Hannah was like any other woman. She longed to know that she was worth it and she needed security. She felt like having a child would help her with both of these. But she couldn’t. She and her husband tried and tried, but she couldn’t get pregnant.
She was very religious, so she prayed for help. God didn’t seem to listen. Another woman was listening, however, only she didn’t have sympathy. She used Hannah’s misfortune to stoke their rivalry.
Miraculously, God allowed Hannah to get pregnant, and she had a son, which she named Samuel. But after he stopped nursing, she gave him away. Just like that. She walked into her house of worship and gave her kid away to the priest. When she walked out, she felt more joy than she’d ever experienced before.
Jim Elliot, who was killed for his faith, said, “He is not fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Hannah’s story is found in the Bible in 1 Samuel 1, but her song of joy is found in chapter 2. From her brief story, we learn four crucial things about joy.
First, joy takes perseverance. Hannah did not just pray once for the child; rather, she had been praying repeatedly, over a long period of time. She did not just pray at the beginning of chapter 2, in other words, but she had been pouring out her soul in prayer in chapter 1 (verses 10, 15, and 27). This teaches us that prayer takes perseverance. You must keep at it. Joy doesn’t come easy. Happiness and pleasure come easier than joy, but these are just quick fixes, sort of the “junk food” of emotions. Joy is much deeper, longer, and filling. This means that if you’re struggling to have joy, then you’re on the right course. Joy comes only after a struggle. Struggle may be a sign that joy is getting closer, not farther.
Second, joy must be personal. Hannah prays to the Lord, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord…because I rejoice in your salvation” (1 Samuel 2:1). Notice the personal pronouns in her prayer. “My heart” and “my strength” and “I rejoice.” You can only have joy if you make it personal. Joy is a personal choice. You need to find reasons within your own life to have joy. Oftentimes, we look at the blessings in another person’s life and we think, “If I just have what they have, then I’ll find joy.” We turn into leeches, trying to suck the joy right out of another person’s life. But joy doesn’t work like that. You have to look at your own life and discover joy from the ingredients of your own situation. In fact, if you focus too much on the good things in another person’s life, you won’t end up with joy, but you’ll end up with envy; and envy, as Proverbs 14:30 warns, “rots the bones.” You will end up destroying yourself.
Third, joy is found in a certain place. You might read 1 Samuel 1-2 and cynically conclude, “Hannah ended up getting what she wanted, a child, so that is why she was able to have joy!” “Of course she was able to find joy, she got what she wanted!” Not so fast. Hannah did not place her joy in her child. How do I know this? Because she gave her child away! Can you imagine? She gave her kid away. She gave away the one thing that she so desperately wanted, and then she sang a joyous song about it! How could she still have joy? Where was the place of her joy? Her joy was never in the child, but her joy was “in the Lord.” She placed her joy squarely in the hands of God, so when she lost her child, she was not shaken. You cannot have true joy if you’re not willing to sacrifice smaller joys in order to gain bigger ones. That’s how joy works. You cannot grab hold of the greatest joy if your hands are still full of lesser joys.
Fourth, joy is a pointer. C. S. Lewis said that joy is a by-product of earthly life with Christ and is a foretaste of our eternal life with God.
“It [joy] was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer…When we are lost in the woods the sight of a signpost is a great matter. He who first sees it cries, ‘Look!’ the whole party gathers round and stares. But when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles, we shall not stop and stare. They will encourage us and we shall be grateful to the authority that set them up. But we shall not stop and stare, or not much; not on this road, though their pillars are of silver and their lettering of gold. ‘We would be at Jerusalem’”.
The source of our joy is not the signposts, but the city we’re traveling to. The source of our joy is not the birthed babies, the education, the jobs, the successes, but the Savior we’re traveling to. Just as we would never stop at the sign and make it our source of joy, so must we not live merely for answers to prayers given along the journey. In another book, Lewis says:
“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Hannah knew that her child was merely a scent of a flower she had not yet found, the echo of a tune she had not yet heard, news from a country she had yet to visit. In the same way, the joys God gives to us are only scents and signposts, left to lead us to him. God is the source of joy. Yes, we can rejoice that we have found a sign, but we must not stop at the sign; we must not make the sign our destination or supreme source of joy. Every earthly joy is meant to point us to our Heavenly joy.
© Samuel Kee, 2012
 Surprised by Joy, 238.
 The Weight of Glory, 30-31.