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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - Hannah - Part 1

Allen Jackson - Hannah - Part 1

Allen Jackson - Hannah - Part 1

The topic, "Standing in the Gap". If you've been around church much, I suppose you've heard it. It's a familiar phrase from a passage in the prophet Ezekiel chapter 22. Said, "I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I wouldn't have to destroy it, but I found none". It's a sobering statement. God's not talking about the pagan nations or the ungodly nations. He's talking about his covenant people, the chosen people of God, and he said, "I looked for somebody to stand on my behalf before these people, on behalf of these people, and I couldn't find anybody, so now I'm gonna bring my judgment". It's a sobering, sobering statement, and every generation, it requires people to choose the Lord, in every generation; and it's equally clear that, in every generation, those people don't exist, and God's judgment comes.

So the challenge to us becomes what kind of generation will we be? Well, we make choices that bring God's best to the generations who follow us, or we make choices that bring God's judgment. That's ours. That's not about what came before us. That's up to us. Now, I used to think that "standing in the gap", really, what started this whole study for me was God began to bring a change to how I understood that phrase. I used to think that "standing in the gap" was about expressions of kindness, kind of, those random acts of kindness that life presents to you and you choose to take advantage of. You know, maybe your neighbor is out of town for a couple weeks, and you decide to mow their grass, or maybe you're baking cookies, and you bake an extra dozen, and you share them with somebody else, like Pastor, or maybe your neighbors have some family come in, or there's an illness in their family, and you bake a casserole, and you share with them.

I used to think that's what "standing in the gap" was. You just kind of were those random acts of kindness that life presents to you, and you move forward into those spaces. Now, I'm not denigrating that. I think those are all legitimate expressions of Christianity. In fact, I think, if you're not living in that way, there's reason to question the authenticity of your faith because what you believe has to be expressed in how you behave, or it's really not a belief system. It's just an idea. But I don't really think that's "standing in the gap," any longer, from a biblical perspective. The people who stand in the gap are difference-makers. They bring an outcome. They make possible an outcome that would not have happened for groups of people had they not made their God choices.

And so we've been doin' some case studies, trying to understand that, and I'm not finished with this study yet, but we're gonna bring this series to a conclusion this weekend. We'll work on it a little bit more tonight, but we'll step away from it for a little while. But I brought you a verse from Hebrews chapter 11. It's talkin' about Moses, and there's seven statements regarding Moses in this passage. I think they're worth just noting. See if you can identify 'em as I read through it. "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter". It's a pretty simple phrase, but it has enormous implications. He refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. To be the son of Pharaoh's daughter would've meant affluence and prestige and power and opportunity, a unique status in the world, and it says Moses refused that.

It wasn't that it wasn't available to him. He refused to accept it. He chose something else. He chose to be mistreated. It wasn't that he was mistreated. "He chose mistreatment along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace or he chose disgrace for the sake of Christ as of being of greater value than the treasures of Egypt. He was looking ahead to a reward. By faith he left Egypt. He persevered because he saw him who was invisible". That's a paradox, seeing what's invisible. "By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel".

Moses made a unique set of choices, not just one, not a single one, but he refused the privilege of the palace. He chose to be mistreated with the people of God. He regarded disgrace as of great value. Who knew that disgrace could have great value? He looked ahead to a reward. He didn't demand instant gratification. In faith, he left Egypt. Now, that may seem apparent to you, but he wasn't in Egypt as a slave. He was in Egypt as a very privileged person, and Egypt was the most powerful empire of his generation. He walked out of all of the prestige and privilege and opulence of Egypt into the desert. He persevered, and then, finally, he kept his faith by participating in the Passover, preventing death from his household, a remarkable character, Moses.

Now, the invitation before you and me is what kind of people will we become? And what I'm really inviting you to is a little different imagination of your faith. I think for, in recent decades, in American evangelicalism, we had a very heavy emphasis on personal salvation. Now, I believe in personal salvation. I don't wanna denigrate that or diminish that. I believe in conversion, the new birth, being born again, whichever label you prefer, but the attitude that has kind of attached itself to that is, once you have achieved that, you have achieved status. It's almost as if it's a contractual thing, and you have met your obligation, and, therefore, you can, at least, emotionally, inwardly, we tend to fold our arms and think, "I've done my God business now. I may attend a church occasionally, and I wanna be a good person and a moral person, but I believe in the forgiveness and the grace and the mercy of God, therefore, it's not really obligatory upon me to do anything else. I've met my contractual obligation".

And, to be honest, I think that's an inaccurate understanding of Scripture. Again, not to diminish the necessity of personal conversion, but the point of being initiated into the kingdom of God is that you might then serve the King. And so what I'm asking you to consider is what it would look like if you oriented your life on purpose to be a difference-maker for the kingdom of God. And I'm not signing you up for anything. We're not takin' pledges today. I think, I don't, and I'm not talking about preaching in the context of your life assignments. You can be a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker and be a difference-maker. But, first, we need to know what that means and what that would look like and what are the characteristics, so we've been doing some case studies, and I'd like to do another one with you briefly this morning.

For this week, I've chosen Hannah. The event or the circumstance that brings Hannah to our attention in Scripture is that she is childless. She hasn't been able to conceive, and it's a point of tremendous pain in her life. She's tormented within the family system that she exists because she's childless. She's heartbroken because of her own circumstances, and she's crying out to the Lord. In fact, she makes a vow to the Lord that, if he will enable her to conceive and bear a son, that she will give him to the service of the Lord, and she doesn't mean euphemistically. She means she will physically hand him over to the priests, and it's such a deep wound in her life that it's given expression in public.

Hannah lives before the temple was built in Jerusalem. Prior to that, the center of worship was still the tabernacle that was constructed in the desert, but they've occupied the land of Israel, and the tabernacle permanently resides now in Shiloh, so they make an annual pilgrimage to Shiloh, and while Hannah's there, she is crying out to the Lord with this burden on her heart, and the priest sees her, and he makes an assumption. He chastises her for presenting herself at the tabernacle in a drunken condition, and she says, "Not so, my lord. It's the burden of my heart. I was praying". And he said, "You'll conceive a child".

Well, Hannah conceives and gives birth to a son, and his name is Samuel. He becomes one of the most important characters in the Hebrew Bible. He is a person of tremendous significance in Israelite history, and it all begins with the faith and the heart of his mother, Hannah. She's a difference-maker. She is a difference-maker, and the best demonstration I know of that is in her prayer, and it's what I put in your notes. It's 1 Samuel 2 and verse 1. "Hannah prayed, and she said, 'My heart rejoices in the Lord. In the Lord my horn is lifted up.'" In the Hebrew Bible, you've read that phrase a lot that "my horn is lifted up". You can translate it more literally, "My strength is lifted up". It's the meaning of it.

"My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. There's no one holy like the Lord. There's no one besides you. There is no Rock like our God. Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed. The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength". I'll wait.

"Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry hunger no more. She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away. The Lord brings death and makes alive, and he brings down to the grave, and he raises up. The Lord sends poverty and wealth. He humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap. He seats them with princes, and he has them inherit a throne of honor. For the foundations of the earth are the Lord's, and upon them, he has set the world. He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. It is not by strength that one prevails. Those who oppose the Lord will be shattered, and he will thunder against them from the heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed".

Now, I would submit to you, that is the heart from which a life like Samuel could emerge, that Samuel was not a random occurrence, that the life he led was the result of a difference-maker named Hannah, the confidence she has in the Lord, the faith she has in God, the understanding she has. She has a revelation of God that shapes her future and her imagination of what's possible, that God isn't limited by our circumstances. She's willing to give honor and glory and praise to him. That set of statements she makes about the Lord makes her a very distinctive person. That set of statements would make you distinctive in any generation. One more passage, same chapter, just a few verses further down, give you a little more insight into Hannah's heart and her character.

After the child is old enough to be weaned and can be away from his mother, she physically takes him to the priest and presents him into their care, and we're told that she'll visit him on an annual basis when they make the pilgrimage to the tabernacle in Shiloh. It's in 2 Samuel 2:17, "The sins of the young men were very great in the Lord's sight, for they were treating the Lord's offering with contempt". I think the sentence is important because it gives you a contrast between the other young men that are under the authority of the priest. It's not a particularly stellar environment. In fact, the priests' own sons are ungodly.

So, for Hannah to take this young child and to commit him into the care of the priest was a far greater expression of faith than would be imagined at a casual read. So, "Those young men, their sin was very great," and then in verse 18, it says, "But Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy wearing a linen ephod. And each year, his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice. Eli", he's the priest, "would bless Elkanah, her husband, and his wife, Hannah, and say, 'May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord.' And they would go home. And the Lord was gracious to Hannah, and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord".

Now, I suppose we could romanticize that, and you could think of the little clothes she would take with her annual visits, and it would be a joyful reunion, and I'm certain that was a component of it, but I suspect another component of it very much was it was a season of a heavy heart, and I don't think it was lost on Hannah that the environment maybe wasn't the best. And the prayer we heard her pray, a moment ago, I'm quite confident she prayed routinely, so it's not an accident that it slipped into the text that "the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord". Not everybody that, because of the priest's influence, "grew up in the presence of the Lord," but Samuel, because of the prayers of his mother, grew up in the presence of the Lord. She's a difference-maker, and she's an important part of this puzzle that we're trying to pull together to understand.

You see, the commitment to live as a difference-maker is not about the magnitude of your life. It's not about doing big things. In fact, I'd like to take that off the table. I'm not asking you to think in scope or scale, "What great thing does God want me to do"? That's not how I understand it at all. This commitment to be a difference-maker is a commitment to faithful service of Jesus, that we will serve him in whatever place we find ourselves, and it's the story in every one of these lives: David, oh, we know he became king, but long before that, he was an outstanding shepherd, defending the flock of sheep against the wild animals, the lions and the bears. He would put himself in harm's way to take away one of the flock from one of the animals that was preying on them, long before he ever heard the name of Goliath.

And Hannah made a vow to God regarding a child that she would surrender into his care long before she had any knowledge that Samuel would be a pivotal character in Israelite history. You see, we choose faithfulness. That's what makes us difference-makers. God is the one who chooses outcomes. The outcomes are not our responsibility. Our faithfulness is what is required. God brings the magnitude. So whatever your life assignment, you're not insignificant. You're not overlooked. You say, "Well, I'm not a powerful person". It isn't my power or your power that makes the difference anyway. It's God's power in us.

Now, I wanna take the minutes we have left and share with you a list. I've been cobbling together the characteristics from these persons that we've been looking at and considering, and I'm not finished with my own study yet, so this is not a finished list, and it's very much still under development, but I brought you a handful that I wanna share with you this morning at least. And in the first of the lessons that I can identify in each of these lives that we've been looking at is that each and every one of them seem to be committed to the development of faith in their life. It's not a fixed thing. It's not established. It hasn't calcified. It's still very much a dynamic thing in them. It's growing. It's living. They're willing to operate on a need-to-know basis. It's as if they understand that they're working with a just-in-time supply line.

Now, to be candid, I don't like that. I'd like to have all of the information at the beginning, please, or I'll probably be critical of your planning process. But there's a couple of things about faith that the Scripture teaches us that we need to, I think, to have in our awareness. One is that biblical faith has a bias towards action. It's not about a thought or an idea or a concept or a theological construct. Biblical faith has a bias towards movement. Faith is expressed in action. If you say you believe something, it will impact your behavior. And if you say you believe it and your behavior isn't impacted, we have legitimate reason to question whether or not you believe it, so faith has a bias towards action. It isn't a passive thing. It isn't just a set of ideas or facts that you accumulate or a theological statement that you assemble and say, "I believe that".

Your faith is demonstrated every day in your behavior. You have faith in something. May not be faith in God, but what you have faith in is demonstrated every day. The second thing I can tell you about faith from Scripture is the Bible refers to faith as a substance. A substance. In Hebrews, it says, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for". It says that God gives to every person, a measure of faith, so it invites us to towards this, that you can, oh, it's almost as if you can quantify faith. Talks about great faith or small faith, weak faith, strong faith, no faith, that you can actually cause your faith to grow. Now, it doesn't take enormous amounts of it. You don't need a truckload of faith. Jesus said, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, the tiniest of seeds, you can move mountains".

So it's a very powerful substance. A very diminutive amount of faith can have an enormous physical impact in our world, but your choices, your life choices, either cause the substance of your faith to expand or to diminish, to grow stronger or weaker, and I think the physical analogy holds up. To gain physical strength, you need appropriate nutrition and exercise. You need both. If all you have is food, if all you do is eat and you don't exercise, you're not gonna get stronger. You're just gonna get fluffier, right? But, if all you do is exercise and you don't get proper nutrition, you're not gonna get stronger. You'll get weaker 'cause you'll deplete your resources.

Well, the same is true with your faith. If all you do is study and learn and gather information, if all you get is nutrition, if all you do is take the Word of God in and you do nothing with it, you're not gonna get spiritually stronger. You'll just get fluffy. You'll get bloated with ideas. But, if all you are is busy doing things for God but you're not really feeding yourself, if you're not letting the Word of God into your life, if you're not taking time on a daily basis to understand the character of God and the nature of God and to let that emerge in your heart, you'll deplete your resources, and you won't gain strength either. We need nourishment and exercise to gain strength. Your faith is the substance, so the activity of faith.

Now, here's what, as we're reading through these people's lives, what I see in each and every one of them is their faith is developing, and it isn't what I would prefer. 1 Samuel 16, and this is Samuel going to anoint a new king. Said, "The Lord said to Samuel, 'How long will you mourn for Saul? I rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and be on your way. I'm sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I've chosen one of his sons to be king.'" Now, Samuel is not a beginner at this point. He's mature. This is the second king he's anointed. He's been a judge for decades. He's a mature person following the Lord, and he demonstrates a faith that would not be easy for me. He says, "Okay, let's go".

We talked about it a couple of weeks ago. I wouldn't like that. I'm thinkin', if God says, "Allen, I want you to go to somebody's house, and I want you to anoint one of their kids to do something significant for me. They got eight kids. I want you to go anoint one of them. Don't anoint all eight. Don't take the shotgun approach, 'Well, I'll anoint 'em all, then God can do whatever he wants to. I wanna avoid, after all, the awkwardness of saying to the parents that "seven of your kids, not so much, but one of them, woo-hoo."'"

Right, parents? Would you be liking that if I rolled in with that message in your household? "Happy Day. Pastor's come and said one of my kids is special and seven, pretty mediocre". So it'd have been much easier to have gone there and just prayed for all the kids, right? And the truth is, if I had to, and you know, if I felt like God had put that on my heart, I'd wanna know which kid he wanted me to pray for. Seem logical to you? I mean, I know what's in the Bible, but for just a minute, just imagine you're going.

How many think, "If I really heard from the Lord, I'd have heard the whole message 'cause, if all the only part I heard was 'I want you to go over to Jesse's house and pray for his kids,' and I think, 'And?' I think, 'Well, you know, I almost thought I was supposed to go to Jesse's house, but then I didn't hear which kid, so I guess I won't go.'" But Samuel had this faith that was expressed. He had enough information to begin a journey. And in life, after life, after life, I watched these individuals allow their faith to grow by being willing to respond when they don't understand the complete picture.

And I recognize in my own heart the struggle in that 'cause I like a plan that is fully prepared at the beginning. That's called a trip, to me, otherwise, you're just wandering. But I see in them this willingness to trust the Lord. So, I think, "Okay, Lord, I'm gonna have to cultivate in you a new kind of confidence. I'm gonna have to let that grow in me a little bit. I can't use my logic as an excuse for being a nonparticipant". You do things in your life all the time without knowing the outcome. You try out for athletic teams. You parent children. You got married. You've jumped out of the plane in lots of ways, not knowing the full outcome. Why is it, when it comes to the things of the Lord, we say, "Oh, I'm not doin' that if I don't understand the ending".

The evidence that we are hearing the Word of God is that it impacts our behavior. I don't want Satan to steal his truth from our lives. Let's ask the Holy Spirit to help us put it into practice.

Father, I thank you that you sent your Spirit to help us that we not only hear your Word, show us how we can be doers, how we can give application to it in our lives at home, in the marketplace, wherever, in Jesus's name, amen.

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