#4 The “IF Series”



TEXT:         1 Samuel 1:9-20


INTRO:       So often our frustrations with God start with, “If only…?”  We do this when we feel discouraged and confused, when it seems that God has forgotten us, or when we actually feel God has rejected us. 


There is hardly a human being living that hasn’t expressed this statement at some point in their life.  It can also be a statement to make excuses for our lack of faith and obedience.  It becomes the excuse so often to cover our failures.


How many times do we use such excuses with God?  Have you ever found yourself saying things like:


a.   “If only God would answer my prayers, I would be faithful.”

b.     “If only so and so had been a better example, I might have served the Lord.”

c.   “If only Christians weren’t so horrible some times, I might otherwise go to Church.

d.   “If only I had felt better, then I might get involved.”

e.   “If only, if only, if only….”


The lists could go on and on ad-infinitum.  Sometimes we think that being a believer means immediate answers and no pain.


ILLUS:    People seem to believe that they have an inalienable right to be happy--"I want what I want and I want it now." No one wants to wait for anything and, for the most part, no one has to anymore. Waiting is interpreted as pain. ... People walk into my office and say they are Christians, but I see no difference except that they want to be happy and now expect God to make it so.

   The problem is that, in this country, you can have what you want when you want it most of the time. ... People like the fact that they can buy a 50-foot tree and instantly plant it in their yard. Why on earth would anyone want to wait on relationships or wait on God? -- Psychologist Kim Hall, interviewed in The Door (Sept.-Oct. 1992).  Christianity Today, Vol. 37, no. 9.


We often do this with God in our prayers and with others in the church and society.  The bottom line however is that we are all responsible before God for our own actions, and responses. 


PROP. SENT:     The Bible teaches us that God asks of us to trust Him when He directs our paths, and even though we can’t always predict the outcome of our requests, we are still suppose to trust Him.  We are also called to compassionately minister to others when they are struggling with the “IF ONLY” situations in life.


I.   DEEP DISAPPOINTMENT   1 Sam. 1:9-14


A.   Bitterness!  1 Sam. 1:9-10

1.   The opening scene of this passage shows a woman named Hannah in deep bitterness of soul.

a.   Hannah lived in a culture that only brought value to a woman if she could bare children for her husband. 

(1.   While this was true in the Old Testament, it was not God’s intent that this was the most important value for a wife. 

(2.   Clearly in Genesis 2-3 God created Eve and marriage to accomplish 3 important areas of human need.

(a.    Partnership – Man was alone, and the Bible says that God looked as said, “it is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Gen. 2:18)  The FIRST reason God made a woman was to be a PARTNER, not a slave.

(b.   Pleasure – After making Eve, God presented her to Adam after making her from one of his ribs – and the first words out of Adam’s mouth when he saw Eve was, “WOW!” – and expression of pleasure.  Actually the text reads this way, “THIS IS now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” (Gen. 2:23) … the first two words translated in English “THIS IS” is a demonstrative adverb in Hebrew, the original language – and is also translated simply as “WOW!”  Pleasure was the second reason for Eve’s marriage to Adam.

(c.    Procreation – The last reason for Eve’s marriage to Adam was birthing children.  Having children wasn’t even emphasized until Gen. 3 after the fall into sin, except in general terms of them filling the earth.

(3.   The Old Testament culture had corrupted this important order from Partnership, Pleasure, Procreation in that Biblical order to Procreation, Pleasure, and Partnership last!  This made women a baby factory in order to be important in marriage.  Because of this we see Hannah here without children in great anguish.  By the way, in our culture today we have corrupted the order of Biblical marriage too, to putting PLEASURE first, then PARTNERSHIP, and last PROCREATION.  In this distortion if we no longer enjoy being married, and no longer have pleasure – we simply discard that marriage!  This corrupts the role of women too!

b.   Hannah’s deep pain is seen in these first several verses.  We find her in the Tabernacle in Shiloh weeping bitterly before the Lord in prayer.

c.   Her pain is deep, her disappointment real, and her distress wondering why God had allowed this brought her feelings of uselessness.

2.   This was a disgrace in that culture, her husband would also be disgraced without children from her.

3.   You have to wonder if her husband Elkanah mentioned in 1 Sam. 1:1-8 had asked, “If only God you would have Hannah bare me children instead of this other woman Peninnah who was his other wife.  It is clear in the early verses here that Hannah was deeply loved by him, he gave double portions to her in light of the fact that she was childless.

4.   Elkanah her husband did love her, but had accepted the pain – Hannah however always felt the loss!  They were missing the obvious sense of God doing something else in their lives.


ILLUS:     While she was enjoying a transatlantic ocean trip, Billie Burke, the famous actress, noticed that a gentleman at the next table was suffering from a bad cold.

   She asked him sympathetically, "Are you uncomfortable?" The man nodded.

   She said, "I'll tell you just what to do for it. Go back to your stateroom and drink lots of orange juice. Take two aspirins. Cover yourself with all the blankets you can find. Sweat the cold out. I know just what I'm talking about. I'm Billie Burke from Hollywood."

   The man smiled warmly and introduced himself in return. He said, "Thanks. I'm Dr. Mayo of the Mayo Clinic." -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 21.


B.   Bargaining!   1 Sam. 1:11

1.   Hannah’s grief and response of “IF YOU WILL ONLY LOOK ON YOUR SERVANT’S MISERY AND REMEMBER ME…” 1:11 revealed a heart that was attempting to bargain with God.

a.   Wow!  Don’t we do this with God too when we hit those “If only God” moments!


ILLUS:       When Gene Smith wrote his book about the life of Herbert Hoover, he entitled it The Shattered Dream. Many lesser figures have also experienced shattered dreams. In fact it is a rare person who has not, at least once in life, known a shattered dream. The question is, "Do we keep on working, do we keep on dreaming, do we keep our spirits high?" -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).


b.   There is this tendency to beg when we want something so badly! 

(1.   “If only you will answer my prayer Lord I promise I will faithfully go to church again!”

(2.   “If only Lord you answer my prayer I promise I will never do this bad habit again!”

(3.   “If only you would grant me a great job I promise to tithe!”

(4.   “If only you answer this one time, I’ll never doubt you again Oh Lord!”

(5.   “If only you would … then I would…!”

c.   How many times have you attempted to make a deal with God?

2.   Hannah was begging with a promise to have a son become a Nazirite, these were specially set aside servants of God who would never drink, never shave their head, and only serve God.

a.   A Nazirite vow in the Old Testament was usually only for a period of time, then people returned to their “normal” status or life again. (See Numbers 6:1-21)

b.   But here, Hannah is bargaining with God by promising that IF ONLY He would grant her a son, this son would be a Nazirite for life.

c.   God does not take bribes however – but He does respond in love!

3.   Notice she expanded the Nazirite vow - IF God answered her prayer, her promise for the Nazirite vow to the child’s entire life!  (1 Sam. 1:11b) “If you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life…”

4.   She was so broken!




A.   Blame!   1 Sam. 1:12-16

1.   The Priest Eli was watching this broken woman Hannah as she prayed, so desperately that even though her lips were moving, her grief made it impossible to speak the words out loud.

a.   Have you ever been so distraught that you couldn’t even speak?

b.   Hannah’s grief was so deep, for so long, that she couldn’t even make her voice heard!

c.   What was needed was someone to help her bear this burden!


ILLUS:     In Booker T. Washington's autobiography, Up from Slavery, Mr. Washington recalled a beautiful incident of an older brother's love. He said the shirts worn on his plantation by the slaves were made of a rough, bristly, inexpensive flax fiber. As a young boy, the garment was so abrasive to his tender, sensitive skin that it caused him a great deal of pain and discomfort. His older brother, moved by his brother's suffering, would wear Booker's new shirts, until they were broken in and smoother to the touch. Booker said it was one of the most striking acts of kindness he had experienced among his fellow slaves. What a beautiful illustration of "bearing one another's burdens," which we are admonished to do in Galatians 6:20. -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 117.


2.   Because of her emotional state, and Eli noticing that her lips moved, but no audible sound could be heard – he mistakenly diagnosed the situation incorrectly and assumed she must be drunk!

a.   So not only was she a disappointment to her husband in not producing children, she appears now to be a disappointment to the congregation!

b.   Even God’s servant misjudges her, something that should serve as a warning to all of us about judging others when they appear broken!

c.   The priest Eli’s response to her:  “How long are you going to stay drunk?  Put away your wine.” 1 Sam. 1:14

d.   This was now pain upon pain!

3.   Even the godliest of people can judge incorrectly!

4.   Rather than see Hannah as someone who needed ministry, who was struggling over the “IF ONLY” in life, he puts more grief on her head by assuming she is experiencing God’s judgment for sinful practices.

5.   God’s people need to be careful about jumping to judgments when we see broken people!

6.   She of course immediately corrects his bad judgment by revealing her pain.  “Not so, my Lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled.  I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.  Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”  1 Sam. 1:15-16

7.   “IF ONLY” in our hearts can cause this kind of pain, and requires a patient and loving response from us toward those who are conflicted with this kind of thinking. 


B.   Balance!   1 Sam. 1:17:20

1.   To Hannah’s credit, and to Eli’s credit, they now embrace each other emotionally and spiritually as he ministers to her with encouragement.

a.   Eli’s response shows compassion and encouragement now that he understands her pain:  “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him.”  (1:17)

b.   His understanding would help soothe her soul in not understanding God’s way with her.  When we see others struggling with “IF ONLY” (or when we struggle with this!) the best thing is for others to minister with encouragement, not judgment.

c.   Her response indicates that his positive response now with understanding helped her over the emotional pain, for she simply requests favor, not results!  “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” (1:18a)

2.   Now, her pain is at least addressed, which brought a measure of healing, even with no answer yet to the “IF ONLY” request.

a.   Notice the change in Hannah now:  “Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.” (1:18b)

b.   Even when we can’t promise an answer, we can be a comfort.

c.   She is strengthened by the positive ministry of Eli!


ILLUS:      In 1938 a hurricane threatened the New England coast. People feared that the railroad bridge at White River Junction would be destroyed. The danger was averted when some thoughtful person backed a line of loaded freight cars onto the bridge. The bridge withstood the force of the winds because of the weight that it bore. The weight of your responsibilities may rest heavily upon you, but that weight may be the very thing that keeps you from being swept away by the storm of sin. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).


C.   Blessing!  1 Sam. 1:19-20

1.   With her heart at least at peace now, she is able to come before the Lord again in worship.

a.   “Early the next morning they arose and worshipped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah.  Elkanah made love  to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her.”  (1:19)

b.   Her distress at the “IF ONLY” had made it difficult to worship, and she was alone earlier … now both she and her husband Elkanah come to the tabernacle in Shiloh and worship together!

c.   It also opened her up to love her husband and for him to love her back in a normal relationship, which might have been impacted previously by her deep distress.  The Bible is practical enough her to mention that they normal physical relationship resumed as husband and wife.  It might have been interrupted before by her distress and wondering why God had allowed all this loss in her life.  She may have been stuck in distress with both worshipping God, and loving her husband.

2.   God indeed had not forgotten Hannah, nor her husband Elkanah!

a.   God moves in and blesses Hannah by allowing her pregnancy with a son as she had requested earlier.

b.   “So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son.  She named him Samuel, saying, ‘Because I asked the Lord for him.’” (1:20)

c.   Samuel will grow into one of the most powerful men of God in the Old Testament!

3.   God delighted in blessing Hannah.

a.   And, she keeps her promise to God to raise him the way she said she would.

b.   When God comes through on fulfilling our requests, do we faithfully fulfill what we promised Him?


CONCLUSION:   It is not an always easy trusting God and His ways!  Sometimes the pain we experience when struggling with those “IF ONLY…” questions in our heart leave us broken, bargaining with God or others, and can draw unfair judgment from others.  In those times we must make our petitions known to God, but not by bribing him, but by worshipping Him.  This will bring the balance in our lives we need, and will open the door for God to do even greater things through us.  Don’t stay stuck in bitterness and grief, it will impact negatively your relationship with God, and with those closest to you as well.  God will remember you too!