God + One

God + One

Judges 7

James C. Denison

“Extinguish Lights” is a bugle melody played by the military for nearly two centuries to signal the end of day and call soldiers to bed. It was apparently first played at a military funeral during the Civil War, and has since come to be identified especially with that purpose.

A government resolution adopted eight years ago asks each of us to pause on Memorial Day at three o’clock tomorrow afternoon to remember all those who died in the service of our country. The resolution asks us to spend that moment in silence or in listening to “Taps.” We will do both today.

This morning we will listen to another trumpet call as well, one which predates “Taps” by 32 centuries. For 40 days after Easter we celebrated the gospel, the good news that God loves us. Now we’re learning how to experience that good news personally, wherever we need God’s help and hope today.

On Mothers’ Day, Hannah taught us to surrender our Samuel, giving our best to God, believing that he can do more with us than we can do with ourselves. Last week, David taught us to ignore our critics and trust God’s power over God’s enemies, believing that a slingshot in God’s hand is mightier than the tallest giant.

Now you and I are called to the kind of courage which will follow this God unconditionally. All through Scripture, it takes courage to find the power and victory of God. It took courage for Moses to face down Pharaoh and march across the parted Red Sea. It took courage for Joshua and his people to step into the flooded Jordan River and march around the fortified city of Jericho.

It took courage for David to face Saul, for Daniel to face his lions, for Peter, James and John to leave their boats to fish for men. It took courage for Paul and Barnabas to leave Israel with the gospel for the Gentile world. It took courage for John to worship Jesus on the prison island of Patmos.

Where do you need courage today? Are you fighting an enemy more powerful than you? Facing a future you cannot see? Struggling with temptation you cannot seem to defeat? Carrying grief or guilt which is too heavy for your heart? Called by God to serve him at personal sacrifice?

What is his next step for your walk with him? If it didn’t require courage, you’d already have taken it. How do we find courage to follow God? One of the most fascinating stories in Scripture will give us the answers we need.

Seek God’s help

As our text begins, we find the Midianites at war with the children of Israel.

Midian was a son of Abraham (Genesis. 25:2). His descendants had good relations with the Hebrews in the time of Moses but soon became Israel’s fierce enemies. They were a nomadic people, camping to the southeast of Israel in the region of the Sinai Peninsula today and roaming far and wide.

These desert nomads had large herds of camels (Isaiah 60:6), the battle tanks of the day. With their help, the Midianite soldiers were far faster than the farmers who made up the footsoldiers of the Hebrew army.

Judges 6 describes their devastation: “They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it” (vs. 4-5).

When they exhausted the resources of one area they moved on to another. They conquered, enslaved and killed the people they met along the way. They were human locusts, taking what they wanted wherever they went. Now they threaten the very existence of the Hebrew people.

For seven years they have oppressed the Jewish nation (Judges 6:1). God has raised up Gideon as his “judge” and deliverer; his name means “one who cuts down the enemy.” But only 32,000 farmers and other civilians will help him fulfill his name, going to battle against 135,000 battle-hardened warriors in the Midianite army (Judges 8:10).

Who or what are the Midianites in your life today? In what way are you being oppressed or discouraged? Identify the enemy for which you need God’s help and guidance this morning. Repent of the self-reliance which is so endemic to our culture. Admit that you need your Father’s strength and direction. And know that nothing is too great or too small for his help.

Pursue his glory

Now we come to the crucial battle. It begins in the strangest way imaginable: “The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands'” (Judges 7:2). When was the last time a general faced this problem? Imagine a pastor saying to his deacons, “We have too much money for our ministries this year.” Or a mission leader saying to missionaries, “We have too many people for that mission field.” Yet that is precisely what God said to what must have been an astounded Gideon.

Remember the size of their foe: “The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore” (v. 12).

No wonder the place where the Hebrew army camped came to be known as the spring of “Harod” (v. 1), a word which means “trembling” in Hebrew. Picture a vast army filling an entire valley, its tanks as numerous as sand on a seashore, and you’ll get a sense of Gideon’s problem. Any wise general would want all the men he could muster in attacking such a foe.

But the outcome of the battle was not in question, for God had already promised, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together” (Judges 6:16). In question was whether his people would learn something significant from the victory they were about to gain. Whether they would depend on themselves or learn to trust in the one true Lord. Whether they would follow Gideon or follow God.

The Lord’s motive was clear: he would work “in order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her” (Judges 7:2b). God will not share his glory. To allow us to trust in anyone but him would be to encourage idolatry. His glory is always to our good.

So he instructed Gideon to reduce the size of his army in two ways.

First, he was to release any of the men who “trembles with fear” (v. 3), reducing the 32,000 member force to 10,000.

But still the army was sufficient to believe that it won the victory in its own strength, so the Lord required a second test. He led them to the spring of Harod; those who “lapped with their hands to their mouths” were to stay, while those who knelt at the water and drank with their mouths were dismissed (v. 6). The former were more ready for battle, with one hand at their sword. The latter were on their hands and knees, easy victims for attack. This second reduction left Gideon with 300 soldiers, who picked up the provisions and trumpets of the others (v. 8).

Our tour groups stood at this very spot last month. The area is unprotected and susceptible to assault. The very act of leading an army, already reduced by 66 percent, to this unsafe place where they could be reduced by another 97 percent, was implausible in the extreme. But this is what it would take for God to be glorified by Gideon’s army.

Now God wants you to do what Gideon did at your own spring of Harod. Name your Midianites, your problem or challenge or burden or decision. Ask this question: what would most glorify God in this? How could you most honor him? What would bring the most people to faith in him? What would most show his power and grace to the world? Ask him, and he will show you. Then decide to do that, by his help and for his glory. Do it today.

Trust his deliverance

Now Gideon and his tiny army were ready for battle. They were outnumbered beyond belief. But they had the high ground at the hill of Moreh, so that “the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley” (v. 8). And they were prepared to attack “at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard” (v. 19).

The Jews divided in the night into three “watches”: sunset to 10 p.m., 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., and 2 a.m. to sunrise. So the Midianite army would have just gone to sleep when the battle began. The strategic advantage was Gideon’s.

These decisions did not cause the rout of the Midianite armies, however. A crucial strategy was giving each of the 300 men a trumpet to blow and an empty jar with torches inside to hold (v. 16).

The “trumpet” they used was a ram’s horn, an instrument sounded to signal soldiers into battle or retreat. Not many were used for an army, as the person playing the shofar could not defend himself at the same time and was obviously easy for the enemy to identify. An opposing army hearing such a loud blast, right on their camp, would obviously assume a much larger force than Gideon’s army possessed.

Like the trumpets, the torches were carried only by a small number of troops in a conventional army. They made it difficult for the soldier to wield a sword or shield, and exposed his position to enemy attack. Nighttime hand-to-hand battles were more effectively waged in the darkness as well. A large number of torches would be counterproductive to the army’s success.

What torches the army required were kept in clay jars so they would remain lit but their flames low; in this way the army could creep up in the night undetected. When they broke the jars, the sudden flames surrounding the Midianite camp would be a second indication of a massive army on their perimeter.

Note that the Hebrew army held their torches in their left hands and their trumpets in their right hands (v. 20a). They had no sword or shield in hand when they began their battle, only the sword of their mouths: “they shouted, ‘A sword for the Lord and for Gideon'” (v. 20b). Gideon’s army was reduced by 99 percent, and those who remained for the battle were completely unarmed. Has any army ever waged a more unconventional battle?

What was the result? The entire Midianite army was routed. They had no time to light their own torches, and were too far from Gideon’s to see those around them. And so they attacked each other in the night, probably assuming that the Hebrews had run into their camp and were at their side (v. 22). Not to mention a likely stampede on the part of the frightened, massive camel herd.

What was the final military tally? The Midianites lost more than 135,000 men (Judges 8:10), defeated by an army which began their assault with 300 in number. The Midianite threat against Israel was destroyed, finally and forever. All because one man was willing to give his problem to God, seek his glory, and trust his power. And God was glorified by one of the most stunning, unlikely victories in military history.


On this Memorial Day weekend we stop to give thanks for the courage of more than a million men and women who died while serving our nation in a time of war. Every one of them could have refused the call to defend our freedom and serve our country. Every one of them answered it with courage which calls us to join their commitment today.What army has you outnumbered this morning? A torch and trumpet in the hand of a soldier of God will defeat a mighty army every time. God plus one is a majority. Just be sure you’re the one.

God’s Power for God’s Purpose

God’s Power for God’s Purpose

Acts 1:1-8

James C. Denison

Have you ever run out of gas? I don’t mean figuratively but literally. These days our cars tell us how many miles we have left in the tank, and all kinds of lights and bells go off when we get close. It wasn’t always that way.

I’ve run out of gas twice. The first time was in Midland when I had just bought the car of my dreams, a 1965 Ford Mustang fastback. White, candy-apple red interior, four on the floor English racing transmission. And a defective gas gauge, as it turned out. My first week to drive the car, it said I had a quarter of a tank of gas left when I ran out. Janet was not amused when I called for help.

The other time was also in Midland. I drove one of the church’s vans to Brownwood for a trustee meeting at Howard Payne University. The staff gave me the key to the vehicle, but not the key to the locking gas cap. I pulled into town, running on fumes, to discover that I had no way to get gas into the tank. A locksmith had to save the day.

Both problems are also parables for us this morning. We’ve heard about the gospel and us, the gospel and relationships, the gospel and the church, the gospel and the community. Now we need to know how to take the gospel to the world. Jesus’ last words to the church are clear: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Here we discover the purpose of the church: “you will be my witnesses,” taking Christ to our city and world. Here we discover the people who fulfill the purpose: “you” will receive power and “you” will be my witnesses. The Greek is plural, including every one of us listening to these words today.

Here we discover the priority by which the people fulfill the purpose: “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” But how do we do this? How do we reach the “ends of the earth”?

You’re just one person sitting in a church service on a Sunday morning. The world is very large and very lost. War in Iraq and Afghanistan; tensions in the Middle East; economic turmoil at home. Newspapers this week told of people selling heirlooms to buy gas. Life can feel overwhelming today. Now you come to church and hear that you are supposed to take the gospel to the entire world. How is that possible?

My job today is to talk to you about the power by which the people fulfill the purpose and accomplish the priorities of the church: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” The power of God really is sufficient to accomplish the purpose of God.

But there are two obstacles to receiving that power this morning. Like my Mustang, we need to remember that we need power. Like my church van, we need to know how to receive it. Let’s look at each of these decisions in turn.

You and I live in Dallas, the most entrepreneurial, can-do culture I’ve ever known. There’s nothing people in this city won’t try, no challenge they won’t accept. It’s the air we breathe, the water we drink.

There’s no natural reason why Dallas-Fort Worth should have become the nation’s fourth-largest metropolitan area–no great rivers, mountains or ports. Just some people on a prairie willing to work very hard, to do whatever it takes.

That spirit is infused in everything this city attempts. We’re close to finishing the Cultural Arts Center, raising $335 million, nearly all of it through private donations. Our mayor is in China working to enhance our status as a world-class city. From the High Five to the new Trinity River Bridge, we’ll envision anything.

But that spirit can be a problem. We can rely on ourselves rather than God, trusting in our abilities and education and expertise rather than the Holy Spirit. Like my Mustang, we can run out of gas and not know it.

Today I must remind you that none of us can convict a single person of a single sin or save a single soul from hell for heaven. We cannot do anything spiritual using human ability. God’s word is clear: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6). If Peter, James, and John, Jesus’ closest friends and greatest apostles, had to seek the power of God to fulfill the purpose of God, so must we. Do you know that you need the power of God today? Do you know how to receive it?

Driving that church van, I knew I needed fuel, but didn’t have the key to unlock the tank. Do you have that key this morning?

Jesus told the first Christians to “Wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (vs. 4-5). So they prayed and waited, and the Spirit fell.

Paul told us how to have their experience: “Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). First, ask the Spirit to show you any sin which would keep him from using you, and confess it with a repentant heart. Second, ask the Spirit to take control of your life and empower you to be used by God. Surrender and submit every part of your day to him. Third, believe that he has done what you asked, that he will empower and use you as you trust him. And he will.

This must be the daily routine of our lives, the way we begin every morning of the day. You put gas in the tank before you drive the car. You plug a computer into the socket before you turn it on. This is how God wants you to begin every morning this week, and for the rest of your life.


This church was founded nearly 70 years ago by people who believed that with the power of God, the people of God could accomplish the priorities of God and fulfill the purpose of God.

No church sponsored us or gave us money. We had no pastor or staff, but our first members had an urgent desire to take Christ to what was then far-north Dallas. They knocked on doors and invited friends and neighbors to come to their services in the University Park Elementary School. In 1940 they called Dr. Reid to be their first pastor and began meeting in a house on Lover’s Lane, where the HPISD administration building is located today.

During World War II, the church sent buses to Love Field Air Station to bring soldiers to Sunday School and worship. Eventually the congregation purchased this land on Northwest High and broke ground on Mother’s Day, 60 years ago. Dr. Howard, the church’s second pastor, didn’t use a shovel but a bulldozer. They built a Sanctuary which pictures Jesus pointing to the Great Commission: Go and teach all nations.

On this significant, historic Sunday you and I are called to continue that vision, that commission, that calling. Will you begin every day by submitting to the Holy Spirit and seeking his power? Will you ask his Spirit to use you to accomplish God’s purpose for your life? Will you trust that his power is sufficient for that purpose, that the Spirit of God can use you and your church to change the world? If you won’t, he won’t. If you will, he will. It’s that simple. God’s people can fulfill God’s purpose by God’s priorities if they have God’s power. Do you believe that?

Graduates and Giants

Graduates and Giants

1 Samuel 16:1-14

James C. Denison

I am holding a stone which changed the world. I know this because I picked it up last month in the Valley of Elah. It was the very stone used by David to slay Goliath. It’s been waiting there 30 centuries for me to find it. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

I did actually find the stone in the valley, at the very place where the famous battle was fought, but ours was one of about ten tour groups who came through picking up stones that day. I’m guessing that someone working for the Israeli tourism industry must truck in stones periodically to replenish the supply. But I’m sure that mine is the correct one.

It was a stone like this one, in the hands of a young shepherd boy, which changed the course of human history. What God did with that boy, he waits and longs to do with your life and mine. But it’s hard for us to believe that we can be a David today.

On this Senior Recognition Sunday, Pike and I are speaking to graduates and their families. You’re stepping into a hard and harsh world, with earthquakes in China, cyclones in Myanmar, explosions in India, and economic uncertainty around the globe. You’re looking at a future you cannot see, with giants of fear and uncertainty lurking on every hand.

But I am also speaking to Christ-followers of all ages and places in life. You have your own questions and struggles, doubts and decisions, worries and guilt and fear. You know a Saul who refuses to believe in you and a Goliath who is taunting you this morning. But you also have a God like David’s God ready to use your life to change the world. How do we slay the giants we are facing this morning? The answer may surprise you.

Expect the call of God

Saul has been chosen as Israel’s first king, but his pride and arrogance soon replaced God on the throne of his heart and work. He kept goods which should have been sacrificed to God, and usurped the place of God over the nation. So God “rejected him as king over Israel” and chose another in his place (v. 1). Samuel, the last judge and first prophet of Israel, was sent by the Lord to find and anoint that new king.

God sent Samuel to Bethlehem, then an obscure village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, to meet with a man named Jesse and his sons (v. 5).

The custom then and now in the Middle East is for the firstborn to inherit the majority of the estate and take his father’s place one day as head of the family. So when Samuel met Eliab he was sure that “the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD” (v. 6).

God’s response still echoes as one of the most significant statements in Scripture: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (v. 7).

The second in line came before Samuel, but God did not choose him. So with all seven sons (vs. 8-10). If Samuel had given up at this point, how would history have been different?

But the prophet instead asked, “Are these all the sons you have?” Jesse explained that the youngest “is tending the sheep.” We think of this as a routine kind of chore, something like walking the dog or mowing the lawn. But in this agrarian culture, “tending the sheep” was akin to managing the bank or running the office. The youngest son was doing something more significant than any of the others.

Jesse sent for this youngest, still unnamed son, and Samuel noted that “he was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features” (v. 12a). “Ruddy” means “red,” describing his hair or complexion, or perhaps his sunburned features. Then God said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one” (v. 12b). Samuel did as God asked, “and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power” (v. 13). At the same time, “the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul” (v. 14). God has transferred his anointing from the former king to the new leader of the nation.

And that’s the story of the most significant royal ascension in biblical history. No next steps or plans or preparations. As best we can tell, David went back to tending sheep. Samuel returned to his home in Ramah. Saul continued as king of the nation. Nothing of our text would have made the day’s news.

And yet the entire future of God’s dealings with humanity shifted with this moment.

Saul’s attendants hear that this young shepherd is a fine musician, and call him to serve and comfort the king he would one day replace (vs. 21-23).

The Philistines are at war with the Israelites, and Jesse sends his young son to check on his older brothers serving with Saul in the army.

Here he meets the giant whose death would catapult him to national fame and start him on the trajectory which would lead to the throne and the glory that was the Kingdom of David.

This is a day like that day for you. The prophet who came to Bethlehem has come to Dallas. The world may not see the historic significance of the day when God calls you, as they did not see the importance of that day when God called David. But that fact makes this day no less important.

God had a call for David, a purpose and a plan. His plan for David was different from his plan for Samuel or Jesse, Eliab or his other brothers. He has a specific and unique call for you, a purpose and a plan. He has a will for every one of our graduates and every one of us.

In the midst of tending sheep, he may be calling you to lead a nation. Be ready for the word of God to come today. Meet with him every morning to get your marching orders for the day. Stay obedient to the last word you heard from your Lord, and open to the next. Tell God that you’ll go anywhere and do anything he wants, and you’ll know your next step. His will is not an option but an order. The God of the universe doesn’t give advice but commandments. Expect the call of God and submit to the call of God, and you will hear the call of God.

Trust the call of God

How did this young shepherd boy and future king slay Goliath? The giant was over nine feet tall (1 Samuel 17:4), wearing armor weighing 125 pounds and carrying a spear with a 30-pound point. You may think that such a person cannot actually have lived, but Robert Pershing Wadlow was 8’11” when he died on July 15, 1940 at the age of 22. Imagine a boy trying to fight such a giant–that’s how many of us feel this morning, facing the giants who stand before us. How do we slay them?

First, fight the battle at hand.

David had to lead sheep before he could lead the nation. He had to serve Saul before he would replace him. He had to serve his brothers before he would rule them. He had to fight lions and bears before he would fight Goliath: “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37).

He couldn’t fight Goliath until he met Goliath. In the meantime, he was obedient in the now, faithful in the moment, committed to God for each day as each day came.

This year’s high school graduates are not yet in college; God has a will for you this day and this summer. You’re in business, worried about problems and challenges this week; but God has a word and will for you this morning. You’re struggling with decisions about the future; but your Father has a plan and purpose for you this moment. Seize what is before you now, and God’s will unfolds as each step comes.

What lion or bear or sheep or brother or king has God set before you today?

Second, listen to God, not skeptics.

When David offered to fight the giant, his oldest brother scoffed: “I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle” (v. 28).

King Saul was just as skeptical: “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth” (v. 33). The Hebrew is emphatic: “You are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth.”

Who are your Eliab and Saul? Expect skeptics and critics. Your brothers or superiors will tell you that you cannot do what is in your heart. It’s easy to be Eliab or Saul, and even easier to find one. Refuse to listen to those who say you cannot do what God says you can do. Whatever God has put on your heart for this next chapter of his plan, listen to his voice and it will lead you home.

Third, trust the stone in your hand.

David believes that all God has done with his servant, he can still do: “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (v. 37).

And he trusts the gifts and skills God has given him. Saul, the tallest man in the nation, tries to give his armor to this boy shepherd, but it obviously is too large. So David “took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine” (v. 40).

I’ve seen shepherds in Israel today use slingshots to hit Coke cans at 40 feet. They are experts at slinging stones to scare away wolves or herd sheep. For a short distance, a stone from such a sling can travel as fast as a bullet.

God prepared David for his purpose. He anointed him with his Spirit to accomplish his call. God has prepared you for his purpose. He has given you abilities, experience, education, spiritual gifts appropriate for all he intends you to do. What stones has he put in your hand?

Last, fight for the glory of God.

David went to battle “in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (v. 45). He knew that when the battle was done “the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel” (v. 46). He was sure of victory, “for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” (v. 47).

God will not share his glory. If you’ll fight the battle at hand, listening for his voice and will, trusting his preparations, seeking his glory, he will use you to slay giants and build his Kingdom and live a life of eternal significance. But only then.

Why do you seek success today?


Our graduates are stepping into a world filled with giants. The rest of us already know that they’re real and dangerous. There’s a reason why you’re here to listen to this message today, a battle you’re fighting, a giant you’re intended to slay. Who is your Goliath? What stone is in your hand? What purpose is in your heart?

Know that you are as unique and important to God as the shepherd king David. His plan and purpose for your life is as significant to eternity as his plan and purpose for him. God went to universal lengths to create a world just for you.

A scientist I was reading this week calculates that the odds of another planet existing in the universe capable of supporting life is one in a quintillion (one followed by 18 zeroes). To picture that number, cover the earth in pennies–twice.

Your life was worth Jesus’ death, as our Lord’s Supper reminds us. Whether you’re graduating from school or simply from another day, your Father has a plan to prosper and not harm you, to give you hope and a future. He has a giant waiting on you and a victory waiting for you. This is the promise of God.

Loving God for Life

Loving God for Life

1 Samuel 1:1-11

James C. Denison

This has been a tough week for me. It started so well. A wonderful weekend of ministry last Saturday and worship on Sunday. I was excited about this week and all it held. Then I came home from work Monday evening to find my AARP application waiting for me.

I will turn 50 later this month. I will then be half a century old. It’s a milestone worthy of reflection. Over these 50 years, what events stand out as most significant? There’s no contest: my salvation, my marriage, and the birth of our sons.

Every parent would feel the same way. There is no greater privilege in life than being a father or a mother. And no challenge more important or overwhelming. To be so responsible for another person–to be the most important influence on an eternal soul–is a daunting assignment.

If you’re a mother, you’re facing such a challenge today. The good news is that God wants to help. He wants to help every mother and every mother’s child with the burdens and responsibilities we carry. But there’s a catch, as we’ll see this morning.

How to give your child to God

Here’s the setting of our text.

Hannah had no children, in a day when this was a terrible stigma and shame. In their culture a woman’s highest privilege and responsibility was to be a mother. Women did not work outside the home, and had no social standing outside their father or husband. From the time they were small girls, they were told that their primary work in life was to raise children. But this Hannah could not do. This was literally the greatest tragedy a woman could face.

It’s still hard to want to be a mother and be unable to have children. Even today, with all the strides we’ve made in recognizing the importance of women before God and in society, it’s still hard for those who cannot be mothers. For people like Hannah in this room today, Mother’s Day is not an easy day. You have some sense of her pain and grief.

And there are others today for whom Mother’s Day is difficult. Some of you no longer have your mother with you, and this day brings back the pain of that loss and grief. Some have had mothers who were not godly. Some have experienced the pain and trauma of abortion. Some are estranged from children. Many of you know how Hannah felt.

In the face of such difficulty, Hannah did exactly what we should do–she went to God. She went directly to him, in the tabernacle which preceded the Temple, to pray.

Her intercession came from the heart, praying in “bitterness of soul” (v. 10). The Hebrew literally says that she was “weeping much in her prayer.” She prayed with such emotion that Eli the priest thought she was drunk. No rote prayer, going through a prayer list, keeping the routine.

If your mother prayed for you like this, thank God and thank her. If you’re a mother, this is your best gift for them. Godly parenting starts with godly people. Are you praying every day for your children and your witness to them?

Next, we dedicate our children to their Father (v. 11). Hannah prayed for a son so she could give him back to God. He will be a Nazirite, a very special class of people in ancient Israel. We’ll say more about them in a moment.

By promising him to the Lord’s service, she would never be able to know the joy of raising him herself. She could visit him at the tabernacle, but not be in his life every day. But she wanted God’s glory, God’s best, not her own.

Have you surrendered your children to God? Do you want him to bless your plans and ambitions for them, or can he do anything with them he wants? Can he call them to missions and ministry? Can he lead them in a direction you would never have intended? Do they belong to him before they belong to you?

Once we submit ourselves to God in prayer and our children to him in commitment, we leave the results with him (v. 18).

Hannah left the tabernacle with a deep sense of inner peace, even though she had no tangible answer to her prayer. She trusted the future to her Father, and had his peace which passes understanding as a result (Philippians 4:6-7).

So can we. So must we. Why?

Why to give your child to God

Why should you follow Hannah’s example with your most precious possessions today? With your children, or family, or future, or vocation, or dreams? The simple answer is that God can do more with your child than you can. The more your children are submitted to him, the more he can lead and bless and use them. Samuel is proof.

Hannah committed her unborn child to be a Nazirite. These were a kind of monks or nuns of ancient Israel. Numbers 6 describes their four-fold commitment: abstain from all alcohol and products of the vine, keep the hair and beard uncut, refuse to touch a dead body, and refuse all unclean food.

Some people kept this vow for 30, 60, or 100 days. Samson and John the Baptist were Nazirites; the Apostle Paul took a Nazirite vow for a period of time; and Samuel was made a Nazirite for life by Hannah.

What’s more, she dedicated him to live and work at the tabernacle. She would give him when he was “weaned” (v. 21), three years of age according to Hebrew tradition. He would then serve the Lord for the rest of his life. Levites served from the age of 25 to 50 (Numbers 8:24-25), and priests in various rotations, but Samuel would spend every day of every year in the service of God. From the time he was three, Hannah would see him only when she came to the tabernacle for worship.

And what did God do with this child given so totally to him?

Samuel would become the last of the judges, the rulers of Israel before the kings. He would become Israel’s first prophet, and one of the greatest of the prophets. He would choose and anoint Israel’s first two kings. God would use him to lead the nation, through which he would one day bring another Son to be our Savior and Lord.

Because Hannah prayed for her child, dedicated him to God, and left the results in the Lord’s hands, our lives have been affected by her commitment. And all who follow us, to the end of time.

Hannah’s story is in the Bible to model this principle: when we dedicate ourselves and our families to God, he does more with them than we can. He has a plan to prosper and not harm them, to give them hope and a future. His will is good, pleasing, and perfect.

But you already knew all that. You knew that God blesses all we submit to him, that he redeems all it costs us to follow him. But it’s hard to believe that when Samuel is your child. When God wants something you don’t want to give. When the price you must pay to be sacrificially faithful to God doesn’t seem worth it at the time.

For some of us, that commitment involves our children. There are times when we must choose between their souls and their social status, between their Father and their friends. When they are tempted by popularity at the cost of character and you must take a tough stand. When they are living one way at church and another way at school and you must step in. If you want your children to please God, there will be times when they cannot please this culture. And you’ll have a choice to make.

Your Samuel may not be a child. It may be a dream, an ambition, a job, status, something you own or want. Jesus wants to be Lord of that, and you know that he will bless what you give him. But you don’t want to. You’re secretly afraid that he won’t let you have what you want, or bless your plans, or fulfill your dreams.

Why is that? We can give God our discretionary time or income or involvement, but why is it so hard for us to surrender what we value most to him? Why are there so few Hannahs today?

Some of us don’t really trust him. We’re afraid that he won’t let us have what we want, or bless our plans, or fulfill our dreams. When I first heard the gospel I refused to trust in Jesus. I was afraid that he would make my life miserable. I pictured him as an angry judge, a kind of Cosmic Killjoy, a vengeful deity who hated sin and didn’t much like sinners. It’s hard to surrender your dreams to a God like that.

It’s hard for us to trust what we can see to Someone we can’t. Your career is real; your friends are real; your plans and dreams are real. But God is Spirit (John 4:24). You cannot prove his existence or predict his behavior. You have no proof that he will do what you want him to do with the Samuel you entrust to him. I’m the same way.

It’s far easier to please you sitting in this Sanctuary than to please the God I cannot see or prove today. You have skin on. Your affirmation is tangible and real. It’s hard to trust the Samuel I can see to the God I cannot.

Here’s my question: what more can God do to prove himself to you than he has done?

He created the heavens and the earth, and you to dwell in them. Then he entered the human race he made when his Son took on flesh. He proved his Son’s compassion on the cross and his divinity in the resurrection. He used Jesus’ first followers to start the mightiest spiritual movement in history. What can he do to prove himself to you today?

He could appear to you in the flesh, but you might later question your senses and wonder if you were hallucinating. He could answer your prayers with a divine miracle, but you could wonder if the work really was his. A relationship with God, like all relationships, is self-validating. You cannot prove a friendship until you trust it. You cannot prove that God can be trusted with your Samuel until you trust him with your Samuel.

So here’s my challenge: try his Lordship this week. Choose to surrender whatever is close to your heart today, and see what he does with it. Abstain this week from the sin which tempts you away from God, and experience the sense of integrity and holiness which will result.

Put him in charge of your career this week and watch him lead you. Ask him to parent your child this week and experience the wisdom, patience, and hope only God can give. Choose to be Hannah, and you will know that he is God.


Mothers, are you praying fervently for your children and family? Are you submitting them to God and leaving the results with him? Children of mothers, are you doing the same thing with your Samuel, your dream or plan or temptation or problem? If the rest of us were as surrendered to God as you are, would that be a good thing?

The shape of your child’s soul is at stake, and all the history which will follow.

Of the 69 kings in France’s history there have been only three who were truly loved and respected by their subjects–the only ones reared by loving mothers.

Sir Walter Scott’s mother was a woman of education and a great lover of the arts. So was he.

The mother of George Washington was known for her integrity of character, as was her son.

The mother of John Wesley was remarkable for her intelligence, piety, and abilities, so that she has been called the “mother of Methodism.” Through her son, she was.

John Newton’s mother prayed for her wayward, sinful son every day. Finally he came to Christ, and later wrote Amazing Grace, the most beloved hymn of all time. We have it because of his mother.

If you have a godly mother, thank God. If you are a mother, surrender your child to your Father. If you are a mother’s child, surrender your Samuel to your God. Eternity will be grateful.

We close today, as we do each Mother’s Day, with Peter Marshall’s beautiful prayer. Pray it with me:

“On this day of sacred memories, our Father, we would thank Thee for our mothers who gave us life, who surrounded us early and late with love and care, whose prayers on our behalf still cling around the Throne of Grace, a haunting perfume of love’s petitions.

“Help us, their children, to be more worthy of their love. We know that no sentimentality on this day, no material gifts can atone for our neglect during the rest of the year. So in the days ahead, may our love speak to the hearts who know love best–by kindness, by compassion, by simple courtesy and daily thoughtfulness.

“Bless her whose name we whisper before Thee, and keep her in Thy perfect peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”