I am wrestling. Wrestling with questions of who I am. Wrestling with questions of what I’m supposed to be doing. Wrestling with where I fit in. Wrestling with God.
There are many people in Scripture who wrestled, and for the next few weeks, we’ll be studying these characters, and most importantly, the character of God as He relates with the wrestlers.
If you haven’t yet, take a look at my last post, the introduction for this series of character studies.
When I began thinking of stories in the Bible about these contenders, the list was long. So many had questions and concerns and doubts and fears to overcome. So, they sought the One who overcomes. They fought through the conflicting feelings and the pride and shame until they reached truth. They wrestled with God until knew they found His heart.
It is important to wrestle. To contend. To never settle.
One of the first contenders I thought of was Hannah. Hannah’s story is found in 1 Samuel 1 and 2:1-11. Hannah was the mother of Samuel, the first prophet of Israel.
But before she had this son, Hannah wrestled:
I can relate to Hannah. Having dreams and longings remain unfilled, leaving you in grief. How can something never held, never experienced, be missed so much?
Hannah wrestled with the grief of having no children. It drove her to tears. It drove her to not eating. It wasn’t the grief of having lost, but the grief of having never had.
It is this grief Hannah wrestles with. Many women wrestle with such anguish.
We wonder why. Maybe there is something wrong with me? Perhaps I don’t deserve to have this dream come true? Could God be withholding this from me because I’m not good enough?
And what if this dream never comes true? What then? Who am I if not a professional in my dream career, if not a wife, if not a mother? What is my purpose outside of this?
As these questions roll through the mind, pain pierces the heart.
So what can we learn from the character of Hannah? How can her experience teach us in our own wrestlings? And what do we learn of the character of God?
There are key characteristics of Hannah that make her a contender as she wrestles with grief, and taking hold of these characteristics can help us in our wrestling:
Hannah expressed her grief to God
Hannah wept. She wept a lot. She wept bitterly. She didn’t hold bitterness in, but poured out her soul to the Lord.
Wrestling with God means having genuine, heart-felt conversation with Him. No facade. No mask. No pretending. God sees and knows the heart, so bear it to Him with honesty. We must be vulnerable with God because to be vulnerable is to trust. Trust that God is listening. Trust that He cares. Trust that He will provide.
Hannah surrendered ALL
Even before Hannah’s dream for a child came true, she gave that child to the Lord. Contrary to the sport of wrestling, in which one is striving to overcome an opponent, when we wrestle with God, we are striving to be overcome by the Lover of our souls. To have pride be overcome by His selfless love. To have fear be overcome by His mighty power. To have confusion be overcome by His timeless truth. To have pain be overcome by His healing grace. To have ourselves be overcome by Him. By all His majesty and glory and sovereignty. By all He is.
We are striving to surrender. To surrender all even before we have. To commit our spirit to the Spirit of Him who promises life.
Hannah stood up and kept on
Stood up. Kept on. Four simple words. Two powerful actions.
Verse 9 says that after eating, Hannah stood up. In the midst of her grief, that which threatened to swallow up and beat down, Hannah reached for God.
Verse 12 says Hannah kept on praying. After making her vow, she continued in prayer until her face was no longer downcast.
In verse 19, Hannah again stood up (arose) and worshiped. Her longing had yet to be satisfied, but she revered and exalted the Lord.
For me and you, standing up and keeping on could mean choosing joy amidst pain. It could mean choosing to see God’s blessings in the middle of hard times. It could mean getting on our knees and seeking Jesus when we want to just give up. It could mean making time to read God’s Word during the craziness and distractions of life.
Boldly approach God’s throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). Step into the light of the Ever-Present One (Psalm 89:15). Reach for the hand of Him who holds and guides (Psalm 139:10).
Stand up. Keep on.
Wrestling with God is about being overcome by Him. In Hannah’s story, certain characteristics of God are revealed:
God hears even what words cannot express
Verse 13 says Hannah was “praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard”.
Have you ever had times when you didn’t know what to pray? When you try to form words, but only sobs come? When what you’re offering to God is more of a deep sense in your spirit rather than coherent thoughts?
Romans 8:26-27 says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for [us].”
Putting your wrestling into words may be difficult. It is for me. But in those times of groaning, Jesus’ Spirit is groaning with us.
God hears even when no sound is uttered. He understands the message of the tears. He knows the contents of the offered heart.
The Lord remembered Hannah (verse 19). This is not the type of remembering we do after forgetting something. The “remembered” in this verse comes from the Hebrew word zakar. This word speaks of remembering in such a way as to never forget. It is to mark or record, to retain in thought. It is to be mindful and to think on.
God never forgot Hannah.
And He never forgets you or I.
Even when we may feel far from God, we are retained in His thoughts. We are recorded in His heart. He remembers us.
Hannah named her son Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him” (verse 20). The name Samuel sounds like the Hebrew for “heard of God.” God heard Hannah and He responded. In Hannah’s story, He responded with what she asked for: a son.
But I’m sure you (and I) can think of times in our lives when God’s response was much different than what we had asked, expected and hoped for. There are probably things for which you are still asking, and it seems God is silent. It can be hard to trust in those times. Really hard to trust.
And we may find ourselves wondering in fear, “What if the answer is no? What if after all this time of praying, I leave this life without having experienced this dream?”
If in our seeking and asking, we are firstly seeking and asking for more of God, we can be sure of Him satisfying and answering (Matthew 7:7-8). And in all our other asking's, we can be sure whatever His answer is, it is the best.
When God responds, it is not always with a granting of our desires.
But God always responds with Himself. He answers with more than a “yes” or a “no”. Even in the “no’s”, He gives. He gives love and peace and wisdom and joy. He blesses and lavishes and pours out Himself. (Ephesians 1:3-8) And that is the best “yes” we can ever receive.
As we wrestle, as we are vulnerable with God, as we surrender to Him, as we persevere, we can know God hears, we can know we do not leave His mind, we can know He will respond. We can know He will overcome.