Part 2 of 3
In these last weeks, two scenarios involving my youngest son have reminded me that faith is not something a parent can ‘schoolishly’ teach. There is no blackboard defining the rules of Christian life posted in the heart. No Powerpoint with moving pictures of purity flash across the sieve-like minds of children poised between the path of death and the path of life. Not a single child has a schoolmarm standing on his shoulder arguing the consequences of wrong choices. No, the most important lessons in life are caught rather than taught. Let me illustrate.
Two Sundays ago I had a conversation with my husband in which I was outwardly concerned; in girl-speak, this means I was tearing up as I shared my heart. Timmy happened to be sitting on my lap, having just awoken from sleep and still quite groggy, so I shared openly. After Tony and I finished our conversation, we went on with our day, which just happened to be going to church.
After Sunday school, the teacher came up to me and said, “I just wanted you to know that your son insisted on praying for you today.” I asked if Timmy had mentioned any special circumstances, and the teacher said, “No, but he would not be put off.” In other words, he sensed a certain urgency. The teacher just thought this was cute, but I was greatly encouraged by Timmy’s actions.
The second scenario occurred just after Christmas. Timmy received a little statue from his Grandma Kline of a boy kneeling and praying and we placed it on the dresser by his bed so that he can see it before and after sleep. The morning after Christmas, I came into his room to get him up and ready for the day and he announced quite proudly, “Mom, I prayed for you last night.” In probing further, he told me that the little statue reminded him that he needed to pray for his family, and so he did. Once again, I was so encouraged by Timmy’s sincerity.
Have I ever sat down and shared with Timmy the importance of prayer? Not really. Have I walked him through the proper way to approach God, to handle life’s problems, or to intercede for another person? Never, and yet Timmy has seen something in our home that has caught his attention. Without my having to teach prayer methods, he is being taught to lift up his heart and others before God. His faith is being caught, rather than explicitly taught and in this discovery, there is both a blessing and a caution.
The blessing is that anyone who lives a righteous life before God can be a teacher. They do not have to be trained, only faithful. They do not have to be verbose, only persistent. And they do not have to be a Bible scholar; they must only be humble enough to apply the small amount of Scripture they do know. They can fish for men without a seminary degree and this is a very good thing.
But there is also a caution for every believer: someone is always watching and what they catch from you is a reflection of how you are truly living. Complacency, though quiet and placid, is an influential teacher. Hypocrisy, though cleverly disguised by Christian-ese, is actually a glaring siren that little ones innately interpret. And the lack – of integrity, of godly disciplines, of spiritual fervor and I could go on and on – in our homes that we believe no one will ever notice, will actually be grafted into the fabric of our children’s lives and put on full display for all the world to see.
The matter of prayer is just one example of integrity, godly discipline, and spiritual fervor, one caught-rather-than-taught lesson. I was gratified over this vacation to see how prayer is being caught in Timmy’s four-year-old heart. But if I were completely honest, there have been many other prayer lessons caught: the many times I have not thought to pray first, have not discipled my children in this God-meeting-people art, have talked to God insincerely, and have not cast all my anxiety on Him.
This faith that I call relationship is a living, breathing entity. It cannot exist without the very breath of God overshadowing it and I could get so concerned about my children’s caught faith and become anxious about my actions. But because I know that I am held in God’s hands, I am also markedly aware that my only calling is to concentrate on becoming enraptured with my Lover. When this love supersedes all others, then all the lessons that are caught will be lessons I truly desired to be taught.
This devotional series – A Soul Revolution – is about change. There are decisions we can make, paths in which we can walk, and chaff we can cut from our lives, but in the end, we will not be able to put a dent in our fleshly desires. At least, not enough to transform our minds. This kind of transformation requires a spirit-filled revelation. Then, and only then, can our resolutions move into true revolutions.
The story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 is our text for this month. She experienced a year-after-year kind of suffering, a suffering which, by the way, set her up for a soul revolution. In the middle of that interminable pain, Hannah sparkled like a valuable treasure and her choices have been such an example to me.
During the last week of December, the Lord led me to her story and I have been struck by the similarities in our lives. We both have suffered over a long time. We both have waited interminably for answers to our prayers. She, like me, has followed God as closely as possible, but in all of this obedience, neither of us have received the answers to our specific longings and prayerful cries. Many other prayers have been answered, but there are still huge often-asked, year-after-year prayers standing breathlessly in the wings of God’s heavenly waiting room.
The first eight verses of her story reveal her heart’s faith crisis. She struggled with God’s choices for her life. She wept and refused to eat out of incredible angst and discouragement. Verse 8 leads me to believe she was on the sagging edge of giving up, but as I pointed out last week, she was also a godly and resolute woman. Full of grace, full of love, and full of long-obedience, she made three radiant resolutions that have brought my soul to attention these last couple of weeks.
The first resolution was a determination to be faithful. She did not return evil for evil, but acted with grace. She kept making the pilgrimage to worship and sacrifice to the Lord year after year because of love. And she persisted in going up to the house of the Lord – though provoked to tears the whole while – out of a heart of resolute obedience. This attitude of faithfulness was a vital first step along her Pathway of Peace; it was a precursor to God’s revelation, which we will study in depth next week.
Before we begin looking at a Hannah’s second resolution, would you take the time to read 1 Samuel 1:9-16? Take special notice of Hannah’s prayerfulness as she approached God in her time of need.
The Last Straw
Last week we spent quite a long time looking at Hannah’s painful circumstances. As we closed out last week’s devotional, Elkanah had the last word, if you will remember. Adding insult to injury, he questioned her with three why’s: “Why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted?” And then he closed his speech to her with a comment that sealed in her pain like a Tupperware lid: “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons” (v 8)?
I say ‘sealed in her pain’ because the man who was supposed to love her, to care for her, and to understand her the most did not even seem to realize the depth of her pain. He acted like his relationship with her was all she has ever dreamed of, that somehow he could eradicate her year-after-year suffering just by being in the same room with him.
His comments did not seem to phase her angst, for in verse 9 we see Hannah co-existing with her family, but basically going through the motions. “Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up.” Now, I thought a lot about the “they” in verse 9. Who was eating and drinking? It almost appears like Hannah was eating with them and then left their fellowship to pray. Many commentators differ over what is actually happening here, but I will give you my thoughts based on what I feel is pretty logical thinking.
I do not believe Hannah was eating and drinking with the rest of her family; I do not believe she is part of the “they.” I say this because she refused to eat (v 7) and her husband got on her case for this decision (v 8). Later in verse 18, after she has found a measure of peace, Scripture says that she ate something. With the bookends of refusing to eat on one hand and joyfully eating on the other, I think I can make a pretty clear case for her sitting with the family while they ate and drank, but still refusing to eat somewhere in the middle when God’s revelation had not yet taken hold.
Imagine with me what she must be feeling at this point. Her family, dysfunctional as it is, is sitting in the temple vicinity, eating and drinking. Because of Elkanah’s yearly trips to Shiloh, I believe his family is participating in joyful fellowship around a peace or fellowship offering. This is an offering of a lamb or goat that is killed, and where the fat and choice parts of the animal are burned before the Lord. Much of the meat, however, is eaten together in the presence of the Lord. It is to be a joyful celebration, but Hannah is far from happy.
Her suffering continues on. Despite her faithfulness to God, He has still not answered her prayers. Instead, she continues to put one weary foot in front of another on her Pilgrimage of Provocation. While all of Peninnah’s happy children feast with her husband, a husband she should not have to share, she is reminded of the barrenness of her womb and the emptiness of her arms.
I believe this is the lowest point of Hannah’s misery. She has been replaced as the fruitful wife. She has endured years of abuse by a rival. She has persisted through speeches by a husband who does not seem to understand her. Over and over, she has walked the 15 miles to Shiloh to sacrifice to a God who seems immune to her petitions. How can she possibly join in with a celebration of thankfulness when the grain offerings are offered? How can she sit down with a family that makes her feel like an outsider? How can she possibly be at rest (remember Shiloh means “place of rest”) in this place of God, eating and drinking with joy when her heart is breaking?
She cannot! This fellowship meal, which is supposed to be filled with joy and gratefulness, only stirs up hurt and bitterness and hopeless misery. It is the last straw in a year-after-year mound of straws.
What do you do when you have completely had it? When the last straw has been piled upon your already-too-full emotional plate, how do you respond? What is your modus operandi when your back is breaking, when your heart is overwhelmed, when darkness eclipses any hope you have?
I know what many people tend to do. They flee to their pet idols. They might medicate their pain with food or alcohol or drugs. They may suspend their realites with their favorite television show, the newest video game or the latest pornography site. Or they may run to the person in their life who promises to make it all go away. These idols are fleeting and never make good on their promises, but they do tend to numb the pain; howbeit temporarily. And when your life is going down the garbage disposal, numbing seems like the only recourse, or is it?
Hannah shows us that there is another option. The choice she made at this, the darkest hour of her life, demonstrates a holy resolve. For instead of numbing, instead of running away, instead of flying into a fit of rage, instead of seeking false gods, Hannah did a bold and courageous thing: she stood up (v 9b).
Taking A Stand
On December 1, 1955, James Blake demanded that four black people give up their seats for the white people getting on the downtown Montgomery bus. Though none of them moved readily, at last three stood to their feet, but one only moved closer to the window, refusing to vacate her seat. That person was Rosa Parks, the woman Congress later referred to as the “Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement.”
Years later, in recalling the events of the day, Parks said, “When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night.”
Rosa was subsequently arrested and taken to jail, but her prison sentence lasted only until she was bailed out that evening. That same evening, plans were put into effect to instigate a bus boycott, the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted 382 days until injustices for blacks riding buses was righted.
On December 8, Rosa was tried in court and found guilty. She later appealed her conviction and formally challenged the legality of racial segregation. In a 1992 interview, Rosa Parks recalled: “I did not want to be mistreated, I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time… there was opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested…But when I had to face that decision, I didn’t hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long…” (www.biographyonline.net/humanitarian/rosa-parks.html)
Taking a stand is a familiar idiom meaning to adopt a firm position about an issue. “This idiom alludes to the military sense of stand, “to hold one’s ground against the enemy.” (www.dictionary.com) Similarly, a person could also say, “I am making a stand.” Werner Erhard defines this idiom in this way: “A powerful way of being that can enable an individual to have an impact in the course of humanity.” (coralrose.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/06/what-does-it-re.html)
Would you notice four thoughts that emerge from these basic woolgatherings on the word ‘stand?’ 1) First, I believe taking a stand involves the word ‘determination’ that Rosa Parks used; she felt determination cover her body like a quilt. 2) Take note that she sat in order to take a stand. She expressed what she felt inside by an outward sign. Sometimes what we do may not seem like a very big deal, but it can change our futures. 3) The dictionary’s definition showed that this idiom comes from the military posture of holding ground against an enemy. This thought will become very important to us in a few minutes. 4) Werner Erhard declared that a person can be powerful and that being alone can impact others.
During what I believe were the darkest moments in Hannah’s suffering to that point, she determined a different course for her life. Her determination was expressed in an outward stance, but it revealed an inward attitude. The attitude was a posture of war; she was attempting to hold ground against a formidable enemy. And that stance, an incredibly powerful way of being, enabled her to impact the course of humanity: her prayers were answered and she trained a godly son who one day anointed the godly king David, who fathered the Son of David, the Messiah and Savior of the world.
This word ‘stood up’ means “to get up, arise, stand, establish, confirm, raise up, set up, restore…to raise up against” (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament). My Strong’s adds these thoughts, “to come on the scene (fig), to arise out of inaction, to endure…” and sometimes this word is used to “signify empowering or strengthening…In a military context, qum may mean “to engage in battle” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary).
Why am I making such a big deal about this word? Two words – stood up – cannot be that important, or can they? I believe that they can.
The great warrior chapter in the New Testament, Ephesians 6, mentions this word ‘stand’ four times in three verses: “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes…put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist…” (Eph. 6:11, 13, 14).
These four uses of the word ‘stand’ are a Bible lesson in themselves. In verse 11, we are told about the nature of the fight: it is a spiritual fight, not a mortal one. And the stand is against specific schemes of the devil. This is a picture “not of a march, or of an assault, but of the holding of the fortress of the soul…” (Tyndale N.T. Commentary quoting Moule). The fight is going to be difficult. It is not a fight against man, but against the wiles of a spiritual enemy, “the subtle plans of the enemy of souls of which every experienced Christian warrior is well aware” (Tyndale). Verse 12 spells out that our battle is against cosmic powers and spiritual forces in the heavenly places.
The next instance of ‘stand’ is actually “withstand’ in the ESV translation. It means to “stand against…oppose, resist, to set against” (ESV Strong’s) and demonstrates to us the severity of the fight. It implies a stand against great opposition. The words “in the evil day” that follow show us a time when the conflict will be most severe, due to persecution from without and trials from within; maybe even within the Christian fellowship.
Verse 13 ends with a brief cap, almost like an afterthought, but it is anything but: “and having done all, to stand firm” (ESV). That verb “done all” means “to work fully, accomplish…to finish, fashion..perform, work (out), achieve, to do that from which something results, bring about” (ESV Strong’s). This last ‘stand’ comes about when we are wrestling in a successful and skillful fight. After we have done all that we can possibly do in God’s power, we still make that stand and do it successfully.
The last usage of the word ‘stand’ in this short passage refers to the safety of our fight. You and I will be completed protected when we stand in our armor. We are safe as we put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God, and when we pray at all times in the Spirit (vv 14-18).
This moment when Hannah stood up is one of the most important moments in her story. I propose to you that this is the turning point in Hannah’s life. Up to this decisive moment, we have seen her as gracious, passive, surviving, but not thriving, inactive except for one resolution, weeping, depressed to the point of fasting, and going with the flow while emotionally hemorrhaging internally. Something changes in this incredible moment and this choice, this spiritual stance, overthrows her victim mentality. She becomes a woman warrior and it alters the rest of her written story and quite possibly, the rest of her life.
We do not know what happened at that meal in Shiloh. I would love to see Hannah’s memoirs someday for I believe it would read something like Rosa Parks, that a determination came over her like a blanket. She stood up from her partying family, stood up to the bullying of a spiritual schemer, stood up to the severity of her battle, stood up to the skillfulness this war would take, and stood up in the safety of her God. This incredible action – taking a stand – shifted tectonic plates in the heavenly realms.
Hannah’s subsequent resolution – the resolution to wrestle in prayer – is clearly her answer to Satan’s schemes. By this time, he had her defeated emotionally, since year after year she wept inconsolably. He had her defeated physically. She even refused to eat out of her intense discouragement. Psychologically, she was probably inundated with issues of identity and doubt and spiritually, she was “bad” in heart and bitter in spirit. Satan looked like he was going to win this battle…
…but, praise be to the Lord of Hosts, Hannah stood up. What did she stand up to do? The answer to this question defines Hannah’s second decisive resolution.
Hannah’s Resolution of Prayerfulness
This resolution is hard not to miss for prayer is used in some form six times in six different verses. When Hannah resolved to effectively stand up, she fulfilled Ephesians 6:18a with powerful passion, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…”
I could literally spend a month talking about these six verses alone; they are so packed with principles on prayer. But since I have just this one update, I will try to keep things brief. Let’s look at each of these instances to see what we can learn about Hannah’s prayer life in order to pray more effectively ourselves.
JUDGING: Verse 10 reads like this: “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD.” This word ‘prayed’ is the word palal, meaning “to judge (officially or mentally), to intercede, intreat, intervene, interpose, mediate” (ESV Strong’s). This same word is used again in verse 12, “As she kept praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth.”
To intercede is to act between parties with the hopes of reconciling differences, but here we see Hannah praying only to the Lord. She is not mediating between two people or even interceding on behalf of another.
To judge means to form an authoritative opinion, to decide as a judge, or to form an estimate or evaluation about something (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary). How can judging be a part of prayer to God? Hannah was alone with Him, weeping out her heart to Him. There was no other person involved in her prayer, so who was there to judge?
I thought about this word an awful lot, trying to understand why the most-often used word for prayer in the Old Testament is this term that means judging or interceding. Even my Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary admitted that the reason for this verb form is relatively unclear. After praying about this and meditating on its meaning for a couple of days, I woke one morning with, what I believe, is the answer to this grammatical dilemma. To understand better, we need to go to a few verses in the New Testament.
James addresses a confusing issue in his first chapter. Listen to these words, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does” (James 1:5-8).
There are three words of interest to our dilemma about judging prayer. The first is believe. This word pistis meaning “persuasion, credence, moral conviction, assurance, faith, fidelity” (ESV Strong’s). James says that one requirement for receiving an answer from God is belief. That person must have conviction that God hears. He must be persuaded that God will answer and he must be assured of his standing before God; in other words, he must be full of faith.
Secondly, look at that word ‘doubt.’ This word is made up of two root words: krino and dia. The word krino means to “distinguish, i.e. decide (mentally or judicially), to try, condemn, punish. Other thoughts include separating, select, choosing, to be of an opinion, to determine, resolve, judge” (ESV Strong’s). Dia is a preposition meaning the channel of an act. These words together make up diakrino meaning “to separate thoroughly, withdraw from, oppose, discriminate, hesitate…stagger, waver” (ESV Strong’s).
James says that a person cannot doubt if he wants God to approve of his prayer. The person who doubts has separated one’s self in a hostile spirit, he opposes, strives with dispute, contends; he is at variance with himself. In the end, he is hesitant, wavering and unstable.
The last word that is important to us is that word ‘double-minded.’ This means to be “two-spirited, of two minds, vacillating in opinion or purpose, wavering, uncertain, doubting, or divided in interest” (ESV Strong’s). A person that asks with doubts in his heart is divided within himself. He is not able to distinguish the proper answers or directions. He is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. “Such a person suffers from divided loyalties. On the one hand, he wishes to maintain a religious confession and desires the presence of God in his life; on the other hand, he loves the ways of the world and prefers to live according to its mores and ethics” (CWSB Dictionary).
Another passage ties in with James’ thoughts. “Jesus replies, ‘I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘God, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be one. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Mt. 21:21-22). So we see here that faith without doubting is a blank check. The Lord says that powerful prayer coupled with potent belief is incredibly effective.
Romans 14:23 ups the ante on the significance of being a doubtful person. “But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Now I am aware this is a different context, but I think we can still draw the parallels between our passages. Praying with doubt in the heart reveals sin in the heart. Doubt leads to unbelief, which to God is a sin (Heb. 3:12).
So to summarize all of these passages, I will attempt to do so in four steps. 1) Effective prayer requires belief. 2) Doubts – being at odds with oneself – render prayer ineffective. 3) Doubts make a person double-minded; he is interested in what God wants but also interested in what he wants, making him unstable. 4) If a person eats from a place of doubt, Paul describes that as sin. Could this also mean that it is a sin to pray from a place of doubt?
Now with that long rabbit trail behind us, let’s take this information back into Hannah’s story. With bitterness in her spirit, Hannah wept and prayed much, 1 Samuel 1:10 says. To remind you, this word praying (palal) means to judge, intercede, mediate.
What the Lord showed me in a light-bulb moment was why true, effective prayer is judging prayer. Doubts make a person double-minded. He is unstable and cannot even know how to pray. His thoughts are warring his flesh. His heart is at war with God’s will. His desires are battling within him (James 4:1-3) and so, how can he pray effectively?
Powerful, sincere, effective prayer is palal. It takes the double-mindedness we experience into the throne room of God. It lays out our doubts in a judgmental manner, attempting to discern by the Spirit which are God’s desires and which are ours. True prayer is mediating between the Spirit and the truth of our flesh (Jn. 4:24). This means that the Word of God must be a part of palal prayer. God’s Word is active and living and Hebrews says that “it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow and it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
Do you see that word ‘judge?’ It is the Greek word kritikos meaning “decisive, critical, discriminative, discerning” and you probably will not be surprised to hear that the root word is the word krino. This is the same word that exists in the definition of doubt. A person who doubts is unable to be decisive, critical or discerning.
Judging, discerning, and discriminating are a huge part of prayer. We must always check our motives at the doors of our prayer closets. The Holy Spirit, who intercedes for us when we do not know how to pray (Rom. 8:26), helps us judge and discern our motives. The Word of God, which we already saw judges our thoughts and intentions, is a must-have in the realm of effective prayer. Mediating between our double minds is an important function of our prayer life, of the Spirit, and of the Word.
Hannah came into prayer with a double-mind. She was bitter in her spirit before God, a state of being that is in opposition to the ways of God. You cannot love God and be bitter toward Him or others at the same time and still hope to enjoy peace. Ephesians is clear that we are to get rid of all bitterness (4:30) and Peter confronted Simon with this rebuke, “For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin” (Acts 8:23). Bitterness and captivity go hand in hand. Hannah knew this. She knew there were doubts in her heart, that she could not pray effectively with all that was roiling around inside of her relationship with God. She needed a revelation from God to soothe the turbulence in her soul.
Effective prayer judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart and leaves the doubts far behind.
VOWING: This word describing a special type of prayer is a promise to do or give something to God. Essentially, she asked God to give her a son and then she vowed to give him back to the Lord for full service. Vows were not to be taken lightly and if a woman vowed, a husband could revoke it (Numbers 30:8, 10, 13).
A vow was a big deal to God, “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin” (Deut. 23:21). The judge, Jephthah, knew the seriousness of a vow, for he promised that if God would give the Ammonites into his hands, he would sacrifice whatever came out of his house to meet him when he returned. Unfortunately, his only daughter came out to greet him and he tore his clothes because he had made a vow to the Lord that he could not break. In the end, he sacrificed his only daughter because he knew the sin of not keeping his word before God (Judges 11:30-39).
Hannah was serious about prayer if she was going to this extreme. She knew the ramifications of her vow. She understood also the consequences of not keeping her vow. But she prayed a promise to God anyway.
Effective prayer that promises God something will make good on its word.
SPEAKING: The author tells us that Hannah was also praying in her heart and praying later out of her anguish and grief (NIV – v 13 and 16). Not until I began looking in other translations did I notice there is a different word in the ESV and NASB. It says that Hannah was speaking in her heart and speaking out of anguish. When I delved into this dichotomy, I found a different word describing prayer.
Dabar is a general term for communication (Mounce’s Dictionary). There are other words similar to speaking, like saying (amar) but “dabar often appears without any specification of what was communicated” (Vine’s dictionary). However, at its central meaning, it is conversing, speaking with one another, and talking.
I do not know if this moves you at all, but a conversation cannot be had with one person unless that person needs to be committed to an insane asylum. A conversation is two-way. Communication requires two people. Hannah was not engaging in self-talk; she was engaging in communication with God. She was speaking to Him in her heart and though we do not know what was communicated back, “speaking with one another” means that God was speaking to her in her heart also.
Effective prayer is a two-way conversation.
POURING OUT: The last type of prayer I want to draw your attention to comes from verse 15. Hannah declares that she “was pouring out (her) soul to the LORD.” There are no hidden meanings in this word for prayer. It is to “spill forth, to expend (life, soul, complaint), to sprawl out: cast up, gush out, be shed” (ESV Strong’s).
Hannah left nothing undone. She withheld nothing from the Lord. Out gushed her sorrow. Out poured her emotional life blood. Out sprawled her doubts and fears. She expended her life, her soul, her complaint before God.
Effective prayer is a pouring out of the anguish of the soul.
Hannah’s Powerful Prayer
I have spent a lot of time with you looking behind some of the important words in these six verses and I realize that it can be very heavy. Thank you for sticking with me as I have tried to share some deeper thoughts with you; thoughts that God has used in my heart to draw out a deeper prayer life from me.
There are two more goals I have in looking at this passage. One is a brief overview of the aspects that make Hannah’s prayer so powerful and effective. The other is a parallel look between these verses and Psalm 56:3-4, with the intention of exploring how to combat fear in one’s life.
The first example given to us by Hannah is that of powerful prayer. Folks, powerful, effective prayer is much-needed in our churches, in our homes, in our ministries, and in our lives. Hannah knew something about prayer. As we delve into the nitty-gritty of her time with God, would you take special note of the areas of your prayer life that seem weak by comparison? Then make a plan with God to integrate some of Hannah’s prayer principles.
The Private Prayer
Hannah left her family just after they had finished eating at drinking. Scripture is not clear about where she prayed; Eli is mentioned as sitting by the Lord’s temple, so I think we can safely assume she went to the house of God to pray. No other person is mentioned in this whole sequence of verses and I do not believe Hannah even knew he was there; I think she was so focused on meeting with God.
Additionally, verse 13 says that Hannah was praying in her heart. She was conversing with God in the sanctuary of her spirit and this reminds me so much of God’s admonition in Matthew 6:5-6, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Hannah was not a hypocrite. She did not stand out in public, praying loud prayers so that she could be seen. She was honest and upfront with God about the emotional chaos inside and she prayed in the quietness of her soul’s secret room. God was unseen, but He saw this private prayer warrior and did eventually reward her.
Private prayers are the kind of soul-cries God loves to answer.
The Passionate Prayer
We have looked at this already, but I want to make mention of it again. There is so much passion in Hannah’s prayer life. She came to the Lord honestly, in bitterness of soul and with great weeping and out of that honesty was born a prayer to God (v 10). She also admitted her misery to God (v 11). It is normal to weep when there is a sharp pain in the heart, but not everyone instinctively takes that to the Lord in prayer.
Verses 12-14 reveal the poignancy of her prayers. She was praying in her heart, so although her lips were moving, nothing was coming out. One commentary I read said that most prayers of that day were audible, so her praying silently was an anomaly (Expositor’s Dictionary). It was so strange, in fact, that Eli thought she was drunk. Sometimes when passions well up within us, we engage in extra-cultural, extra-religious ways. This passion is often misunderstood by people in the church, but make no mistake, it is never misunderstood by God.
She admitted to Eli, a relative stranger, that she was deeply troubled and that she had been pouring out her soul to the Lord (v 15). Emptying herself before God demonstrated her passionate pursuit of God. She also admitted to the prayer of the anguished and grief-stricken (v 16).
Passion for God may not always be positive. Sometimes we are angry. Sometimes we are hurt. And sometimes we are fearful. All of Hannah’s emotions that are described in these verses are quite negative, yet she does not hide them; she unveils them in the presence of both her Savior and His servant. This is a very important lesson for us emotional women to remember.
Passionate prayers are the kind of soul-cries God loves to answer.
The Plain Prayer
Hannah’s prayer was pretty simple. She addressed God with reverence, then simply laid out four petitions before Him: she asked God to look upon her misery, to remember her, to not forget her, and to give her a son. No other words are given to embellish the simplicity of her requests. I am sure more were spoken in the privacy of her heart, but these words are the ones God highlighted for you and me.
Sometimes, I think we get so caught up in the manner in which we pray. We use big words or lay a ton of things before God, hoping He will at least answer one of our requests. God is quite clear about the sheer volume of our petitions, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt. 6:7-8).
Plain prayers are the kind of soul-cries God loves to answer.
The Persevering Prayer
Verse 12 says that she kept on praying to the Lord. She did not just lay her request before God and walk away. She was tenacious. She pressed in to God. She persisted and she prevailed.
Jesus talked about this kind of prayer in Luke 8:1-8 by way of a parable about a widow who would not stop pestering a judge for justice against her adversary. The judge neither feared God nor cared about this widow, yet because she would not leave him alone, he chose to give her justice. Jesus promises that, if an evil, uncaring judge could procure justice for a widow who kept bothering him, how much more would God bring about the same result.
Jesus gave this parable to his disciples to show that they should always pray and not give up (Lk. 8:1). The Bible does not tell us how long Hannah persisted in prayer, but that “kept on praying” really speaks to me. She had already shared her requests, and yet, she kept knocking on heaven’s door. She asked of God. She sought God. And she kept knocking and Scripture is clear that when this trio of actions merge, the door of heaven will be opened (Mt. 7:7).
Persevering prayers are the kind of soul-cries God loves to answer.
The Penitent Prayer
Hannah gives herself a very revealing title. Four times in these verses, she comes before the Lord and Eli, calling herself a servant. When she vowed her vow to God, she asked God to look upon “(his) servant’s misery” and not forget her as His servant (v 11). In talking later with Eli, she again calls herself a servant, asking him not to mistake her for a wicked woman. And in the last exchange with Eli, she says, “May your servant find favor in your eyes” (v 18).
Jesus is quite clear in the Beatitudes about the kind of people that God blesses. Happy people are those who are meek and Jesus’ teaching informs us that the meek will then inherit the earth (Mt. 5:5). This word can be easily applied to Hannah. She was humble, laying her requests before God as a handmaiden. She did not shove her way forward into blessing with God. She approached Him with reverence and awe and childlike honesty. She did not throw her weight around, but fully relied on God to give her the due she desired.
Penitent prayers are the kind of soul-cries God loves to answer.
David’s Fear Conquest
Last week I attempted to show you the correlation between fear and pain. We made some forages into what Hannah’s deepest longings might have been based on the sources of pain in her life. I suggested to you that unanswered longings, if not released into God’s hands, will cause faith to waver. Satan uses those unmet desires as a wedge between us and God and at that point, doubt is born. When doubts grow into either numbness or explosive emotions or an attempt to hide from God, fear has taken over.
In the midst of David’s horrible circumstances – running from Saul for his very life – he pens Psalm 56. After barely escaping from the Philistines, with whom he was desperate enough to try to find protection, he bares his soul before God. He cries out for God’s mercy because of his situation. Men pursued him, slandered him and attacked him in their pride (56:1-2).
Then, like a lightbulb illuminating a dangerously dark room, verses 3 and 4 shine out like a beacon. Listen to these words on the very heels of his soul cries, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal men to do me?”
These words have sat on me for weeks. I have felt overshadowed by their immensity and have sought on numerous occasions to apply them to my life. Out of these two small verses come a whole primer – a Bible study, even – on how to combat fear. I have gleaned eight actions from David’s example on how to handle life when fear is trying to take over.
A – Acknowledge when you are afraid (v 3a)
Have you ever heard the statement, “Acknowledging the problem is half of the battle?” I think much of the sentiment behind this advice rings true.
Many people never sit down in their emotions to discover why they do the things they do. They may be angry and never face it. They may be super clingy, inordinately needy and never discern why. They may be jealous, manipulative, controlling or depressed, but they never take the time to ask their soul, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed deep within me?” (Ps. 42:5ab)
Everyone around that imploding person can see the turmoil of their soul. It is obvious to that person’s spouse, children, friends, co-workers and church mates, but in order to maintain a certain persona or reputation, he will never move into vulnerability before others or before his Savior. He continues to numb himself, move further and further from God, and busies himself, almost irrationally, so that he does not have to take the time to engage his soul cries.
This, my friend, is the Path of Provocation. Underneath that busyness and posturing is a very scared person. Soul cries have never been explored and surrendered to God. Consequently, doubts rear their ugly heads left and right. That person may pray, may go to church, may even try to worship, but his prayers are not answered because of his double-mindedness (James 1:5-7) and God feels as far away as Pluto is from the earth, some 2.7 billion miles.
David shows us the necessary first step in doing battle with fear: we have to acknowledge before God that it exists. David spoke these candid words in the presence of his Father, “When I am afraid,” and the battle began to sway in his favor. Coming to God and initiating conversation about his fear began to turn the tide in beginning to talk about his soul longings, and opened up the door to hope.
A – Act deliberately in spite of your emotions (v 3b)
The NIV says, I will trust in you, but the ESV and the NASB versions say, “I will put my trust in you.” You may not see much of a difference, but I see a clear action in that word ‘put.’
The Lord has given me a promise from His Word about an upcoming event that will occur sometime within this year. I have been quite fearful about the unknowns associated with this event and have had to lay this before God often. It is easy for me to acknowledge these fears to God; I do it regularly. But it is hard to say, “ I trust you, God” because the word ‘trust’ seems so nebulous to me. It means “to hie for refuge, to trust, be confident or sure, be bold…” (ESV Strong’s). Trust expresses a feeling of safety and security that is felt when one can rely on something else, namely God. “This expression can also relate to the state of being confident, secure, without fear” (CWSB Dictionary).
But you and I both know that to say the words does not change one’s feelings. I can tell God that I trust Him until I am blue in the face and still feel fearful. I know in my head that God is big and powerful and that He has my best interests at heart. But I also know that my emotions have not gotten the memo so I still feel fearful, despite my best intentions.
The change comes in the action of ‘putting.’ This word is used over 200 times in the New Testament alone. Look at some of the activities that involve this explosive word:
- “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (Mt. 7:26) – Put words into practice.
- “…So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith…” (Gal. 2:16) – Put faith in Christ.
- “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self…and to put on the new self…” (Eph. 4:22, 24) – Put off the old self and put on the new.
- “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:11) – Put on the full armor of God.
- “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice And the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:9) – Put what you learn into practice.
- “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature…and have put on the new self…” (Col. 3:5, 10) – Put to death the earthly nature and put on the new.
Do you see the power of this little word? In these examples alone, the implications for not putting are enormous. If words are not put into practice, the house on the sand will fall. If faith is not put in Christ, we may not experience justification by faith. The reality is there; we just might not experience it. If we don’t put off the old self, it might be corrupted by its desires. If we do not put on the full armor of God, we will not stand against the devil’s schemes. If we do not put words into practice, we may not experience the God of peace in our lives. And if we do not put to death that which belongs to our earthly nature, we may experience the wrath of God (Col. 3:6). Acting by putting is essential to our walk with God.
I may not feel like entering the arena of warfare. I may be scared or I may be intimidated. I am to take those feelings to God – acknowledge them in the light of His Presence. But this second step is paramount to dealing with fear: I must act in spite of my emotions. And I do this by ‘putting.’
I am reminded of 1 Peter 5:7 and its simple, but profound, message: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” The act of casting means you are throwing your cares away from you onto God’s capable shoulders. When you cast your cares, you do not hold onto them; you get rid of them. If you begin to think about your cares again, you keep casting until your emotions do not keep reeling them back in.
In the same way, when you put your trust in God, you take your fears from your soul and deliver them to God’s side of the yoke. If you begin to feel fear again, you keep putting that emotion onto God until your emotions do not keep bringing fear back into your life. This ‘putting’ requires vigilance and diligence, an action that is sadly lacking from stressed and discouraged believers.
A – Alter flesh’s natural inclinations (v 3b)
In returning to that same phrase – I will put my trust – I want you to see there is another action hidden in these simple words. Look specifically at the words “my trust,” for this is the way most people tend to deal with their problems.
The flesh’s natural inclination is to go it alone, to take the bull by the horns and just muscle through the problem. For a reason that must be so bewildering to God, we do not choose to take our issues to Him…in our flesh. We trust in our bank accounts or our brawn, our reputation or our rapport; we trust in ourselves. Isaiah exhorts this fleshy inclination, “But now, all you who light fires and provided yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment” (Isa 50:11).
Our flesh also trusts in people around us. Micah 7:5 says, “Do not trust a neighbor; put no confidence in a friend. Even with her who lies in your embrace be careful of your words.” Our friends, neighbors, family and loved ones are not the answer to our problems. Only God is.
At one point in Israel’s history when Hezekiah was king, he was warned not to go to Israel to help him in a time when the Assyrian king was at his doorstep, “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord” (Isaiah 31:1). Sadly, Hezekiah did not listen, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it” (Isa 30:15). Hezekiah did later repent, but until then, he was trusting in people who had given their word to help; people who later ended up reneging on their word.
Another inclination of the flesh is to trust in power or might or sheer volume: “Some trust in chariots and horses…” (Ps. 20:7). How do you and I trust in our own power and volume? We finagle accounts or work extra hours. We stay up late working on degrees in order to pad our resume. We network with influential people to promote our productivity. Just so you know, I am not against these types of help. Working hard is a good thing. So are degrees and savings accounts. But when they become our saviors, we have crossed a line into idolatry.
One other place our flesh often turns is to our pet idols. Idols may be people or ways we cope like alcohol or drugs. But idols may also be where we find significance or how we meet our deepest soul cries. The horrifying part of idolatry is that idols will never satisfy, they will never solve our problems or give us true relief. Instead, they lead us into bondage and disgrace. “But those who trust in idols, who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’ will be turned back in utter shame (Isa 42:17).
Early on in the process of combating fear, you and I must combat our flesh. Naturally our flesh turns inward in order to solve our problems. We call it independence, but God calls it idolatry. Anytime we do not place Him as our trust, we are cutting Him out of the faith equation.
As I have combated fear about the before-mentioned event, I have had to be honest with God. I want to solve this concern on my own. I want to make the problems go away…NOW! But in the process of putting my trust in God, I have had to name my longings before Him, which, by the way, undermines much of their control. I have had to trace some of these longings to tendencies I have to depend on idols. And when I name those tendencies before God, I allow the Holy Spirit to break their power and free me from their grip. This step opens both my head and my emotions up to really trust in God.
A – Arm yourself with the knowledge of your Source of trust (v 3b, 4ab)
“I will trust in you…in God I trust,” speaks David confidently. Notice the source of this trust is not in himself, but in his God.
You will never trust someone you do not personally know to be trustworthy. So in order to move into a place of confidence before God, you must spend the time getting to know Him and His ways. God has many names; mostly, I believe, so there is a facet of His character that will speak personally to your situation.
When there is a need, Jehovah-Jireh will provide. When there is a sense of abandonment, the Shepherd will care for you. When you feel unseen, Jehovah-Raa watches over you. When you need healing, there is always Jehovah-Rapha who heals. As you thirst for filling, the Spring of Living Water will quench that thirst and when you are walking in darkness, the Light of life will be your illumination. Knowing God’s names helps you trust him more completely.
But there is one other way to know God. You can spend time in His Word tracing His ways. Research how He helped people, provided for them, and cared for their needs. Make a list of His characteristics and a list of His ways. Lay your concerns before God, keeping in mind those same characteristics and Godly actions. Find a situation in the Bible that is similar to your pain and study how God became real to that participant.
Knowing God and knowing His ways build your faith. You can withstand many storms of life with this experiential knowledge alone. He is your Rock and salvation; you do not ever have to be shaken (Ps. 62:2).
Hannah Takes On Her Fear
Hannah did not know David. She preceded him by a number of years, but I think it is phenomenal that she faced her fears in a similar way to David. Their circumstances were different, yet strangely similar. His physical well-being was at stake, while her spiritual well-being was suffering. He was forced to leave home; she was captive to her home and its situation. He was forced to live in the wilderness to survive, but she was living in an emotional wilderness. He had enemies from outside of his sphere of influence; she had an insider enemy, one she had to eat with and get along with every day. He was running for his life; she was running from doubts and fear and numbing. He was waiting for the promise of kingship to become a reality; she was waiting for her disgrace to be erased. Both of them were so different, yet both of them were precariously balanced on the edge of fear’s deep pit.
David turned to God in the midst of his fearful circumstances and praise God, Hannah did too. Let’s look briefly at how her response incorporated these first four actions laid out for us in Psalm 56:3-4.
David first acknowledged his fear before God and I believe the first four words of verse 10 show that Hannah did as well. “In bitterness of soul…Hannah prayed…look upon your servant’s misery…I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief” (v 10, 11, 16). The word ‘fear’ is not used in these verses, but remember that pain is fear personified. Hannah was imploding from the pain that raged internally and I believe that pain was fear-induced. She laid out all of that pain before her God. Just like David, she acknowledged her deep-seated fears and concerns.
The second step was to act deliberately in spite of emotions. Hannah’s emotions were not hidden in this passage as we have seen in the previous paragraph, but she chose a different course than meltdown or numbing or running away: she chose to pray. This was her deliberate action to combat her fear.
After the action of praying, Hannah made a vow to the Lord (v 11). I believe this was her method of altering her flesh’s inclinations. Like Rachel and Sarah before her, she could have forced her husband to have a child by concubine. This would have procured her a son, howbeit in an ungodly way. She could have tried to control the situation with her emotions, yelling at her husband like Rachel and Sarah also did.
Hannah did not act out of her flesh. Instead, she went to the Source of fertility. Her prayer is not a bargain with God as if she was trying to manipulate the heavens to obtain the desires of her heart. Instead, it was a sacrificial prayer. She was offering the very child of her longed-for dreams back to God if He would just see her pain and answer her petition.
David’s fourth action was to arm himself with knowledge of the Source of trust. Hannah did this also in a beautiful, beautiful way. She begins her prayer in verse 11 with these words, “O LORD Almighty.” To remind you of the magnitude of these words, remember that these words had never been spoken in prayer before this moment. Not once in the Old Testament up to this point, has this name of God been used except by the author of 1 Samuel as a means of foreshadowing this event. I believe Hannah took what she knew about God and His ways and she worshiped God by a new name, a name she desperately needed to come through for her.
The LORD of hosts is a name used many times after Hannah called this out in desperation. It is a name to be used when you come to the very end of your strength and need deliverance. “This name of God belongs to a certain time in experience…It is God’s name for man’s extremity…it is the name that reminds His people of exactly who He is – not only the one who delivers, but also the one who judges…” (Kay Arthur, Lord, I Want To Know You, p. 134).
One of my favorite usages of this name – God Almighty – is when David confronted Goliath, who had cursed God before all the Israelite soldiers. “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel” (1 Sam. 17:45-46).
Just like Hannah, David needed deliverance; he from the Philistine oppression and she from the oppression of barrenness. But deliverance is not the only facet of this name of God. Judgment comes part and parcel with it, and David called out this name prophetically to show that God was going to bring judgment upon Goliath. Hannah called on the LORD Almighty to bring judgment also, on Peninnah and on the disgrace of her childlessness.
In order to invent a new name of God, Hannah needed to know her God. She armed herself with knowledge about the only unique Source of trust. In the process of acknowledging her fear, acting deliberately in spite of her emotions, altering her flesh’s tendencies, and arming herself with knowledge of God, she exponentially increased her faith and began the grueling task of dismembering her fear.
Is Prayer Worth It?
Prayer is hard work. It takes energy, time and perseverance. You may feel like you do not have the resources to engage in this difficult resolution. I am telling you that you will not have the necessary resources if you do not engage in prayer. Prayer is a must-do action if you want to thrive in your year-after-year, instead of just survive. You cannot afford to abdicate this resolution! By God’s grace, take the first step toward God and acknowledge the emotions swirling deep within you.
Some of you have tried to pray. Maybe you have been trying year after year, but your prayers are not being answered according to your desire. You may be stuck in a season where this resolution is failing you. Despite your prayerfulness, you may feel like your soul cries are hitting the ceiling and bouncing back.
I want to encourage you by telling you that this second resolution of Hannah’s turned the spiritual tide in righteousness’ favor. It was this resolution that moved the heart of God to answer her year-after-year petition. But it would not have happened had God not been drawing Hannah to Himself. Pastor Keller describes prayer in this startling way, “Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through His Word and His grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with Him” (Timothy Keller, Prayer, p. 48).
Did you know that prayer is merely a response to God’s initial movement on your behalf? He moves in mysterious ways: miracles, illumination from His Word, dreams, sermons, conversations and even negative circumstances. We cannot know for sure how God engaged Hannah except by two of these events. I believe her negative circumstances were a big factor in moving her into an encounter with Him; they were the biggest impetus to getting off the Path of Provocation onto the Path of Peace. I also believe she knew her Word because in an ensuing prayer in chapter two, she praises God. Within that incredible worship song, there are many quotes from other areas of God’s Word. Without this knowledge, she could not have given God her own personal name.
I want you to also see that phrase in Timothy Keller’s definition, “which eventually becomes a full encounter with Him.” To give you a sneak preview, this phrase encapsulates the revelation that is about to come in Hannah’s life. God moved toward Hannah in His Word and in her trauma. She responded to that movement of God in powerfully effective prayer. And next week we will see that by God’s grace, Hannah came into a full encounter with the God she worshiped.
This week as you contemplate Hannah’s resolution of prayerfulness, contemplate this: whatever year-after-year pain you are enduring, it is an invitation to prayerfully fall at the Father’s feet. Acknowledge your pain. Act deliberately in spite of your feelings. Alter your flesh’s natural inclinations and arm yourself with knowledge of your God, the true Source of all trust. As you persevere in these four actions, I pray that you, like Hannah, will move into an encounter with the LORD Almighty, God of Angel Armies. May His revelation work its way into your life to initiate a soul-revolution.
Is prayer worth it? Come back next week to find out.