A few weeks ago I watched parts of the CrossFit Games. If you’re unfamiliar with this sport … It’s an incredible spectacle, showcasing the pinnacle of human capacity. It’s astounding to me the extreme level of training (i.e., suffering) some people are willing to endure to earn the title, Fittest on Earth.
Physical strength is beneficial. But there’s something even better: strength of soul. God wants us strong in all areas. Ultimately, he wants us whole. So here’s the question: What’s the source of your strength?
The real answer isn’t always obvious. Often it’s hard to know until trials come. Under pressure, our puffed-up “self” — which is so often running the show under the surface — is exposed.
When the source of our strength is anything other than the Lord, we’re in a dangerous territory called idolatry. Here’s a helpful definition that brings clarity to this common condition:
An idol isn’t just an ancient trinket. An idol is actually a faulty power source or power suck. It’s anything (or anybody) in your life that takes first place above God. It may give you a false sense of strength, security, or identity. Or it may drain you of energy. But when you-know-what hits the fan, you realize you’re standing on sinking sand.
The thing about strength training is that it begins with breaking. Your body must undergo stress, tension, and challenge to increase its capacity. Discomfort is required. No pain, no gain. It’s true physically and spiritually.
Pain is an opportunity for great spiritual gain. Suffering brings us face-to-face with our inability, our frailty. It helps us see the emptiness and vanity of trusting in lesser things, of trying to live on our own terms.
Living apart from God is a recipe for idolatry and chaos, whether it’s 2022 A.D. or 1105 B.C. — which is roughly when Hannah’s story in 1 Samuel takes place. (If you haven’t already, check out Part 1 and Part 2 in this blog series.)
Judges 21:25 summarizes the political and spiritual climate during this time in history:
In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.Judges 21:25 NLT
The nation lacked legitimate leadership. The priesthood was compromised. Righteousness was lacking. Idolatry was rampant. Moral relativism ran the show. It seemed as though God was silent and absent (1 Samuel 3:1).
Sound familiar at all?
I imagine Hannah could feel the weight of those dark days, punctuated by her personal pain. She waited and watched and wondered why? … why her rival was “blessed” with baby after baby while all the people in Israel did whatever they wanted. Meanwhile, she was seemingly stuck.
Despite her family’s dysfunctions, they were faithful to make the annual trip to the Tabernacle at Shiloh. This means that Hannah kept showing up, year after year. She kept going to God’s house. Behind the scenes, God was working and wooing her closer. On the surface, however, Hannah’s circumstances looked dismal, like nothing was happening … until that day she stood up to pray.
At this point, Hannah was weary and weak with zero to offer but a broken heart. Suffering will do that, breaking us down and draining our human strength. Suffering shatters all facades, idols, and religious behaviors. When Hannah could no longer hold it together, she lost her poise (pride?) and let her pain erupt.
Sure enough: Hannah’s tear-prayers triggered persecution, from the high priest of all people (1 Samuel 1:12-14). Yet I believe it was her emotional honesty that shifted the situation. Her humble condition connected her to the heart of God. As Hannah poured out her soul, she accessed a supernatural power source. I imagine God thinking: Now I can work with that!
Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he gave his disciples a promise.
“…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere…”Acts 1:8 NLT
These disciples had lived through some trauma. I imagine their heads (and hearts) were reeling. And now Jesus, who just returned from the dead, is leaving them … again. His instructions? Wait. They couldn’t step into their calling until they received special strength.
This type of strength has a name: dynamis. It means force, miraculous power, ability, abundance, power, strength, and violence. Check out these additional definitions based on this word’s biblical usage:
- Power for performing miracles
- Moral power and excellence of soul
- Power consisting in or resting upon armies, forces, hosts
When this power ignites, people will notice. Remember the first outpouring in Acts 2?
On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.Acts 2:1-4 NLT
Notice how this power manifested: sound and speech. Their words didn’t come from their own understanding or intellect. Rather, the believers spoke fiery messages from heaven, testifying about “the wonderful things God has done” (Acts 2:11).
This supernatural sound drew a curious crowd — some of whom were quick to ridicule and cry “drunk!” Undeterred, Peter preached boldly, his words pierced hearts, and 3,000 were saved in one day. Not too shabby.
Peter wasn’t strong enough or smart enough to make this moment happen. Without the Holy Spirit, our most brilliant words, our best efforts, and our finest prayers are 100 percent powerless. Jesus said that apart from him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). That’s why the Lord takes care to prune us (John 15:2). Pruning is a painful process.
The pain that comes from our Father’s pruning is unto something! God is for, not against, our fruitfulness and flourishing.
Hannah’s pain wasn’t in vain. Her sorrow created a sound — a sovereign move of the Spirit — that led to Samuel, whose name means “heard by God.” This miracle son was God’s solution for a barren nation void of God’s voice. Hannah’s struggle was so much bigger than her own empty womb. The struggle was real, but the battle belonged to the Lord. Heaven was closed over Israel; God wanted a prophet to break it open.
Keeping her vow, Hannah weaned Samuel and brought him back to the Tabernacle. Testifying in front of Eli, the high priest, she said, “I am the very woman who stood here several years ago praying to the Lord. I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and he has granted my request. Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life” (1 Samuel 1:26-28).
Wow. Can you imagine? You’re holding your miracle … and then you give it back to God. It’s a moment of full surrender. Even with arms empty, Hannah held a new strength, proven by her prayer of praise.
Then Hannah prayed:2 Samuel 2:1-2 NLT
“My heart rejoices in the Lord!
The Lord has made me strong.
Now I have an answer for my enemies;
I rejoice because you rescued me.
No one is holy like the Lord!
There is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
In her weakness, she found the true source of her strength. It wasn’t in her motherhood status, miracle son, or social standing. Her strength came from the Lord of Hosts. She knew it was God’s power alone that lifted her from the pit, giving her fresh faith and a new song.
Strength + Word = SWORD
God’s strength and his words are your sword. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). All scripture is God-breathed. His words in your mouth are a weapon against the powers of darkness.
Your strength comes from what God says, not what you see in your circumstances.
In your pain, remember the bigger picture. Instead of giving into despair, stand up in the place of prayer. Just like Hannah, God can use your messy prayers to not only change your circumstances but also the course of history! As you draw near to the Lord of Hosts, it creates space, and grace, for the Holy Spirit to give you heaven’s perspective.
Jesus makes a stunning promise in John 15.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.John 15:7 NIV
As you press in, study the scriptures, and spend time in God’s presence, he will refine you and fill you with his faith, his strength, and his words. Keep using your sword — saying, praying, singing whatever he says. This is how you strengthen yourself in the Lord. When you have nothing to offer, God gets all the glory.
Stay tuned for one more post in this series … Part 4: Your Song.
What are your go-to Bible verses, psalms, or prophetic words that you can pray back to God? What has God told you lately, and how are you stewarding his words? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.