Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 1 Samuel 1:6-7
In ancient times, being barren was a major affliction. I suppose it probably still is in many parts of the world. But for Hannah (and for all the other women in the Bible whose stories begin with being barren), it meant no security at all for their future. Once their husbands were gone, with no children of their own and with no ability to own property or to earn a living, they would be destitute. Desperation, then, does not begin to describe their plight.
Churches often go through seasons of desperation as well. Maybe you understand what I mean. After years of budget shortfalls and then an economic crisis, there is suddenly a severe conflict and families leaving the church, and then the sudden death of a key leader and then a moral failure on another’s part and so on and so forth…the desperation can pile up pretty quickly. Then there are the anguishing cries to the Lord, “How long will you allow this to continue?!” Month after month of praying can turn into year after year. The landscape of the church turns into a parched, dry, barren land. Heretofore strong, faithful members begin to question whether the Lord has simply lifted his hand from the church…His glory has departed…He has written “Ichabod” across the door.
In such “barren” circumstances, hope for the future is all but waned completely. It becomes impossible to even imagine a future. Only the most faithful few even remain. It can feel awfully destitute…much like Hannah no doubt …
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hopethat the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:20-23
I’ve got a growing list of questions for God when I meet Him in glory. Maybe you do as well. These are questions which I honestly do not expect to have answered this side of Heaven, but which just bother me. A little. I am honestly OK not knowing the answers in this life. I think that is part of our calling to be more and more childlike in our faith. But eventually, I really would like some answers.
I’ve got some questions, but none of my questions are more troubling than those I have heard from hurting people in the midst of unspeakable pain. As a church leader, you know the questions I mean. I hear them from people grieving the loss of a loved one, or from people lamenting their terminal disease diagnosis, or from people just generally trying to understand the utter and complete brokenness of the world in which we live. You know the questions. They all begin the same way: “Why would a loving God…?”
“Why would a loving God ever allow a child to suffer?” “Why would a loving God permit really good people to die really horrible deaths?” “Why would a loving God allow a person to be born into …
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:7-9
Is it just me? Does anybody else read these words from the Apostle Paul and remember those silly Weebles ads about “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down” (with apologies to all my international friends who all think I have finally lost my marbles!)? Weebles are those cute little Hasbro/Playskool toys with the weighted bottoms so that they literally cannot be knocked over. They are a near-perfect illustration of this revolution we call Christianity. No matter what the world tries to do to stamp it out, it just gets back up and keeps growing.
And it is that same “struck-down-but-not-destroyed” spirit which inhabits you and me as church leaders today. That is the encouraging word here from Paul to us. We are filled with this same indestructible spirit. The question is, does it feel like that to you? And if it does not, how can you recapture it?
It seems clear to me that this spirit of “indestructibility” which Paul talks about in verses 8-9 is very much tied to his “jars of clay” illustration in verse 7. In other words, it is only when we lose sight of our position as flawed and fragile vessels that we begin to set ourselves up for destruction. When we, as leaders, begin to believe people’s scouting reports on us as “amazing communicators” or “extraordinary people”, when we begin to see ourselves as being just a little bit better than most of those around us, when we tend to forget that …