Faith in Hard Times
Life can be hard. There are no guarantees things will go well for even the most devoted follower of Jesus. We may be visited by great suffering. We may experience a painful loss. Jesus Himself tells us that we will be hated. In this life, there will be trials and tribulations. Jesus explicitly disagrees with the prosperity gospel teachers. Yet, there is always good news. We can take heart. Jesus overcame the world. He defeated the grave. Our pain is worth it since we share in that victory. Our faithful suffering will be rewarded. God will take the ashes of our life and turn them into something eternally beautiful. Faith is the only thing required on our part.
A Woman of Loss
Anna, the daughter of Phanual is a great example of this truth. She is a woman who shows up for all of three verses in Luke 2 and then disappears. Yet, her limited mention tells us an abundance. She has a wonderful story. She can teach us so much if we are willing to pay attention.
Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; 37 and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38 And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. Luke 2
Anna’s life is defined by her loss. The Bible says that Anna is of great age and has been a widow for many years. She was married to her husband for only 7 when her husband died. Losing a spouse now is a terrible thing. Your husband dying back then would have been a whole different level of pain.
Women did not have jobs in order to support themselves in widowhood. There was no government safety net to catch them when such loss took place. Seven years of marriage also would have placed her outside the usual marriage age. Her prospects of getting remarried would have been slim. Her financial situation would have been precarious. Losing her husband was a huge loss for Anna in every aspect of her life. Her entire life is in ruins. Death took her marriage and her hopes and replaced them with ashes.
Anna was left with very few material options. She does have a choice of how she would respond. There were many spiritual paths for Anna to take at this point.
Naomi from the Book of Ruth loses her husband and two sons. She responds by embracing the ashes. Her focus on the material only. She tells people to call her Mara, the word for bitterness. She blames God and loses faith in His love for her. Great loss often induces anger and resentment. That is one option. Despair, depression and giving up are others.
Anna Chooses God
Anna was human. She probably struggled with all of these feelings. She was like any other person who goes through a tragedy. Sorrow and mourning are the same now as they were 2000 years ago. Choosing to have faith does not mean we do not mourn deeply.
Anna makes a choice in how she would deal with her loss. She decides how she will deal with her solitude. She was physically alone and unattached in the world, but she understood she was not really alone. God was with her.
Naomi chose bitterness. Anna chose faithfulness. She chose God.
and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.
She did not depart from the temple. She served God night and day.
She was not a priest or a pastor or a professional minister. She is just a simple widow. Yet, she chose to give her everything to God – day and night – when life became tragic. Serving God became her whole life. She replaced contentment with her husband with a bond with God.
Loss and solitude were turned on their head. They became opportunities for joy and service in the Lord. It was an amazing opportunity.
Anna took the ashes of her life and turned them into faithful service to the Lord. God will show her something wonderful. Yet, even before meeting Jesus, her life is filled with prayers, service, and love of God’s people. This is a beautiful thing all on its own.
Have you suffered a loss? Are you dealing with loneliness? Have your life plans not turned out like you planned?
Take those ashes and bring them to God in service, in prayer and in fellowship with the Body of Christ. The Lord will work something wonderful in your life as well.
A Time of Confusion
It is really worth noting the time that Anna lived in as well. Her 84 years were not great and glorious ones for the nation of Israel. Israel was conquered and fell under the harsh rule of the Roman Empire during her lifetime. The religious leaders of the Nation were scoundrels more interested in making money than following God. The Nation was divided and lost, like sheep without a shepherd.
Anna was surrounded by her entire life mainly by the corrupt and the unfaithful. Her government was wicked and bloodthirsty.
Her response? She is faithful. She serves the Lord night and day. She does not depart from His Temple. She clings to God. No matter what anyone was doing around her, as for her and her house, she served the Lord. God rewards her.
The Messiah Proclaimed
The passage where Anna is mentioned is when Jesus is first proclaimed as the Messiah.
And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, 28 he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:
29 “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word;
30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation
31 Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
32 A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”
33 And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Jesus is first proclaimed in the Temple. The long-awaited Messiah is recognized in God’s Holy City and Anna is chosen to be there.
Can we imagine the joy? What would we give to be with her and see baby Jesus proclaimed by Simeon?
Would we be willing to give up our plan for the next 84 years in favor of God’s?
Anna experiences the arrival of the Messiah in person. It is only due to the decisions she makes when life gets hard. She could have been sitting in her house consumed by her pain. Her bitterness and loss could be destroying her. Instead, she puts one foot of faith in front of the other and walks out her faith. She trusts the consolation of the Lord is coming. Anna is one of the first people to see His arrival.
She is also given a great privilege. She immediately leaves and testifies about the wonderful thing that occurred. The Savior is here. She proclaims Jesus while Peter, James, and John are still babes. Anna is telling everyone who was looking for redemption in Jerusalem about Jesus. An elderly widow is one of the first evangelists.
God’s blessing on Anna is awesome. She is faithful and is rewarded. This is the simplicity of life with God.
This life is hard at times. Sometimes things happen that can feel like the world as we know it is being taken away from us. We lose people we love dearly.
We have an opportunity to make a decision when faced with these losses. We can remember Anna and her faithfulness. We can keep on walking in trust in God no matter what is going on around us or how long it takes. We will be rewarded if we do. We just need to trust in God’s plan. Anna, Simeon and all of the great saints of the Bible are our great cloud of witnesses testifying that it is not only possible but worth it.
If we follow the Lord no matter what like Anna, we will see Jesus. Do we trust in His promises in the midst of our pain?
Are you in a time of ashes? Has everything fallen apart? This does not mean God has abandoned you. God still loves you dearly. A time of beautiful redemption is coming. It takes faith to see it, though. Are you willing to trust God?