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Loving God for life

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: 1 Samuel 1:1-11

This has been a tough week for me. It started so well. A wonderful weekend of ministry last Saturday and worship on Sunday. I was excited about this week and all it held. Then I came home from work Monday evening to find my AARP application waiting for me.

I will turn 50 later this month. I will then be half a century old. It’s a milestone worthy of reflection. Over these 50 years, what events stand out as most significant? There’s no contest: my salvation, my marriage, and the birth of our sons.

Every parent would feel the same way. There is no greater privilege in life than being a father or a mother. And no challenge more important or overwhelming. To be so responsible for another person–to be the most important influence on an eternal soul–is a daunting assignment.

If you’re a mother, you’re facing such a challenge today. The good news is that God wants to help. He wants to help every mother and every mother’s child with the burdens and responsibilities we carry. But there’s a catch, as we’ll see this morning.

How to give your child to God

Here’s the setting of our text.

Hannah had no children, in a day when this was a terrible stigma and shame. In their culture a woman’s highest privilege and responsibility was to be a mother. Women did not work outside the home, and had no social standing outside their father or husband. From the time they were small girls, they were told that their primary work in life was to raise children. But this Hannah could not do. This was literally the greatest tragedy a woman could face.

It’s still hard to want to be a mother and be unable to have children. Even today, with all the strides we’ve made in recognizing the importance of women before God and in society, it’s still hard for those who cannot be mothers. For people like Hannah in this room today, Mother’s Day is not an easy day. You have some sense of her pain and grief.

And there are others today for whom Mother’s Day is difficult. Some of you no longer have your mother with you, and this day brings back the pain of that loss and grief. Some have had mothers who were not godly. Some have experienced the pain and trauma of abortion. Some are estranged from children. Many of you know how Hannah felt.

In the face of such difficulty, Hannah did exactly what we should do–she went to God. She went directly to him, in the tabernacle which preceded the Temple, to pray.

Her intercession came from the heart, praying in “bitterness of soul” (v. 10). The Hebrew literally says that she was “weeping much in her prayer.” She prayed with such emotion that Eli the priest thought she was drunk. No rote prayer, going through a prayer list, keeping the routine.

If your mother prayed for you like this, thank God and thank her. If you’re a mother, this is your best gift for them. Godly parenting starts with godly people. Are you praying every day for your children and your witness to them?

Next, we dedicate our children to their Father (v. 11). Hannah prayed for a son so she could give him back to God. He will be a Nazirite, a very special class of people in ancient Israel. We’ll say more about them in a moment.

By promising him to the Lord’s service, she would never be able to know the joy of raising him herself. She could visit him at the tabernacle, but not be in his life every day. But she wanted God’s glory, God’s best, not her own.

Have you surrendered your children to God? Do you want him to bless your plans and ambitions for them, or can he do anything with them he wants? Can he call them to missions and ministry? Can he lead them in a direction you would never have intended? Do they belong to him before they belong to you?

Once we submit ourselves to God in prayer and our children to him in commitment, we leave the results with him (v. 18).

Hannah left the tabernacle with a deep sense of inner peace, even though she had no tangible answer to her prayer. She trusted the future to her Father, and had his peace which passes understanding as a result (Philippians 4:6-7).

So can we. So must we. Why?

Why to give your child to God

Why should you follow Hannah’s example with your most precious possessions today? With your children, or family, or future, or vocation, or dreams? The simple answer is that God can do more with your child than you can. The more your children are submitted to him, the more he can lead and bless and use them. Samuel is proof.

Hannah committed her unborn child to be a Nazirite. These were a kind of monks or nuns of ancient Israel. Numbers 6 describes their four-fold commitment: abstain from all alcohol and products of the vine, keep the hair and beard uncut, refuse to touch a dead body, and refuse all unclean food.

Some people kept this vow for 30, 60, or 100 days. Samson and John the Baptist were Nazirites; the Apostle Paul took a Nazirite vow for a period of time; and Samuel was made a Nazirite for life by Hannah.

What’s more, she dedicated him to live and work at the tabernacle. She would give him when he was “weaned” (v. 21), three years of age according to Hebrew tradition. He would then serve the Lord for the rest of his life. Levites served from the age of 25 to 50 (Numbers 8:24-25), and priests in various rotations, but Samuel would spend every day of every year in the service of God. From the time he was three, Hannah would see him only when she came to the tabernacle for worship.

And what did God do with this child given so totally to him?

Samuel would become the last of the judges, the rulers of Israel before the kings. He would become Israel’s first prophet, and one of the greatest of the prophets. He would choose and anoint Israel’s first two kings. God would use him to lead the nation, through which he would one day bring another Son to be our Savior and Lord.

Because Hannah prayed for her child, dedicated him to God, and left the results in the Lord’s hands, our lives have been affected by her commitment. And all who follow us, to the end of time.

Hannah’s story is in the Bible to model this principle: when we dedicate ourselves and our families to God, he does more with them than we can. He has a plan to prosper and not harm them, to give them hope and a future. His will is good, pleasing, and perfect.

But you already knew all that. You knew that God blesses all we submit to him, that he redeems all it costs us to follow him. But it’s hard to believe that when Samuel is your child. When God wants something you don’t want to give. When the price you must pay to be sacrificially faithful to God doesn’t seem worth it at the time.

For some of us, that commitment involves our children. There are times when we must choose between their souls and their social status, between their Father and their friends. When they are tempted by popularity at the cost of character and you must take a tough stand. When they are living one way at church and another way at school and you must step in. If you want your children to please God, there will be times when they cannot please this culture. And you’ll have a choice to make.

Your Samuel may not be a child. It may be a dream, an ambition, a job, status, something you own or want. Jesus wants to be Lord of that, and you know that he will bless what you give him. But you don’t want to. You’re secretly afraid that he won’t let you have what you want, or bless your plans, or fulfill your dreams.

Why is that? We can give God our discretionary time or income or involvement, but why is it so hard for us to surrender what we value most to him? Why are there so few Hannahs today?

Some of us don’t really trust him. We’re afraid that he won’t let us have what we want, or bless our plans, or fulfill our dreams. When I first heard the gospel I refused to trust in Jesus. I was afraid that he would make my life miserable. I pictured him as an angry judge, a kind of Cosmic Killjoy, a vengeful deity who hated sin and didn’t much like sinners. It’s hard to surrender your dreams to a God like that.

It’s hard for us to trust what we can see to Someone we can’t. Your career is real; your friends are real; your plans and dreams are real. But God is Spirit (John 4:24). You cannot prove his existence or predict his behavior. You have no proof that he will do what you want him to do with the Samuel you entrust to him. I’m the same way.

It’s far easier to please you sitting in this Sanctuary than to please the God I cannot see or prove today. You have skin on. Your affirmation is tangible and real. It’s hard to trust the Samuel I can see to the God I cannot.

Here’s my question: what more can God do to prove himself to you than he has done?

He created the heavens and the earth, and you to dwell in them. Then he entered the human race he made when his Son took on flesh. He proved his Son’s compassion on the cross and his divinity in the resurrection. He used Jesus’ first followers to start the mightiest spiritual movement in history. What can he do to prove himself to you today?

He could appear to you in the flesh, but you might later question your senses and wonder if you were hallucinating. He could answer your prayers with a divine miracle, but you could wonder if the work really was his. A relationship with God, like all relationships, is self-validating. You cannot prove a friendship until you trust it. You cannot prove that God can be trusted with your Samuel until you trust him with your Samuel.

So here’s my challenge: try his Lordship this week. Choose to surrender whatever is close to your heart today, and see what he does with it. Abstain this week from the sin which tempts you away from God, and experience the sense of integrity and holiness which will result.

Put him in charge of your career this week and watch him lead you. Ask him to parent your child this week and experience the wisdom, patience, and hope only God can give. Choose to be Hannah, and you will know that he is God.

Conclusion

Mothers, are you praying fervently for your children and family? Are you submitting them to God and leaving the results with him? Children of mothers, are you doing the same thing with your Samuel, your dream or plan or temptation or problem? If the rest of us were as surrendered to God as you are, would that be a good thing?

The shape of your child’s soul is at stake, and all the history which will follow.

Of the 69 kings in France’s history there have been only three who were truly loved and respected by their subjects–the only ones reared by loving mothers.

Sir Walter Scott’s mother was a woman of education and a great lover of the arts. So was he.

The mother of George Washington was known for her integrity of character, as was her son.

The mother of John Wesley was remarkable for her intelligence, piety, and abilities, so that she has been called the “mother of Methodism.” Through her son, she was.

John Newton’s mother prayed for her wayward, sinful son every day. Finally he came to Christ, and later wrote Amazing Grace, the most beloved hymn of all time. We have it because of his mother.

If you have a godly mother, thank God. If you are a mother, surrender your child to your Father. If you are a mother’s child, surrender your Samuel to your God. Eternity will be grateful.

We close today, as we do each Mother’s Day, with Peter Marshall’s beautiful prayer. Pray it with me:

“On this day of sacred memories, our Father, we would thank Thee for our mothers who gave us life, who surrounded us early and late with love and care, whose prayers on our behalf still cling around the Throne of Grace, a haunting perfume of love’s petitions.

“Help us, their children, to be more worthy of their love. We know that no sentimentality on this day, no material gifts can atone for our neglect during the rest of the year. So in the days ahead, may our love speak to the hearts who know love best–by kindness, by compassion, by simple courtesy and daily thoughtfulness.

“Bless her whose name we whisper before Thee, and keep her in Thy perfect peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”