The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, "As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever." Elkanah her husband said to her, "Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish his word." So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young.
Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, "Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord."
And he worshiped the Lord there.
And Hannah prayed and said,
"My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies,because I rejoice in your salvation.
"There is none holy like the Lord; there is none besides you;there is no rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and on them he has set the world.
"He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the power of his anointed."
Then Elkanah went home to Ramah. And the boy ministered to the Lord in the presence of Eli the priest.
1 Samuel 1:21-2:11
They are so much alike they are sometimes mistaken for twins. Everyone confuses them. And it's no wonder. They frequently travel together and even seem to make a point to show up at exactly the same time. Helplessness and hopelessness are nearly indistinguishable, and for the unredeemed, usually inseparable.
Like me, you have probably entertained both. You found yourself in some situation or relationship that seemed utterly futile, completely out of your control, and careening headlong toward despondency. Remember that? But that sense of utter helplessness didn't remain neutral. It wasn't sterile and contained. Pretty soon, the twin terror of loss of hope crept in. "Well, what's the use," we say, "nothing I do seems to make a bit of difference." And then we utter the mantra of our hopeless age, "Well, whatever!" We're undone by our helpless estate. Hope is gone.
But Hannah, Samuel's mom, knew the better way, the way of the redeemed. She traveled with helplessness, but knew that hopelessness mustn't join in the journey. And where did she go, this woman with deep faith and bone-crushing sadness? She went to God Almighty. She knew the eternal truth that rings throughout all of scripture. God is at work, always and everywhere. And for those who know Him, that work shines most brightly when we finally come to the end of ourselves.
Think of the stories! A man from Ur with a settled history and an extended family is told to leave all that and take off for who knows where. A young boy is sold into slavery by his own brothers. A petulant missionary finds himself in the belly of a fish, and an erudite Roman citizen sings praises chained to the floor of a filthy dungeon. The stories are legion, and the stories are true. They teach us again and again that our pernicious belief that we are in control is folly. They teach us to draw near to God.
Think of the disciples. They watched helplessly as their leader was accused, arrested, and led away to execution. There was nothing they could do. Then he breathed his last, and his lifeless, broken body was hurriedly hustled into a borrowed grave. Darkness was coming. Darkness had won. Helpless and hopeless, the fearful disciples hid out.
And then, in the central event of all of human history, the eternal torrent of hope washed over creation like a tidal wave. "He is alive!", they cried. Indeed, HE IS ALIVE. In Christ, there is "strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow."
So when you hear yourself sighing, "Well, I've done all I can do, I guess there's nothing left but to pray", remember Hannah. Remember all the others. And remember that chained, helpless, hope-filled Rabbi who reminds us all.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10