We’ve all been told that we appreciate and enjoy things more when we have had to work for them rather than just having them handed to us. We are also familiar with the saying “Good things come to those who wait”. My question today is that, if working and waiting produce good things then why is it that we resist work and hate to wait?
I Samuel 1 doesn’t tell us any details about Hannah’s inability to have children other than, this one fact that is difficult to swallow, “the LORD had closed her womb”. We don’t know how long she and Elkannah were married before he took a second wife; we don’t know how many years Hannah had been living with her husband, his second wife and their children together. We don’t know how many tears she had wept, how many prayers she had prayed, how much advice she had received or how many times she had tried to just move on; and forget what she had hoped for, to make the best of her situation or to take her lemons and make lemonade. All we really know is that Hannah’s life had gone from simple waiting, to a waiting that was very hard work.
When a promise, a hope, or a dream is first considered we are romantic about the waiting phase. We look forward to what will be but we say things like “we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves” or that “there is joy in the journey” and so we put on a positive face and wait because we are sure that the object of what we are waiting for will be more than worth it; and if we are honest we are also pretty sure that we probably won’t have to wait too long. Do you ever wonder how many baby names Abraham and Sarah tossed back and forth during the first year or two after God promised them that they would have a son? I’m sure those first years were filled with joy and laughter about what he would look like, when he would actually come, and what it would be like to be parents rather than just masters of servants. I have often wondered what Mary must have thought about during the first 30 years of Jesus’ life. She knew He was the Messiah but she also knew He was her son. She remembered all the prophesies and promises that she had received before and after his birth: the shepherds coming after an announcement from angels, Elizabeth’s joy when she was filled with the Holy Spirit while Jesus was still in Mary’s womb, Simeon’s announcement that Jesus would bring revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Israel, she probably also wondered about what Simeon meant when he told her “a sword will pierce through your own soul also”. With both of these examples and many others, the waiting became the work. Abraham and Sarah gave up on having a child, Sarah gave Abraham her maid and said that maybe this was how they could produce God’s promise. Abraham gave Sarah away, twice, simply because he had more fear of death than he did trust in God’s promise. In Mark 3 we find Mary and Jesus’ brothers coming to find Him. They had heard what was happening, had heard what He was teaching, what He was doing and especially heard how the Pharisees and the scribes were reacting and we are told “His own people . . . went to lay hold of Him, for they said, He is out ‘of His mind’.” This wasn’t what Mary had pictured, this wasn’t what she had expected, this was not what she had been waiting for and this had now become work.
Hannah’s hope for children had become despair from barrenness, but it was more than the waiting that had taken the joy from her, it was the presence of her rival. The last time I wrote about this story I mentioned that I Samuel 1:6 says “her rival (Elkannah’s second wife, Peninnah) provoked her (Hannah) severely.” The next verse says “So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, that she provoked her; therefore, she wept and did not eat.” Hannah’s waiting had become work, there was no place she found relief because even in the places that were meant for peace Hannah’s rival had created pain. That’s what rivals do, they don’t just compete with us, they seek to undo us. Rivals strike when we are at our weakest, if there is a moment that seems as if it might bring peace they rise up and strike. Rivals have a specific purpose, they come to rob, kill, and destroy. Often they do this by provoking us, by thundering fear, anxiety, and reminders of loss; by coming with us into the places meant for peace and loudly telling us that we are the cause of our lack, by giving us a thousand thoughts about what has caused this and turning our work from waiting to wailing. Our rival wants us to believe that our task is to understand, undo, or create; when the reality is we have one major part in the harvest God has planned for His glory and men’s redemption, we are called to simply do the work of waiting. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
We are still not yet at the fulfillment of Hannah’s hopes, today we are standing where she lived a large part of her life, in the middle of the work of waiting. I personally think we have too much talk about the fulfillment at the end and not nearly enough about the need to work at waiting. If you are waiting and if you are working to wait, I want to share with you today that there is power in your toil. It is the toil that gets our hearts ready for God to use, it’s the toil that empties us of the ideas and plans that we presented to God so that we can be ready to receive the one’s that He is presenting to us, it’s the toil that breaks down stubbornness, judgment, opinions and preferences, it’s the toil that God uses to get us ready. I’ve recently tried to truly take Luke 10:2 to heart. Jesus said “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers”. I take this to mean that the harvest is ready, we are not waiting for the promise to be prepared. The Lord of the harvest is ready, we are not waiting for Him to give the word that we can go and reap. It’s the laborers, that both the harvest and the Lord of the harvest are waiting for. I definitely don’t want to say that we are the weak link, but I do want to say that whenever we say “it’s not time” it’s because we are not yet ready. This means that there is work to be done and more often than not it’s the work of waiting. If we are truly doing the work of waiting then we are not wasting time and we are not losing years, but we are, more often than not, wrestling with our rival. I hope I can encourage you to believe that there is power in your toil, don’t backtrack, don’t find a different way, and please don’t let go. I don’t know if all of your desires will be met or if all of your dreams will come true, but I do know this, our Father will not leave you weeping and fasting, He will not let your rival have the final word, and He will not let the work of your waiting go without reward. He hears, He sees, He answers, He provides, and He even quiets the voices of our rivals, but most of all He loves. You are loved while you wait, you are loved while you work, you are loved when you are being provoked and you are even loved while you weep. Even if you can’t hold on to what you have been hoping for, hold on to the One you have been hoping in, your rival won’t win and your waiting won’t last. Peace will come and hope will not disappoint, but as Romans promises the only way to get to hope is through suffering that produces perseverance and perseverance that produces character. There is power in your toil, it is the power to hope.