Prayer is a privilege. A gift. Sometimes, though, it seems like prayer is one-sided conversation with an imaginary friend. Or even worse, it seems like you're talking to yourself. We know better - we've been taught otherwise. But, do you ever wish there was one tiny indication that your prayers are working? You know, something that would bolster your faith and confidence. Yeah, me too. We know what Scripture says about prayer. But, there are times when it seems like you pray and nothing happens. Nothing. Crickets. Might I suggest, though, that one of the functions of prayer is to remind us that He is God and we are not. And perhaps, one of the functions of prayer is to change us even before changing our circumstances or without changing our circumstances at all. Maybe that's our proof, our sign, that it's working. Yeah, what if it's that?
Meet Hannah. Hannah was wife to Elkanah. (Let's call him E. from now on.) But, Hannah wasn't the only wife in E.'s house. Meet Peninnah, the other woman. (Let's call her P. from now on.) There were two important distinctions made between these women. First, P. had children and Hannah did not. Hannah was barren. Second, E. loved Hannah; she was his favorite. Maybe the complexity of the situation isn't obvious. First, having children back in the day was a big deal. It was such a big deal that women who were unable to have children were considered failures. So, there's that. Then, add to the mix that the other woman in the house made it her business to provoke and irritate Hannah and the situation seems unbearable. See, P. treated Hannah as a rival. And poor E., he didn't get it. He didn't understand Hannah's plight and was convinced that his love for her should be enough to soothe Hannah's sad heart.
So, here's what we know about Hannah so far. Hannah was barren, misunderstood, provoked, ridiculed, bitterly angry, wept openly, and wouldn't eat or sleep. Her heart was grieved and her soul was in deep anguish. She was physically ill. Have you ever been in such anguish that it physically hurt? This is the Hannah we find in verse nine. Scripture says she was at the temple of the Lord and guess what she does? She prayed. No, wait. Hannah poured out her soul to the Lord. Poured out her soul. Then, she went on her way and ate and her face was no longer downcast. And, there it is. She poured her heart out honestly to the Lord and was changed. Her circumstance didn't change immediately, but she did. That's what it looks like when we leave our stuff at the feet of Jesus. When Hannah got up, she wasn't carrying the weight of her anguish and grief, and you can see the difference on her face and in her behavior. She wasn't carrying it, because the Lord carried it for her. Early the next morning, Scripture says the family worshiped. Hannah worshiped though everything around her remained unchanged.
The Lord did give Hannah a son, the one she asked for when she poured out her soul. She named him Samuel. What's more remarkable than that is that when Samuel was still young, she took him back to the temple at Shiloh (the same temple where she poured her soul out) to live and serve. Samuel was Israel's greatest judge.
Here's what Hannah teaches us:
1. Prayer and intimacy with God will change you. Pray honestly and specifically. The Lord can handle our deep anguish and grieved hearts. He expects us to be honest with Him. In my life, the most healing comes only when I'm willing to be honest with Him. When we refuse to see our real selves and cooperate with His process, when we refuse to be honest with Him, we are rejecting the work He wants to do to change us.
2. Even in the midst of difficult circumstances, choose to worship. When presented with the choice, don't choose to wallow in your anguish and trouble. There's a difference between going-through-the-motions worship and honest-straight-from-the-heart worship. Perfunctory prayer often cultivates going-through-the-motions worship. Hannah could worship honestly before the Lord because she prayed honestly to the Lord. And, she chose to worship though her circumstances remained unchanged.
3. Open-handed living is the best way. Hannah recognized the child she was given was given to her by God. Samuel was His before he was her's. Just like everything we've been given. Hannah gives us a beautiful example of open-handed living. What's mine is not mine. What's mine is His. That's why she took him to the temple. God did great things through the life of Samuel.
4. God's timing is impeccable and there is a bigger picture that reaches beyond what you want. Scripture says the Lord closed Hannah's womb. Until just the right time. God had very specific purposes for Samuel, just like with all of us. He places us in a specific space in time -- no sooner, no later -- than exactly when He wants us. There was something bigger going on here, something that would impact an entire nation. Maybe if God had answered Hannah's prayer a few years earlier, she would have been less likely to bring the child back to the temple. You never know. But, you can be sure God knew. The same holds true for us.
May I encourage you and challenge you today? Are you're sitting in an impossible situation waiting for God to "birth" something of substance? Pray. Pray about it more than you talk about it. And, don't wallow. Let your prayers be honest and let them do the work of changing you while God does the work of changing the circumstances. God will equip you to sit in the same impossible situation and be filled with joy. He will, if you let Him. Be like Hannah. Be brave. Be honest. Be steadfast.
After Hannah left her son Samuel, she prayed again. "My heart rejoices in the Lord. . ." When we land there, we can be sure our prayers are doing exactly what they are designed to do.