In the middle of our series on Judges and Kings, we meet Hannah. She’s in a hard spot. She’s married and well-loved by her husband. As a matter of fact, she’s known to be his favorite wife. But he does have another wife, and that’s out of necessity because Hannah is barren. Being the barren wife and the favorite wife leaves Hannah in the crosshairs of the other wife, who greets Hannah with derision and scorn. In 1 Samuel 1:1-20, Hannah is facing infertility, scorn, likely a bit of jealousy, and heartache – sad to the point she lost her appetite and couldn’t enjoy the feast on the day of their sacrifice. She described herself as having great anxiety and vexation. She’s hurting. Hurting like no one wants to hurt.
And in the midst of all of these things, we see that Hannah turned to prayer. Not to Facebook. Not to her phone. Not to wine or other substances to dull the pain. Not even to her husband, who did try to comfort her. Hannah ran to God. And prayed.
“I’ll pray for you,” or “Can we pray now?’ might seem like short, trite, church-y answers in the face of life’s hardest moments, but to Hannah, it was more than a trite answer – it was a game-changer.
So why should we pray? What does Hannah’s experience show us about reasons to pray?
It’s a privilege to pray. The freedom to approach the Lord God Almighty, creator of the universe, the rescuer and redeemer of all mankind, isn’t something to be taken for granted, and it’s not something to be overlooked. It’s what Hannah does – and we’ll see that it makes a difference.
God is Sovereign. In every situation, God’s hand either caused or allowed the experience you’re facing. And what He caused, He can change. God allowed Hannah’s womb to be closed and barren. God can open her womb and provide a child. John Piper said, “When I pray, I only pray for the impossible. If it’s possible, I just go do it.” God is sovereign, He can do the impossible.
Life can be tough. When life is tough, why wouldn’t we run to the person who knows us best, who cares more than anyone about us than anyone else in the universe?
We pray because we have a godly desire. Hannah’s Godly desire was children, a family. And she took it a step further, pledging that she would give that son right back to God, promising a Nazarite vow on his life. While our nature might be to cling to the child, her heart was to release him right back to the Lord.
Because we are in a relationship with God. Why should we pray? Why should you talk to your spouse? Your children? Your co-workers? It’s what you do when you’re in a relationship. You talk. You share. You encourage. Our relationship with God should be characterized by this even more than our relationships with the people in our lives. Hannah recognized her relationship with God, referring to herself as a servant, His servant. She referred to God as the Lord God Almighty, the Lord of Hosts, and it’s worth noting that she was the first person to reference Him that way in her prayers. Her relationship caused her to pray, and her pain caused her to recognize Him for who He is – it made her a theologian.
We should pray. That’s clear. But how should we pray?
We should pray with passion, not concerned about polish. Hannah’s prayer was so passionate the priest, Eli, mistook her for a drunken woman as she poured out her soul to the Lord.
We should pray based on our real feelings, not searching for the right words. Hannah acknowledged her anxiety and vexation – she didn’t try to present herself as having it all together. She was honest and authentic with God in her prayer. Romans 8:26-27 tells us, “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” This should be an encouragement to us to pour out our heart to God, not concerned about the vocabulary or the grammar, or Sunday School phrases. The Spirit makes it clear to God what is in our hearts – our words aren’t God’s focus, and they shouldn’t be ours, either. And the Spirit takes it a step further, aligning our prayer with the will of the Lord.
Prayer is about calibration, not cooperation. Prayer isn’t about getting God to do what we want, but aligning our hearts and minds with God. Sometimes our situation changes as a result of our prayers, and that is a blessing to celebrate. But sometimes our hearts and minds change instead – something no less worthy of celebration. We don’t pray to change God, but the change ourselves, to become calibrated to God, His thoughts and His ways.
Prayer is about connection, not change. When we pray, the goal isn’t simply changed circumstances, but a greater connection with God. God is our joy and our strength, our savior. Deepening our relationship with Him is the purpose of prayer. Circumstances that lead us to pray, lead us to a deeper relationship with God.
Prayer is about faith, not a formula. Whether or not you begin with “Dear Heavenly Father,” and end with “In Jesus name, I pray,” has nothing to do with the power of your prayer. The power of our prayer comes from our faith in the one to whom we pray. No formula guarantees our prayers will get us what we want. But prayer is an action we take based on our faith in God, that we trust Him to hear us, that we believe He will act on our behalf, for our good and His glory.
Prayer is about persistence, not pragmatism. We can see from Hannah’s story that she had prayed for years, not just about this, but in every situation. Hannah didn’t wait for a need to arise to talk to God, she spoke with him – prayed to Him – regularly. That’s why it seemed normal for her to pray in this painful time, and to pray so wholeheartedly, leaving the priest with the impression she was drunk.
What should we expect when we pray?
Peace. We see this in Hannah’s story. She finished her prayer and the scripture says she was no longer sad and she was able to eat. At this point, nothing has changed. She still isn’t pregnant, she still has no children, she’s still treated well by her husband and poorly by his other wife. The situation is no different in verse 18 than it was in verse 9, but Hannah is different because of the time she spent with God in prayer. Her prayer brought her peace in spite of her circumstances.
We’ll also gain perspective. We’ll begin to see things more as God sees them. God sees the bigger picture. He knows what’s coming next. Prayer causes us to recognize that He knows better than we do.
There is always potential for our prayers to be answered. It was God’s grace that allowed Hannah’s prayer to be answered. And in this case, the answer was one that would echo for generations. Hannah’s son, Samuel, was the final Judge in Israel, and he went on to become the Priest after Eli. Samuel went on to be the successor to the very priest who mistook Hannah’s heartfelt prayer for drunkenness. Samuel also went on to anoint Kings Saul and David. Samuel was the transitional, pivotal piece between the Judges and the Kings. God didn’t have to answer her prayer the way she asked, and he doesn’t have to answer ours the way we’d like him to. But He can, and there is always the potential that He will.
When we pray, we can expect to walk out in praise. Hannah’s name for her son, Samuel is an example of this. His name literally means, “God hears.” That’s an act of praise, acknowledging God for who He is and what He does. And just as she promised, when Samuel was weaned, she took Him to the temple and turned him over to God, where she offered her song in 1 Samuel 2, in praise and worship to God for the gift of her son – a song that was later mirrored by David and by Mary.
Hannah understood her story wasn’t about a woman getting what she wanted through an answered prayer. Her story was the theme of 1 and 2 Samuel: There’s a sovereign Lord who can reverse the fortune of humans. Her story is the theme of humanity’s story – we’re spiritually barren, our enemy mocks us and seeks to destroy us, but God gives us life.
How’s your prayer life? How is it changing your story?