1 Samuel 2:1-10
Why bother praying? Have you ever wondered how the first person started praying? In Genesis 4:26, it says in the days of Enosh, son of Seth, son of Adam, that people began to call upon the name of the Lord. Was that the first prayer? If so, we are not told the circumstances of the prayer. However, I have never felt myself, nor have met anyone, who just decided to pray for the sake of praying. Even if there was no great physical need and there was just a desire to pray, that desire is normally born from an intention to become closer to God and therefore has a reason. It is worth taking time to look at the context of our prayers. In the same way, when we look at the great prayers of the Bible, we should look at why people prayed those prayers. Hannah was one of two wives of a man named Elkanah. The other wife had given birth to children for Elkanah but Hannah had not. The other wife did not miss an opportunity to torment her rival. It was extremely painful for Hannah, not just because of the verbal and emotional abuse, but because in that culture there was great shame in not being able to have a child. Hannah did what was natural and she prayed for God’s help. Hannah walked around praying silently but moving her lips as she prayed. Elkanah saw her and sharply rebuked her for being drunk in public. Can you imagine baring your soul to God over your deepest pain and having your spouse accuse you of being drunk? Hopefully Elkanah felt a bit guilty after he discovered the truth. As it worked out, God heard that prayer and Hannah gave birth to a baby named Samuel. Samuel went on to become one of the greatest prophets in the Bible and he was the one who anointed David as king. But before we get Samuel all grown up, let us look at Hannah’s response. For Hannah, prayer was not something to just get what she wanted from God, it was a way of life and it was natural for her to pray a prayer of thanks. We are going to look at that prayer and attempt to learn something for our own prayer life.
Prayers have something in common with hymns and poems. Some of the Psalms are prayers and even this prayer is sometimes called a psalm. However, there is something that distinguishes a prayer from other forms of religious language. Prayers are personal. Hannah begins by speaking of her heart and her mouth. It is not enough to speak of what other people say or feel. Prayer is between you and God. Sometimes, people say that Christians are spiritually weak because we have “I” problems. It is about I, I, I, me, me, me. Of course that can be a problem when you are completely focused on yourself to the exclusion of the needs of others. But it is not wrong to make things personal. I think of the story of Jesus asking the disciples who people thought he was. Then Jesus challenged them by asking “Who do you say that I am?” It is not enough to speak in generalities. Hannah, in her prayer does not speak only of herself, in fact it is a small part of her prayer. However, Hannah makes it clear at the outset that this is not just theory, this is something that is deeply personal to her.
Once Hannah gets her opening statements out of the way, she should be prepared to get down to business and to ask God for stuff. But Hannah does not do that. Hannah begins to speak beautiful words of praise to God. Why? This is prayer time, not worship time. Except there is no biblical division between worship and prayer. Worship should be prayerful and prayer should be worshipful. Do not get me wrong, it is not wrong to petition God for what we need or even what we want. Hannah got to this point because she asked God for a baby. But when Hannah received her answer to prayer, she did not end communication with God. It was natural for Hannah to transition from petition to praise.
Hannah praises God in general but then she takes it in a new direction. Hannah begins to speak about people. We have set ideas of those who are strong and those who are weak. We acknowledge that wealth, power and influence are good. But Hannah seems to turn this upside down. All the people that from a human perspective we would say are blessed are in fact in a bad position. Those who seem to suffer are in fact those who are truly blessed. How did Hannah get to this radical position? It was not through reading some great book or hearing some inspiring speaker. Hannah learned this through prayer. People think they have their destiny in their own hands. But when someone places their life and future in the hands of God through prayer, things change dramatically. How important is this change in perspective? If you read in the New Testament the prayer of Mary as she discovered she was pregnant with Jesus, you will see the same themes. In fact these two prayers are very similar. The point we need to get from here is that prayer does more than just get us things. Prayer changes our perspective so that we can see where power truly lies.
It is relatively easy to dwell on the past in prayer. We can look at our past hurts and ask God to heal them or at least make us forget them. We can look to our present situations and seek God’s intervention. But what about the future? Of course it is easy enough to worry about the future but can we pray in confidence about the future? Hannah in her prayer uses some ‘will’ and ‘shall’ language about God. Is she telling God what to do? Of course not. But Hannah has come to know God through prayer. She has come into relationship with him. She has come to believe in the promise of God. The promise of God is about hope, hope for today but hope for tomorrow as well. We believe in God’s promises, that the one who has helped us in the past will be present in the future. How deep have God’s promises gone into you? Do you have a sense of what God will and shall do? Does that give you hope?
Hannah was a thankful mother. She prayed in the midst of abuse from others and received her hearts desire. As a result of her answered prayer, we have an opportunity to learn from her prayer of thanks. We are reminded of the importance of keeping it personal. We are challenged to include praise in our prayer. We are pushed to change our perspective on what is strength and what is weakness. Finally, we need to keep God’s promises close to mind and allow them to infuse hope into our life. If only we would pray like Hannah.