THE BEAUTIFUL DECREASE OF SELF

When I stopped reading the Bible like it was written about me, God became bigger and I, rightfully, became smaller. I began to see that the words printed on the delicate pages of my Bible exist to teach me about who God is and what He is doing, as opposed to them being specifically directed at me in whatever situation I happened to be living out in that moment. Younger me had always preferred to insert myself into every epic tale of the Old Testament and to ignore the context of New Testament letters. Did you hear? I was swallowed by a fish, and God told me specifically that He promises me a hope and a future. Oh wait, that was Jonah and the exiled Israelites, respectively. My bad. (Context is key, brothers and sisters. Catch me on a caffeinated high, and I will explain in great detail the importance of biblical literacy.)

All jokes aside, every word in Scripture is breathed out by God for teaching, correction, reproof, and training in righteousness. So we should be humble and grateful as we read, praying for the Spirit to open our minds and hearts to the Truth. When we read our Bibles, it's important to do it well because the effects are so beautiful. While I still wrestle with my bigger-than-it-ought-to-be sense of self, I think the natural effect of proper Bible reading is to think of self less. To become smaller in your life, smaller in the Story. And not the story you write featuring yourself in your mind, but the actual Story happening from eternity past to eternity future. It's a beautiful tale of God's repeated faithfulness to an unfaithful people where His grace abounds and He reigns with perfect justice and mercy. Yes, you have immense value in being a creature crafted by a loving Father, but you're also not the Hero of the tale.

You matter. But He matters more.

I'm currently studying I Samuel with a great group of gals, so let's jump there. The book begins with a woman, Hannah, longing for a baby for years. She was a woman "so troubled in spirit" that when she poured out her anguish and desires to the Lord, the priest, Eli, believed she was drunk. I imagine that Hannah looked disheveled and anxious; a pained and confused expression covered her face as her mouth moved silently in prayer. She begged for God to give her a son, to remember her. And then she left. As we know, God gave her a son, Samuel. And what did Hannah do when she received this most desired blessing? She gave him back to the Lord. When Samuel was still just a baby - just barely weaned - Hannah took him to Shiloh and declared, "As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord." Wowza. 

It's easy to run through quick applications of this text to my current life. My daughter is a mere seven months old. The thought of giving her away at the end of the year crushes my heart, but that's what Hannah did. Rightfully, her exemplary behavior causes me to pause and ask myself, "Do I trust God with my daughter's life? More than I trust my own power to protect and care for her?" or "Do I love God and His plans more than I love my own family?"  "Is God my priority? My greatest love and treasure?" We know that Hannah's response is a godly one, and we see her prayer from I Samuel 2 echoed in Mary's prayer in Luke 1. Naturally, it's right to look at her for guidance in my own mothering, as Hannah's story is a beautiful benchmark for all mothers but -

There is a better question to be asked: what does this tell me about God? And I don't mean looking toward the future knowledge that God had mighty plans for Samuel to help establish an Israelite monarchy. Hannah did not yet know this, but she was still faithful to God. So, what does this tell me about God without knowing the great things to come?

It teaches me that God is our greatest treasure. In our lack, He is our prize. In our gain, He is our hope. Hannah received the one thing that she prayed for most, and God was still more important to her. God fills the aches and needs of people in a way that no other thing can. Because He is so good, we can come to Him trusting that He fulfills every one of our needs and desires. We won't be satisfied by the longed for gifts, as good as they may be. It will not be the spouse that completes you, the child that fills you, or the perfect this or that for which you pray. I see this so evidently in the first part of I Samuel. It's not a story of a woman who lacked and longed forever, saw that God is the treasure, and found peace despite her ache. It's a story of a woman who lacked and longed and received, but still knew that God was better and trusted Him enough to give back the gift given to her. 

Oh, to know the depth of the goodness of God in such a way as this!

I can take away a number of things about how to live in light of Hannah's life. And that's a good thing because she is marked as an example of faith. But focusing solely on my personal application keeps the conversation on me. What would I do? Am I like Hannah? The story gets built around my behavior, obedience, and trust; I take the main stage in my thoughts. By doing this, I miss out on so much of what Scripture has to offer to me! What is more beautiful, friend, is to look towards God and learn what these stories say about Him, in order to know what they say about how we ought to respond. There you find the God of the metanarrative  - the true Story - with His promises of hope, love, and glory. There you find how great our God is, and how beautiful it is to be a beloved son or daughter in His creation. Does this mean that all of our aches and pains and deepest hopes disappear? No, not necessarily. I think, though, it means that we know that if all we ever receive is God's love, that is more than enough. It means that we know He is the perfect Author of the Story, and we can trust that the moments of our lives have not escaped His sovereignty, whether we experience earthly lack or gain. The Bible points to this time and time again. We just need to be reading it.