This term in our morning services, we began a series on the book of 1 Samuel. In Ch 1 we meet a woman named Hannah. Despite deep personal suffering and persecution, she remained steadfast in her relationship with God. Much of our knowledge of Hannah comes from her prayers. Preachers rarely get to say everything they want in any given sermon, so here are some further reflections from 1 Samuel Ch 1. (If you haven’t read it yet, take a moment to read it now).
Five things Hannah teaches us about prayer
1. When Hannah wanted to take action, she prayed.
Hannah had no control over her childlessness and was unable to control her cruel sister-wife Peninnah. And yet when she went to worship God at the Tabernacle, we are told she ‘stood up’. This seems an unimportant piece of information until we read in the second half of the verse that Eli the priest was ‘sitting down’. The man who was responsible for Israel’s spiritual health was passive and it was Hannah who was taking action. And yet the only thing she was able to do was to pray. What follows reminds us that prayer is never ‘just’ prayer. In a crisis, prayer is taking action. Prayer is the action of those who put their faith in God.
2. In her heartache Hannah ran towards God, not away from Him
We are told in Ch 1:5 that ‘it was the Lord who had closed Hannah’s womb’. If we ever find the one who is responsible for our suffering, we are likely to respond with anger or resentment. If the person we blame is God, then prayer becomes a problem. But Hannah had a clarity we so often lack. If God is Lord over our suffering, the only way through, is if we turn back to Him.
3. Hannah prayed with honest emotion
Hannah prayed out of her deep anguish and with many tears (v10). She was deeply troubled and poured out her soul to the Lord (v15). Hannah didn’t bring her ‘Sunday smile’ to the Lord, and she didn’t try to tidy up her feelings before she prayed. She was emotionally honest with God. And that didn’t make it a bad prayer, that made it a good prayer. Once Eli realised he had witnessed honest devotion and not drunken mutterings, he commends Hannah (v17).
4. Hannah’s prayer changed her even before God answered.
The first thing that changed as a result of her prayer wasn’t Hannah’s problem, it was Hannah herself. It was before God had answered her prayer that Hannah’s appetite returned, and her face was no longer downcast (v18). She found great comfort and relief by simply bringing her burden to God. When we entrust ourselves to the Almighty God who cares about our hardship (v11) we are no longer slaves to our circumstances. The first thing prayer does is make us reconsider the challenges we face in light of God’s love and power. Regardless of what God does or doesn’t do with your situation, draw near to Him in your suffering, and He will change you.
5. Hannah didn’t stop worshiping while she waited for her prayer to be answered.
Even before God had answered her prayer, Hannah arose and worshipped God (v19). Her love for God wasn’t conditional on God giving her what she asked for in the way she asked for it. She knew God was worthy of her praise regardless, and trusted the same promise we do, ‘that in all things we know that God works for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.’ (Rom 8:28) Are you willing to worship God regardless of how He answers your prayer?
There are parts of Hannah’s story which are unique to her, but there are also lessons available for every Christian. Her attitude to, and example in prayer, is one of those lessons. Both for Hannah and for us, the answer to despondency is prayer to a God who cares. We might be more familiar with this Old Testament lesson in the words of 1 Peter Ch 5:7, ‘Cast all your anxieties on the Lord, because He cares for you. Humble yourself under God’s mighty hand and He will lift you up.’
Questions for Reflection
1. What burden are you are carrying at the moment?
2. If you have not yet brought it to God, what is standing in the way?
3. Which of the above points have made prayer seem a little more possible?
Written by Scott Tubman