Why does God sometimes withhold the one thing we long for so desperately?
ALL THROUGH the Church there are Christians who live in sorrow. They’re not necessarily poor. They don’t lack health or friends or pleasure. But there is something, perhaps just one thing, which they yearn for. It’s a blessing they can never obtain by their wits, schemes, perseverance, or charm. Only God can grant it. Nevertheless, for some reason God refuses to answer yes.
Though they pray, though they ask others to pray, though they listen to tapes, read books, and even slip into manipulation and threats on occasion, nothing changes.
I think of Judy. A vivacious, kind woman. She sings, dances, and organizes special events at church that all enjoy. She’s attractive and interesting. She has an excellent career. But unlike many women today who live happy and productive lives singly, she wants a husband. Yet, she is approaching her late thirties and has not found a man she feels would be right for her. She’s struggled with depression, anger, frustration, and simply learning to wait. She’s even “given it over to the Lord.” It would be easy to tell her, “He’ll come along,” or “Look at it as a blessing.” But I have also known that loneliness. It’s an ache.
I think of Doug. Converted several years ago, he is zealous, exuberant, excited about Jesus. But the shrill cry of his heart is, “Lord, bring my family to Jesus. Don’t let them perish.” His father is old. His mother is embedded in religious ritual. There isn’t much time left. But God seems not even to have moved, let alone converted.
I think of others. Chuck – out of work, yet nothing opens up. Don and Mary – strong Christians, but their teenaged children reject Christ and the faith. Brenda – her alcoholic husband shows no interest in the gospel, Jesus, or even her love.
And I think of Hannah, the woman “oppressed in spirit” (1 Sam. 1:15, NAS). She knew well what it was to cry for God’s blessing and to watch her prayers crash to the ground in resounding no’s from Heaven.
Have you been there?
Often, you’re obsessed with that one desire. You can’t shake it. Even though you tell yourself, “What’s it matter? It’s only a little thing,” it doesn’t work. It is the only thing that matters.
Hannah’s desire for a child built in her mind over the years to a gigantic crescendo. As she aged, she became deeply depressed. While some women would have gritted their teeth and plodded on, Hannah was ready to give up. The question seemed to screech through her mind daily: Will I die never having brought a child into the world? For her, life wasn’t worth living if she couldn’t become a mother.
If your happiness is marred by a deep longing, I have good news for you: The desire for and delay of God’s blessing – of any kind – can actually launch you into a deeper and greater fellowship with Him. Why does God sometimes delay, sometimes withhold, a legitimate blessing? Hannah’s story offers us much insight into the problem.
TO DEVELOP HOLINESS
God was more concerned about making Hannah a woman of God than a mother for God. Becoming a mother isn’t difficult. It’s turning mothers into the likeness of Jesus that takes work.
Scripture teaches that God is sovereign. Paul tells us in Eph. 1:11 that He “works all things after the counsel of His will.” He is Lord of all. Nothing that comes to pass surprises Him, catches Him off guard, or stumps Him. He planned it all from beginning to end. Nothing escapes His scrutiny and control. He’s in charge.
Applied in Hannah’s circumstances, this means that not only was God aware and concerned about her problem, but He, in His perfect wisdom, had planned it this way for His own purpose: the development of holiness in her life.
We all tend to rebel against this truth. “You mean God made her barren?” “You mean He put her through all that pain?” “You mean God is the cause of all this trouble?”
Yes, it was part of His plan. In order to develop character in Hannah, God orchestrated the events of her life toward that end. To bring about true godlikeness in her life, He withheld the blessing.
Look at the byproducts of Hannah’s time of trial: patience, endurance, a fervent prayer life, intimate knowledge of God, a passion for holiness. Would these things have come apart from her pain? In order to produce a Samuel, God first had to produce a Hannah.
TO TEACH US PERSISTENCE
Hannah’s experience brought out a second truth about why God delays His blessing. Wanting a blessing teaches us to persist. Hannah soon discovered there was no one who could help her but God. The doctors offered nothing. Her friends had given up. Even her own husband, who was normally so supportive, finally came to the place where he said, “Am I not better to you than ten sons?” (1 Sam. 1:8). Hannah found there was only One who could do anything about her problem.
Yet, although God seemed to refuse to bless, to say no to her requests, Hannah kept coming back. Verse 3 says they came “yearly.” Same prayer. Same requests. Same hope. Same answer. She didn’t give up.
In this regard, many Christians fall prey to a satanic ploy that says, “Well, I prayed about it. God didn’t answer. So I guess it’s not His will.” And they give up. But is that what God intends?
The lack of a speedy answer to prayer is no reason for laziness in prayer. Many times we see people in Scripture pleading with God, believing they could influence His decisions. It wasn’t that they thought they could change His eternal will. They didn’t know His will! No one knows God’s eternal will until it’s history. There is never a reason to think, Whatever He wants will be. So why pray? Rather, Hannah thought, This is what I want, Lord. You said, “Ask.” So I’m asking.
As a sophomore in college in 1970, I wanted to buy a car. My father and I talked about it at length. We considered an MG, but he reminded me that I’d only be able to take one passenger to and from school. We cruised around the used car lots looking for my dream machine.
One lot featured a 1959 Dodge. “A good family car,” the salesman told us. Dad liked it. I nixed it. We looked at another MG. “Too much money,” said Dad. I said, “I can get a loan.” “From who?” he asked. I gave him a long, mournful look, then gave up.
Then one day someone called and told Dad about a lady who was selling a 1965 white Ford Mustang. “Four on the floor, 289 four barrel, less than 40,000 miles. Creampuff condition. It’s for you.” He raced me over. We checked it out, drove it around. I had to have it. We bought it, and I screeched off into the sunset.
I often think of seeking God’s blessing as like that time with my dad. It’s a process of working together. There’s give and take. There’s discussion, examination, hope, despair, a crisis, a climax. Prayer is an earnest discussion between two persons who love one another. You work out a solution to a problem that both believe is the wisest course. Had Hannah not gone through a time without blessing, she might never have learned to pray with power.
TO GIVE US GOD’S BEST
That brings us to a third principle: Lacking God’s blessing for a time may lead to far greater blessing up ahead.
God loved Hannah so much that He wouldn’t give her second best. He could have landed six kids in her lap by the age of sixteen. But He made her wait, for a reason. He wanted her to bear a Samuel. Not just some nameless kid like Peninnah’s boys. Samuel, a prophet of God. Sometimes God’s best blessing is the one preceded by the greatest pain. God loves us too much to let us get the goods too easily.
My friend Bill Scott told me about a birthday he had as a child. For years he had begged his parents for a horse. But as time wore on, he gave up on it. Shortly before his twelfth birthday, his Dad asked him what he wanted. “Blue jeans,” he said.
When he pranced downstairs on the morning of his birthday, he was ready to tug on those blue jeans. But his father simply asked him to go out to the barn. Bill asked where his present was. “You’ll get it,” Dad said. “But go out to the barn first. Make sure there’s plenty of hay.”
Bill was upset. He wanted those blue jeans. He threw such a corker, his dad finally said to his mother, “We’d better get this guy some blue jeans.” She rushed him out and bought a pair.
Dressed in his Levi finery, he was ready for the barn. He ambled out and discovered a horse in the stall by the hay, saddled and ready to go. He ran back to the house and shouted, “There’s a horse out there.” “Right,” said Dad. “It’s yours, Bill. For your birthday.” Bill was astonished. He wanted blue jeans, and his father wanted to give him a horse.
You have to think about that. We fight God all the time about such things. We want what we want when we want it! And God doesn’t want to give us what we want. He wants to give us the things we can only dream about.
What blessing are you seeking now? How long have you waited? Two years? Five? Ten? Maybe you need to ask, “What is God trying to give me that I haven’t thought about?”
In the end, Hannah’s lack of a blessing became one of God’s greatest blessings. God withheld lesser blessings to give her the greatest of all: not just a son, but holiness, intimate knowledge of God, a sweet and gentle spirit.
So what blessing are you seeking that God simply refuses to give?
Perhaps the real question is, what do you see God doing in your life now that proves it’s worth the wait?
Mark R. Littleton
Discipleship Journal, Issue 46, 1988.