…as if we were dragged…, but kindly invited to the mercy-seat, where grace reigns,…We have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. He is our Advocate, and, while he pleads for his people, he pleads with the price in his hand, by which he purchased all that our souls want or can desire.”
Picture from here