We all face various trials frustrations and situations that are beyond our control. A loved one gets sick, you get fired un- expectantly from a job which was no fault of your own, and the list can go on and on. When you face those various challenges in life what do you do?Do you just accept them as fate? Do you complain and get mad? What do you do when your life has problems you cannot fix?
We live in a society that does not believe in God or a at least a God that can change things in our life. We live in a society that believes that Science explains our existence and therefore you do not need God. They say to believe in God is a way to make yourself feel better and as Richard Dawkins says we have to be reprogramed away from this faulty virus called God.
Is Christianity a crutch? Is praying worthless? The Story found in 1 Samuel is about a woman who prayed and how she prayed. We have a lot to learn about prayer and Hannah can teach us a few things.
Although much has been written on prayer we can only cover so much and we are going to look at it through the eyes of Hannah, a mom and a wife, who sought after God until God answered her call.
Read 1 Samuel 1:1-6
Men were required to go up and offer sacrifices 3 times a year (Deuteronomy 12:5-7) but it was optional if the women wanted to go every time but as we can see from this passage that this family made the trip together every year. It was a 20 mile trip North of Jerusalem so you can imagine the amount of work and preparation it took in order to go and worship the Lord.
Elkanah had two wives and it could have been because Hannah could not have any children and so it was common to take another woman to have children with. Children were so crucial to have because it was through them that not only your family name would continue but they were also your retirement plan. They did not have nursing homes and left without anyone to care for you when you got older would have led to certain death.
I love that the Bible is very clear for the reason why Hannah had no children. “God had shut up her womb” Why would God allow such a thing to a woman who was seeking Him with all of her heart? God’s soveriengty is believed from the start that He was in control of the circumstances they faced. Hannah’s faith is demonstrated in that it was not her circumstances that determined her faith in God but the fact that He was God who deserved to be worshiped and praised.
Elkanah loved Hannah more and she was either given twice as much food or the better part of the food. When you would go and offer your sacrifices part of the sacrifice would be burned, part would go to the priest, and then you would receive back the rest (Leviticus 7:11-36) This of course would cause friction in the house as Peninnah would be jealous of Elkanah’s love for Hannah. Peninnah out of anger would tease Hannah about not having Children which caused even more grief to Hannah.
Read 1 Samuel 1:7-16
1) The Struggle of Prayer
Year after Year Hannah prayed with no answer from God. Hannah was so distraught over this that she would not eat. Her husband tried consoling her but that did not help ease her pain. Hannah rose up and went into the Temple to pray. (More likely outside of the temple)
She was deeply distressed and wept bitterly or bitterness of soul
Our churches have kept people from coming to God distressed and bitter. We have made people feel as though they should never struggle with the will of God for their lives. There are many things in life that we do not understand and when we rob people of being able to express their true feelings to God we take away a time of them getting to know God on a deeper level. Pain and not understanding God has a tendency to drive us to Him or away from Him. There seems to be no middle ground when people face tragedy and heart ache especially when they attribute it directly to God.
Life can be hard and we need to give people space to struggle in prayer with God. We give a quick prayer toward them or a quick verse for them to read but the reality is they need to struggle with God and His will for their life. The pain Hannah was experiencing was psychological in nature for one experiencing great pain. (Job 3:20)
We know in life pain has its advantages but the church has somehow made struggling with God a bad thing. A prayer of lament in the book of Psalms is when someone is struggling with Gods will. Maybe they are seeking His will or struggling to understand their life circumstances. In Gods word people were allowed to pray and literally complain to God. Psalm 39 and 88 can be called Pitch darkness prayers.Psalm 42-43 are prayers of discouragement
Psalm 13:1-4 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, 4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
There are 17-20 “How Long” statements in the book of Psalms alone. Health, finances, a wayward child and heartache make us pray to God differently than when things are going well. Emotions are real and given to us by God so when we struggle we need to take those struggles to God in prayer. Hannah knew where her answers would be given and so although it would have been easy to give up on God she continued to plead and beg for Him to answer her.
The Psalmist did not have a problem with sharing exactly how he felt and neither should we. There is always hope when we pray and we have to realize that God hears us when we pray.
Luke 18:1-8 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Do not be afraid to struggle in prayer Hannah struggled in prayer to the point that she was getting ready to be kicked out of the Temple. We know from John 9 that God will allow calamities to happen so that His power can be demonstrated. In our struggles we must never forget that God may be using what we are going through to show Him to others and if that is accomplished than nothing we experience on this earth will compare to the joy of eternity and how God used our circumstances. I know that is easy to say but that is the hope we hold onto as we walk difficult paths we do not fully understand.
1 Samuel 1:11
2) The Specifics of Prayer
Too many times our prayers are so general that if God did answer them we would never know He did. Hannah told God that if He would give her a son she would dedicate him as a Nazarite. (Numbers 6:1-21) She prayed honestly, specifically and also humbly before the God of all creation. Hannah had a personal relationship with God and her prayers reflected the intimacy of it. She knew her place in the relationship as she called herself a servant but she also told God what she would do if He would answer her prayer.
When you ask God for things it should of course always be a part of His will. (James 4:2-3)
1 John 5:14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.
J.I. Packer calls this arguing with God, not meaning that you argue with God about how He is handling your life, but that you lay out a case before God why you are asking for this specific request. That is exactly what it means to pray when you come to God and tell Him exactly how you want things to work out. This is what Hannah was doing was laying out why it was best for God to act a certain way. Of course we always pray, as Jesus did, for not our will but His be done. (Matthew 26:39)
Some say that if you have faith then God has to answer your prayers. Jesus prayed specifically and was sinless and yet I am glad God did not answer His prayer of not having to die on the cross for our sins. If God would have answered that prayer we would not be forgiven our sins. You cannot also not say that Jesus did not have faith.
We can pray specifically on what we want God to do and know that God knows what is best. Faith is not a magical formula to get God to do our bidding but it is the ultimate in faith to trust in Him when we do not understand His ways. God gives you what you would have asked for if you knew everything He knows. I would encourage you to not only be specific in your prayers but to find a passage of scripture that goes with that prayer request.
Pray specifically about something and do not give up praying about it. The Bible says we are in a spiritual battle and the weapon against it is prayer (2 Corinthians 10:4) We need to know that it is through prayer that God uses us in the battle against the evil and the pain that is taking place in this world.
“What would happen if you focused your prayers on one thing for one person for one month or year? (Circle Maker, Mark Batterson, pg. 161)
“What if we stopped reading the news and started praying it?” (Circle maker, Mark Batterson pg. 162
Read 1 Samuel 1:17-20
3) The Peace of Prayer
Hannah left without the prayer being answered but she left in peace knowing God heard her. We can never forget that God is always working behind the scenes. Just like a plant that produces flowers is working way before we see the result of the flower, so God is working in and through our lives. She approached God in grief and left in peace.
Philippians 4:6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Supplication is simply asking God for things for yourself, others and the world. You come to God with your list of things that are troubling you and you lay them at His feet. Peace does not always come because your prayers get answered, but because God does something in you that changes you.
“The Lord remembered her” Does it not feel sometimes that God has forgotten you?
God prepared Hannah to raise a prophet that would be used mightily by God and the nation of Israel. For God to raise a prophet like Samuel, He first had to develop a mother like Hannah. God is working in us so He can give us the thing we are asking for, if He gave it too early then we would not know how to handle it.
We are heard by God not because of our position in this life, because Hannah was a nobody, but because or how we humble ourselves before our mighty God. Women in that day were insignificant and many thought that God did not hear their prayers. Her prayer is one of the lonest prayers in the Bible and the longest in the Old Testament. When you consider some of the greatest prophets and their prayer lives this is very significant. God hears the prayers of those who think they do not deserve to be heard.
She was a woman of Faith who believed she suffered from an affliction given to her directly by God, yet she continued to pray. This story is written to show that it was a woman who shaped the history of Israel by her prayer life. I wonder what would happen if we prayed like Hannah prayed? How would our families, our nation and even ourselves be changed if we prayed like her?
“Practical Mystery: The teaching is that our prayers matter- “we have not because we ask not”- and yet Gods wise plan is sovereign and infallible. These two facts are true at once, and how that is possible is a mystery to us.” (Prayer, Timothy Keller, pg 224)
Samuels name means “One who was asked for” May we continue to ask God specifically for the things that go along with His will and may we not stop until He answers our prayers or shows us His will.
May God become annoyed by our constant prayers and may we be forever changed by them.