Theater banquet tonight: all the awards, accolades, tears and drama (it was a theater event, after all) have me reminiscing.

I’ll have much more to say over the next few weeks as we approach graduation, my beautiful Bethany, but right now I just want to say how proud I am of you. You have played every part, from trees and sea horses to lead roles, with passion and with excellence. You poured out your grief on the dark hills of Lockerbie, you’ve played villains and nuns, you’ve played the lonely and the funny. You’ve kept us enthralled.

Tthrough it all, you’ve been true to Jesus and have been a light to your friends. You have no idea how much I respect your walk.

I’m looking forward to the next part of your journey.

I love you, my lovely one.

Synchronize watches

After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad. – 1 Samuel 1:1-18

Have you ever longed for something so badly that it hurt?

We humans have a problem with God. At least most of us do. It’s the problem of time.

Back in the day, I remember watching spy movies or military/action movies, and there was always that moment after the mission had been fully described, when the protagonists would exchange meaningful, determined glances and then one would growl “synchronize watches”. This was before precision, digital time pieces synchronized by satellite to the atomic clock. Back in those days, people had to get their watches all set to the same time so that each member of the team would know when the next step in the mission was to occur.

Most of us love ourselves and have a wonderful plan for our lives. We’d like that plan to unfold, post-haste, and so we look to God in prayer and, though we dress it up in spiritual language, what we’re really saying is “OK God, let’s get this mission started. Synchronize watches”. Unfortunately, for many of us, God’s watch, his timing, doesn’t synchronize with ours.

It’s tough to wait. It’s tough to see others wait, especially when they look to you to tell them why God isn’t answering. Hannah had been waiting a long time to receive the son that she longed for.

A few things to keep in mind:

1. It’s not wrong to desire things of the Lord. He is the Giver of all good things. Now, I’m not saying that our desires are always good, or that everything we want is good. It’s important to ask ourselves why we desire something. The answer may surprise us. Often our desires are wrong or misguided. But it may be the case that God has placed the desire in your heart for a reason.

Yes, it’s a bad thing to look at God as a cosmic ATM, where we punch up what we want and it gets delivered. Plus, he isn’t going to demean himself and destroy you by being that for you anyway. But it is also misguided to assume that all your desires are selfish. For reasons that we’ll soon see, Hannah’s desire wasn’t.

2. Persistence and pain in prayer is normal for one seeking the Lord. Prayer is hard work. It’s harder work than most of us know. Hannah poured her soul out before the Lord. As my pastor mentioned last Sunday, one side effect of this is that it turned Hannah into a theologian. Just read the first part of 1 Samuel 2 to see what I mean. Rather than holding what’s in our heart inside, it is infinitely better to pour it out to the Lord. This is being real before God. And we learn, at his gentle hand, to sort out the ungodly desires from those that please him.

Look at the heroes of Scripture. They wept and pleaded and bled in prayer. And God used them mightily.

3. The gift is often received in faith before it is received in life. “Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.” Hannah had not yet conceived, but still the promise from God spoken through the less-than-Godly and hitherto relatively clueless prophet Eli spoke to her spirit. Hannah knew God, and so she knew when the promise was given, before she conceived. The sense of the passage is not that she mentally forced herself to believe she had received, or to claim she had the promise. She just knew.

4. God’s purposes will blow your mind. The story of Scripture is God surprising his people with the enormity and creativity of his plan. Hannah prayed urgently and with many tears for a son, and I believe this urgency was from God. And through this faithful woman God brought forth Samuel, who was such a pivotal player in the life of the nation of Israel.

God wanted Hannah to pray, and pray hard, for a son. He had plans for Israel and Samuel was extremely important to those plans. Hannah didn’t know this, but she did know the desire, and she did have a heart to take her desire to the only One who could fulfill it. As believers, we so often stand dumbfounded in the early light of the first day of the week, in the first dawn of incomprehensible joy before an empty tomb, still not understanding the promises of our Lord.

Pour out your soul to God. Give him your desires. Let him replace the ones that don’t please and honor him. Who knows what God can do through the answers you will receive?

The embiggening of the battle

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:10-12 (ESV)

Do you notice in this passage, this “finally” passage of Ephesians as Paul wraps up that glorious epistle, the “embiggening” of the battle we face as Christians?

We are more than conquerors, but we still have a battle to fight within which we will conquer. Paul is here reminding us of this, but, at least for me, he is also attempting to lift our eyes; he is getting us to see how big this battle really is.

The battle takes strength. And not our strength. We’re to be strong in the Lord, and in his strength. This battle will require armor for protection. But not our armor. His armor. And not just part of it. The whole armor of God is called for.

We’ll have to stand against our enemy. And not just any enemy. We’re standing against the evil one, the devil. And not just against the lesser parts of his power. It’s not the popularized head-spinning, green spewing, “Gettttt Outtttt”ing of pop culture demon-lore that we’re to fight, at least not usually. We’re to stand against the schemes, the “wiles” of this being who, in the category of evil brilliance, towers over every would-be human schemer and planner of evil. This enemy is Satan, who schemed Adam and Eve right out of the garden and right out of fellowship with God with a piece of fruit. That’s who we’re to stand against.

And, on a wider scale, we’re set against not just any set of enemies. Certainly not enemies of flesh and blood. If our enemies were other people – and, tragically, a lot of us live our lives as though other people are our enemies – well, that would be a battle we could probably handle on our own. But our enemies are the unseen rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, immortal and unfathomably wicked demonic forces of evil that Satan took with him when he rebelled against the Lord. And they positively hate us.

This is a big battle. Do you feel small? Powerless? I think that is half of the Holy Spirit’s desire in this passage penned through Paul. The other half of his desire is to cause us to lift our eyes to our mighty Captain, our great Savior and Lord, who has put our enemies under his feet. In him, and only in him, we are more than conquerors.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. – Colossians 2:13-15 (ESV, emphasis mine)