The Difficult Discipline of Waiting on God

December 21st 2023

The Difficult Discipline of Waiting on God

. . .but the Lord had closed her womb (1 Sam 1:5).

God’s Sovereignty in Our Waiting

These words refer to Hannah, the childless wife of Elkanah.

The name Hannah means grace, whereas the name Elkanah means God has created. It is interesting, if not ironic, how the meaning of those two will play out in Hannah and Elkanah’s story.

Elkanah loved Hannah (v. 5a). In fact, he loved her so much that to help assuage her despondency over her barren condition, whenever Elkanah and his family would offer sacrifices to God, he would give Hannah a double portion of whatever he gave to his other wife, Peninnah, whose name means jewel, and to her sons and daughters (v. 4).

Hannah desperately wanted children (v. 11). God knew this, of course, and though He heard Hannah’s prayers, He had not yet granted her petition. I mention that because in Genesis 4:1, Eve, whose name means life or living, after giving birth to Cain, offered sacrifices of praise to God, saying, "I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord.” By giving glory to God for her son, Eve was acknowledging God’s sovereignty in childbirth.

Let me remind you that Eve did not attend seminary. She did not come to understand the doctrine of the sovereignty of God by reading a systematic theology.

Eve’s doxological response to God was born from an innate awareness that He alone is sovereign over everything that occurs in her life—everything (Ps 103: 19; Eccl 7:14). It is that same awareness that should provide comfort to you and me as believers in Christ. As the 19th century Princeton theologian, Charles Hodge (1797–1878), said, “This sovereignty of God is the ground of peace and confidence to all his people. They rejoice that the Lord God omnipotent reigns; that neither necessity, nor chance, nor the folly of man, nor the malice of Satan controls the sequence of events and all their issues. Infinite wisdom, love, and power, belong to Him, our great God and Savior, into whose hands all power in heaven and earth has been committed.”[1]

God’s Goodness in Our Waiting

Eve understood that she and her husband Adam (Gen 2:24–25) were merely secondary agents in the birth of their son, and that the primary agent was God, realizing that children are a gift from Him. Consequently, when Eve gave birth to Cain, she rightly gave glory to the only One who was truly deserving of it—God—who gives life to all things (John 1:3; 1 Tim 6:13). The Puritan, William Romaine (1714–1795), put it this way, saying, “Whatever God gives, the humble give it back again to Him. They have the blessing; He has the praise: which is the just tribute due to Him for His gifts. And He gives more grace where He can get more glory.”[2]

You may be asking at this point, what does Hannan’s situation have to do with me? Well, remember, Hannah's name means grace. And is there any more crucial instance in our lives when you and I need the grace of God than when God doesn't respond to our prayers as we’d hoped?

In Psalm 65:2, King David says, "O You who hear prayer, to You all men come." The Hebrew phrase "all men” literally means "all flesh" or “all human beings.” Perhaps the words of Psalm 65:2 were the impetus for Hannah, though greatly distressed and weeping bitterly (v. 10), to nevertheless go to God repeatedly with her petition. Hannah's situation is similar, in precept, to that of the widow in the parable of the unrighteous judge (Luke 18:1–8). And though God was merciful in answering Hannah's petition for a son, He is no less merciful when He does not answer our prayers as we would like (Ps 145:9; Lam 3:22–23; Mic 7:18; Eph 2:4).

God’s Wisdom in Our Waiting

Waiting on God can be a difficult discipline to learn. Nevertheless, we must guard ourselves against pride, and learn to genuinely—from the heart—accept when God, in His sovereign wisdom and omniscience, says no to our requests. Refusing to accept when God says no has led many believers to make unwise decisions and choices that they’ve come to regret. I say this from personal experience.

Sometimes God says no to our prayers (2 Cor 12:7–10). It is the Lord God alone who either opens wombs or closes them.

Only God is God; we are not (Deut 4:35, 39; Isa 45:5a).

What prayer are you waiting on God to answer? Perhaps you've been praying a long time that God would bless you with a child, or a new job, or to restore your broken marriage, or bring your unbelieving spouse to faith in Him. Perhaps you're struggling with a habitual sin, or with being single, and you’re wondering if God will ever answer your prayer for a godly spouse.

Whatever the desires of your heart may be (Ps 37:4), my humble counsel to you is this: go to God with your petitions (Phil 4:6; 1 John 3:21–22), whatever they may be, and pray that He would give you the grace to not only wait on Him, but to resist the fleshly urge to circumvent His will if He says no to your requests, for that would be disobedience (Luke 6:46; Jas 1:14–15).

Remember Hannah.

Wait on God, trusting Him as you wait, assured that He knows what you need before you ask Him (Matt 6:32b; 1 Pet 5:6–7).

[1] (§ 15, paragraph 4). [2] (paragraph 6, sentence 4).

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Author: Darrell Harrison