Her chest trembled and ached from holding in her desperation, the keening sobs quaking just below the surface, ready to explode if pushed one more inch. She sat kneeling with head bowed, her eyes transfixed on the pooling tears that gathered on her linen skirt. If only she could fix her ears as readily on something else...anything else than her rival's voice. But she could no more stop her antagonist's taunting jeers than she could her salty tears from flowing. So she sat there, stilled and unmoving, as her adversary gloated on - the fruitful wife pitting herself against the barren.
Few would have believed that one of the greatest prophets to ever live would begin his family history with such a tale of woe, but this is exactly how Samuel begins his story in the biblical book named after him. 1 Samuel begins with the story of his mother, Hannah, a woman who, although was dearly loved by her husband, Elkanah, shared him with another woman whom he also called wife, as the custom of the day allowed and almost demanded. Her name was Peninnah. And, as custom also all but demanded, Peninnah's womb was fruitful and was therefore considered blessed by God and made her a valuable asset in her culture. Hannah, however, was barren and was therefore marked by culture - both internally within herself and externally among others - as 'less than blessed,' some certainly going as far to say Hannah was 'cursed'. The one person who saw her as blessed and valued and loved, however, was her husband, Elkanah. He loved Hannah deeply and was not concerned with the cultural or familial duty of Hannah to produce a child. He loved her for who she was and to him, that was enough. For Hannah, however, it was not... Elkanah's love for her didn't heal the one thing she wanted healed: her barrenness.
The Rivalry of Blessing
The bible tells us that Elkanah had two wives. This can seem strange in a culture today that doesn't make room for such 'abundance.' But if you apply this picture allegorically to the Lord, you find that within the family of Christ, the Lord has many individual beloveds who make up the one bride. And although there should be no rivalry within our hearts towards one another, it is still too often found among us. I could spend much time writing about the rivalry of denominationalism, the rivalry of ministries, or the rivalry of traditions and doctrine...but I will leave that for someone far wiser. The rivalry the Lord has brought to the forefront for me through studying 1 Samuel 1, is the rivalry of blessing.
1 Samuel 1 says Elkanah was a devout man who yearly made pilgrimage to Shiloh to worship the Lord alongside his entire family. He would include them all in the worship experience, giving to each child and wife a gift to offer to the Lord (vs 3-4). Here within this portion of the story, we find the nature of God: God gives each one of us a gift to give right back to him in worship. It's not a pastor's job or a bishop's job or a singer's job to have something to bring for worship - in the courts of God, there is something for everyone to bring! Every woman and every man, whether old or whether young, has been given a portion of calling, a portion of ability, a portion of gifting, to offer the Lord. No one is left out of the equation! Everyone has a place in his house! God delights in all of his children and so he bestows on us all gifts to bring him.
Double Portion: Lesson One
But, the bible clearly tells us, that Elkanah gave Hannah a double portion to offer, for he loved her so (vs. 5). There are two lessons I want to leave here today regarding this passage. First, Hannah obviously had more to offer in the temple than did her rival. Did they both have gifts given to them by their husband? Yes. Were they both deeply loved by him? Yes. Elkanah's love for Hannah didn't negate his love for Peninnah and vice versa, although it surely felt like that to them at times. And here in lies the seed of the rivalry of blessing. On one hand, you have Hannah seemingly more blessed than Pennianah, for she had the greater offering in the temple. But on the other hand, you have Pennianah seemingly more blessed than Hannah, for she had the fruitful womb. Each one had there own blessing. One was not greater than the other.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:14-30, that some people have been given much and some have been given less...but we are all given something. However, this parable also encourages us to multiply whatever we have. Still, I think misunderstanding of this passage has given place to that rivalry spirit in some believers. Multiplication doesn't always mean that it will look like more by human standards. Multiplication may look like greater peace, greater joy,or greater love in our lives...not necessarily greater money, greater numbers, or greater worldly success. I believe the crux of this parable in Matthew is to just be faithful with whatever you are given. If you been given the blessing of a 'fruitful womb' in the Kingdom, then let the Holy Spirit birth through you whatever he wants to birth. Or, if you've been given the blessing of a double portion of offerings for the temple, than offer it up whole-heartedly wherever God tells you to offer it! One blessing should not be in competition with another.
And yet, you don't have to be a deep student of human nature to know that, whenever someone seems to be blessed in an area that we are not, it can give birth to jealousy, envy, and rivalry. Too often we judge ourselves as failures OR as successful based on our own definition of 'blessed.' On the one hand, we look at the blessing others have and then compare our 'lack' and feel like we don't measure up. On the other hand, we may look at the lack that others seemingly have and think that they have sinned because they don't walk 'as blessed as we do'...and therefore we, at worst, set ourselves up as something special, or at best, as someone who simply knows more than the one who suffers.
I will say that after miscarrying our little girl, I had well meaning people trying to figure out why I "lost my blessing." Suggestions of praying through my family history, of repenting of any known or unknown sins through our generational line, and other such suggestions were given to me more than once. While I appreciate people's concerns and advice, the 'blessing' of the Lord is not so cut-and-dry. Jesus says that the rain falls on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45) and that bad stuff happens to the sinners and to the righteous (Luke 13:1-5). Our need to understand the mysterious ways of God has given place to idle prayers and frankly, damaging approaches to blessing.
What we often call lack in our lives, the Lord does not. In fact, the blessing of the Lord may one day come from the very thing that breaks us presently. Some of us within the church are so busy quoting Romans 8:28, saying, "See...God doesn't cause all things...He just causes them to work together," that we miss the beauty of His sovereign lordship. To this verse in Romans I say, "Yes! It is true! God DOES NOT cause all things..." But we must come to such a point of trust in Him that we continue on to say, "Yes he doesn't cause all things....but some things he absolutely allows because he knows the treasure that waits for me on other side. Not because I've sinned. Not because I am not blessed. But because he loves me." Period.
Remember, just like Elkanah loved Hannah despite her inabilities, so the Lord loves us for who we are, and that is enough. If the Lord directs us to repentance for an issue...as he often will, it will be out of love for us. We must trust that if there is a 'lack of blessing' due to a lack of repentance, he will show us...but with that said, we must trust HIM to define what is lack and what is blessing. In Elkanah's eyes, Hannah was blessed but because of her desires and her rival's painful remarks, Hannah didn't know how blessed she was. Her barrenness had so wounded her soul, His love wasn't enough for her - she needed something else. 1 Samuel 1:8 records Elkanah as saying, "Hannah, why do you weep?...Am I not better to you than ten sons?" Just like Elkanah, the Lord desperately wants to be our all in all. He wants us to awaken to the blessing we currently posess and to stop striving for what we call success or even faithfulness. He wants his love for us to break off every rival lover, every rival blessing, and every rival need in our life.
Double Portion: Lesson Two
Once again, the bible clearly tells us, that Elkanah gave Hannah a double portion to offer, for he loved her so (vs. 5). He loved her. Earlier, I said there are two lessons I want to leave here today regarding this passage. The first is to understand we all have different levels of giftings and blessings but that it must not be an area of rivalry among us. The second lessons is this:
I believe that Hannah is a picture of the last day church. The church today in many ways is obviously very loved by God and yet barren in the things she has asked him for. We are seeking greater healings, greater miracles, greater visitation, greater outpouring....and yet we are seeing very little fruit in proportion to what has been promised. It's stirring up a desperation and a hunger (which I will talk about in coming posts) and is causing us to have to face the rival voices that taunt us from within: jealousies, doubts, religious platitudes. In other words, it's actually a good thing. This seemingly barrenness is actually positioning us to receive the implanted word of God in higher measure...but first, we must deal with our great rival: our need for greater. We need to sacrifice on the altar of worship our NEED for the greater - the greater healings, greater prophecies, and all that I mentioned earlier - and simply live for His love. I believe the last day church will be a bride that learns that His love is enough separate from His blessings. On this bride, I believe the Lord will bestow double portion. It's almost as if I see a bride who is so satisfied in love that all the blessings she desired are no longer necessary, so God gives her the very things she no longer seeks. But this is what is so special about this bride: either way, she won't care - because with or without 'the greater portion' her response is the same - unwavering, unrivaled worship of her Lord.
Now is the time to search or hearts and ask the Lord if he has any rival within us - any rival of need that secretly says 'He is not enough' or 'My blessing is not enough'. May we be the best version of Hannah to our Elkanah - Jesus. May we be found, chest trembling from boldly declaring our desperation for HIM. May we be found with unrivaled love overflowing from our lips and exploding form our hearts. May we be found kneeling, our eyes transfixed on the Husband who is our Maker, with ears silenced to every rivaling voice and open to His alone....to the voice that says, "You are loved." May we be found there at His feet, stilled and unmoving - even as our adversary gloats on - knowing that the only blessing we are seeking is still right there....lovingly, eternally, seated on His throne.