Sermon delivered by Dr. Joel Snider, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rome, Ga., on May 10, 2009.
1 Samuel 1:21-28
First Samuel, chapter 1, is one of many of the best stories from the Old Testament, and these stories are almost too long to read the entire scripture passage. Let me bring you a brief summary on Hannah. Hannah was a good woman and mother and she had a wonderful faith. She and her husband, Elkanah, have no children. As in ancient, biblical times, there was a very rudimentary understanding of biology. In most circumstances, the blame—and it was considered blame—was placed on the woman if there were no children. The word that was used was very cruel. It was barren. She was barren. It was her fault.
If you read through scriptures, along with people like Abram’s wife, Sarah, and then Mary, the mother of Jesus’ cousin, Elizabeth, who gave birth to John the Baptist, there was a sense of curse and guilt that went along with it. It was often seen as punishment for something. “What have I done to deserve this in the eyes of the Lord?”
Hannah, in her faith, goes to Shiloh. Jerusalem did not exist as the capitol of the Jewish people at that time. The high and holy place was Shiloh. Hannah went to Shiloh and prayed there. Her prayer was so fervent that Eli, the priest, thought that anybody who acted like this must have had too much to drink. He even began to chastise her. He said, “Woman, what are you doing here acting like this? This is a place of God. You have no business being here drunk. You need to leave. You need to get out.” She confessed to him that the reason she was praying so hard and with so much emotion was because what she really wanted was a son.
I have prayed hard for a lot of things in my life, but nobody has ever thought I had too much to drink because of the way I was praying. It just indicates how hard she was praying.
What happened was Eli talked to her, she left and went home, and indeed the couple did have a son. His name was Samuel. In the next year or so, she brought Samuel back to Eli at Shiloh and gave him to God because she had made a promise to God. She said, “If you will just give me a son, I will give him to you.” So, literally, she brought her son back, along with items for an offering, and she left him there to be raised in the service of the Lord.
When we read the passage, we look for something that we can bring to today to have an understanding about what it means to be a mother, parent, and family and how we can apply this to our own lives. I would say that if you think it means you can bring your child and leave him at the church, don’t do that. We actually had that experience in our lives. It was before cell phones. I thought Cherry had Jordan and she thought I had Jordan, and we left her at the church and the church brought her back.
What do we do? Two convictions come to me through the text. The first is that children are genuinely a gift from God. God has other gifts, but children are a gift from God. In this age in which we live where so much is possible due to the advances in science and medicine, it is easier to focus more on the human medical efforts that make having children possible than it is to focus on the fact that however that life is conceived is a gift from God. I do think that the wonders in fertility are part of God’s hand in gifting us to make children possible but biology and science talk about how children come to be. It is our faith that believes why they come and that is because God gifts us with children. Whatever else we want to say about it, God is behind it and the children we have are God’s gift to us.
One of the clear things in a story such as Hannah’s, and also the stories of Sarah and Elizabeth, is that when a woman in these stories in Scripture who is unfairly considered barren, has a child, it is always a part of God’s handiwork. A child is a gift from God.
We need to remember that God is behind this and the children that we have are one of the gifts that God has given us. The first conviction is: Children are gifts from God.
In order to tell the second conviction, I need to back up and talk about gifts. How do we treat the most valuable gifts that come to us from people who love us the most? There is a school of thought that if someone gives you a gift that it is yours now and you can do with it whatever you want. If somebody gives you a gift, no strings attached, and you can break it, ruin it, or whatever, that’s no problem because it was a gift. But the truth is that the most valuable gifts that come from people that we absolutely cherish in our lives are treated a particular way.
Imagine you have a grandfather who was an attorney. He had a desk in his office that was exquisite. Whenever you went in his office and saw his law books and things he was working on, you associated that desk with your grandfather’s practice of law. Then you come to the day when you graduate from law school and your family gives you that desk. That desk is now a part of your office. How would you treat that desk?
Let’s say your mother died when you were a child and it comes time for you to get married. Your father gives you a ring and says, “This is the ring I gave your mother. I want you to use this ring in your wedding.” How would you treat that ring?
The old adage that it is a gift and you can do with it whatever you want does not hold true, does it? The value of the gift and the fact that it comes from someone who loves us so much means that that gift has a special place. We are almost honor bound to treat that gift the right way, to use it in the way that would honor the person, the memory, and the life through which it comes to us. It is like we are now responsible for the gift for the rest of our lives in order that it be used, treated, and valued the right way.
What if the gift is a child? What if the giver of the gift is God? How then do we give a gift back to God? Clearly, it is in the way we raise the child. Is what Hannah prayed for her son something that we could pray for our own children?
I made the joke about bringing your children to church and leaving them. That was the way that Hannah indicated that Samuel was given to God’s service. In so many ways, when we think about people being called to God’s service, we always want to put the disclaimer on the front end and say, “This probably does not apply to everybody, but maybe it will.” What would it be like if we truly believe that children are God’s gift to us? Do we pray that somehow our children would be used by God in God’s service and whatever way God sees fit? Do we pray, “God, use this child and teach us to raise him/her in the right way so that when the time comes, he/she will hear your voice and respond?”
We pray all kinds of things for our children. I hope he bats 300. I hope he can kick a football 80 yards. I hope she can play the piano. I hope she can dance like a butterfly. We pray all these things for our children, but do we pray in the spiritual part of their lives that they would be open to the leadership of God, to go where God would have them go and do what God would have them be? If God be God and if Christ be raised, what more could we pray for our children? What less could we pray for our children?
Those of you who are part of our church family know that I am not going to suggest that anybody force their child in this way. What I am suggesting is that you pray for the child so that if God wants to use the child that they would be raised up out of this congregation to serve wherever and however God wants them to. Instead of trying to force a family vocation or to force a vocation of status or pay or whatever it is we think would be something good for them to do in their lives, what if the first consideration were, How could God use this boy or this girl? I think we would begin to be living out the kind of faith that Hannah had. The children are God’s gift to us and then how we raise the children is the family’s gift to God. If a child is not intended to be in some full time service of the kingdom, at least when they hit the milestones in life—at age 6 when they go to school, at age 13 when they become a teenager, and at age 18 when they leave home for college—there should at least be some place in a family’s life where you say, “Have we lived out Christ for them? Do they know God is real, that prayer is a part of life, and the best achievements of their lives have been celebrated with prayer and the greatest challenges of their lives have been meet by the family joining together to seek God’s help in whatever it may be.” If God be God and if Christ be raised, why do we spend so much time on other things that don’t matter and neglect these things?
Two convictions come out of the story: (1) that children really are a gift, and (2) we are responsible to God for the way we use, treat, and raise these gifts that God has given to us. What do we do?
I think about these words of Hannah: “I prayed for this child and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord for his whole life.” For his whole life, Samuel will be given over to the Lord, and they worship God there. This is a great example on how to use the gift you have been given and how to return it to God.
Copyright 2009. P. Joel Snider. All rights reserved.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.