The Voice of the Shepherd

“His sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:4-5).

I love the story of Hannah and Samuel. We see the heart of a woman laboring under the weight of an intense, unfulfilled desire to have a son. She’s honest with God and others about the vacancy in her heart and in the end we see that a longing fulfilled is indeed a tree of life. But we also see the fight of faith she had to engage in. We witness her turmoil as three distinct voices try to discourage and defeat her before she receives her prized son.

Voice #1: The Mocking Voice. Hannah’s husband, Elkhana, actually had two wives: Hannah and Peninnah. Elkhana loved Hannah the most but she was barren. Peniniah, on the other hand, was a Fertile Myrtle; she had gobs of children! Now, in those days, women obtained much of their sense of self worth from the number of sons they bore. So even though Elkhana loved Hannah more and demonstrated it to her, she could not help but feel second-rate and inferior. And Peniniah loved to rub her nose in it.

“So Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children. Year after year it was the same-Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle” (I Sam 1:6-7).

And how did Hannah respond? “Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat” (vs. 7).

Women then were not so different from women now. How would you like it if you were barren and in response, your husband married another woman to bear his children? Polygamy was never God’s best and just as it would cause jealousy and strife in a family now, it did then, too. Wives are meant to be cherished exclusive of anyone else and the marriage covenant is to be honored even above having children. But polygamy was so prevalent at the time, even Godly men succumbed to it.

Anyway, I am sure Hannah prayed earnestly month after month that she would conceive – with no results. But all the while, she could hear Peninnah’s voice mocking her: Your husband doesn’t really love you. How could he? You’ve given him no sons! He loves me more. Or God has left you; he doesn’t hear you! There’s something wrong with you. All the other women have children and you have none!

I remember a similar voice, not of a person, but of the Enemy, taunting me as I watched friend after friend get married and I remained single: There’s something wrong with you – deeply wrong. You must have some major defect because no body will marry you. Those promises work for others, but they won’t work for you. You’re a special case. You will always be the 5th wheel. You will never be the bride.

The purpose of this mocking voice is to get us to give in to a spirit of self-pity, to become discouraged, give up and to feel rejected by God. If the devil has his way, you will build a wall between you and God and withdraw part of your heart from him. You may still go to church, read your bible and pray, but a part of your heart will be closed off, wounded and dark. You will feel inferior and unworthy and you will conclude that prayer really doesn’t work for you – at least in the areas that really matter.

Notice that Peninnah taunted Hannah the most on the way to Tabernacle! Does the Devil bother you the most when you’re on the way to church – or talking to church people? God’s people can be incredibly insensitive and we have to develop a thick skin to deflect some of the comments that come out of people’s mouths.

Has a Mocking Voice been droning in your ears, trying to weaken you and get you to stop pressing into God’s promises? The Devil loves to taunt us and parade before our eyes all the reasons why not: why God’s promises are not for us – and yet they are for everyone else. In the end, we can feel forgotten.

But hear this Voice! “Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15) This is the Voice of God, reminding you and reminding me that God hasn’t forgotten us! Sometimes when I am nursing my son, I can’t take my eyes off him. He is so lovely and peaceful when he’s latched on, gulping down sustenance. He often just falls asleep there. Those times are precious and I will miss them when he is weaned. Thoughts of forgetting him or neglecting him are absurd. He is my flesh and blood and I would kill – and die – for him. And yet God humbles me and says, “You could actually forget him BUT I will NEVER forget you!”

This is the picture God uses when trying to convey his relentless love for us. He is our El Shaddai – the Breasty One who nourishes us and supplies all of our needs. He hasn’t forgotten you – no matter how long you’ve been contending for His promises. He hears and He will supply.

The second voice Hannah heard was the Voice of Good Enough. And it came through her husband:

“Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (vs 8).

When we are praying earnestly for something we care deeply about, there will always be somebody who will tell us to just be content with what we have. Now, aren’t we supposed to be content in all things? Yes. Paul said he could be content whether rich or poor, full or hungry. So yes, we need to enjoy life, be grateful and find God’s peace even before the answer comes. But that does mean that we should deny our desires and pretend everything is ok. Scripture says that a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. That means God expects us to have longings!

If there’s a deep desire in your heart that has lingered and lingered, don’t settle for second best. Don’t put on a smiley religious face and smugly say, “Well, God is good; I don’t really need that anyway…” God is good, but be honest with yourself and honest with him! If you’re contending for a financial breakthrough, there will always be people who say, “You know, compared to Africa, America is rich!” That may be true, but God also called us to get out of debt, be generous and leave an inheritance for our children’s children! That means it is not God’s best to live pay check to pay check. That means we are supposed to have more money then we actually need month to month. So don’t settle for the “Barely Getting By” club! God has better.

This message of Good Enough came from Hannah’s husband who loved her. Similarly, the Voice of Good Enough often comes through those who know us the best – partly because they’re tired of hearing us bellyache about whatever it is we’re waiting for. They also want us to be happy and in a desperate attempt to see a smile on our face, they will actually encourage us to deny our desires and settle.

Don’t let these dear people lull you to sleep. Don’t let them entice you into letting go of the promise. Keep holding on – even if they are tired of seeing you struggle.

If you’re single, yes, find God’s contentment and peace, but if you feel in your heart that you are meant to be married, don’t settle for anything less! Don’t settle down in the Land of Good Enough. Keep pressing in until you dwell in the Land of God’s Best!

The last voice is the Voice of Judgment. And it came through Eli – the priest! “Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!” (vs 13-14)

Basically, he accused her of being in the flesh; of being excessive, needy – even sinful. He wants her to be stoic and unemotional about her prayers. But Hannah says,

“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.” (vs. 1-16)

When was the last time you prayed out of great anguish and grief? When have you wept before the Lord, revealing your deepest feelings to him?

Remember, the Persistent Widow knocked and knocked and knocked until the judge opened the door. She wasn’t stoic about it and she wasn’t passive. She was a pain in the butt – but she got results! Bear your soul before the Lord – no matter how ugly or unseemly it is. And don’t let anyone stop you.

Hannah got results. God heard her cries and He opened her womb – 6 times!

Remember, YOU are the one who has the most authority to lay hold of God’s promises for YOU! We can sometimes think that we have to get prayer from someone more spiritual than us – and sometimes it IS good to get people praying and receive strength and encouragement from brothers and sisters. But in the end, YOU can stand before God, bare your heart and see His goodness in the Land of the Living. Just keep listening to the Voice of the Good Shepherd. THAT voice and that voice alone will speak truth, encouragement and hope.