1 Samuel 1:26-28 "She said, 'Oh, my lord! As your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you, praying to the Lord. 27 For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him. 28 So I have also dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.' And he worshiped the Lord there."
My most precious memory of my mother as a child was when I saw her kneeling with my sister while she prayed to trust in Jesus as her Savior and Lord. I was ten at the time. It had been months since I myself had converted to the Christian faith. The Spirit of God had moved upon my heart through a Sunday School teacher's lesson. In those tender months following my conversion, I was eager to see my then five-year old sister come to faith. That was decades ago. Time flies! That scene was a holy moment. I never said a word as I quietly went into the living room. Soon afterward, my sister and mother emerged. With tears streaming down their faces, they relayed to my dad what transpired. He wept with joy. Such memories remind me of how powerful the combination of a mother's love and prayers for her children are in the hands of God.
In thinking on the memory above, I'm reminded that some of the greatest expressions of Biblical faith derive from observing mothers in the Bible. Today’s post aims to impart the essential elements for an effective prayer-life. If we were to translate of 1 Samuel 1:10-11a from its original language, we would discover the heart of prayer in a woman named Hannah:
“Hannah was bitter in soul. She prayed fervently. She sobbed and kept sobbing, vowing again and again this vow: ‘O Lord of Hosts, if you will regard the distress of your handmaid, remember me. Please don’t forget your servant. Please give your handmaid a baby, and I swear, I’ll give him to the Lord all the days of His life.”
We find much pathos in Hannah's prayer. Her desire for a son drove her to the throne of God. I've witnessed godly women over the years that desired children but could not have them. I recall once a couple coming to me for prayer. They so longed for a child. As we prayed, the both of them wept. The experiences of ministry lend to my imagination in picturing Hannah's anguish in prayer. I can picture the desperation of her petitions. We can learn quite a bit about prayer from noting the details we find in 1 Samuel 1-2. Hannah would eventually end up being the mother of the most important prophet since the days of Moses - Samuel.
1. Desperation. 1 Samuel 1:11,16
Times were desperate in Hannah's day. Even when young Samuel was barely a young lad, the Biblical text testifies to the spiritual famine plaguing Israel. 1 Samuel 3:1-3
"Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord before Eli. And word from the Lord was rare in those days, visions were infrequent. 2 It happened at that time as Eli was lying down in his place (now his eyesight had begun to grow dim and he could not see well), 3 and the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was."
Just as the times were desperate, Hannah was too. She cried out to God. Gone were the niceties. Abandoned was the conventional prayer-talk. Hannah cast all safe-praying to the wind. Her cry was so deep that her voice was quenched. Have you ever experienced that level of anguish mixed with desperation. I'm sure that is part of what the Apostle Paul writes about in Romans 8:26-27
"In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."
David reflects this attitude of desperation in prayer in Psalm 63:1-3
"O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. 3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You."
Whenever we are desperate for God, the ability to rise above our situation is available. Take for instance Acts 16:25
"But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them."
Paul and Silas were prisoners at Philippi, a Roman outpost in ancient Macedonia. They were beaten, bruised and battered. Yet, Paul and Silas were desperate for God. Their prayer-life overflowed into praise. All around them saw and heard the reality of their faith. Hannah exemplified this first crucial trait of effective prayer - desperation.
2. Discernment. 1 Samuel 1:20
What distinguishes "knowledge", "understanding" and "discernment"? Knowing = apprehending whatever is before us. Understanding = apprehending our relationship with whatever is before us. Discernment = apprehending the true nature of what is before us. Take flowers for example. A little child brings flowers from the yard. We know they are flowers. We understand that the flowers are for the child's mother. We discern the intention of love in their giving. For the Christian, discernment can only grow with prayer. 1 Chronicles 12:32 reminds us of a particular group of men in the nation of Israel:
"Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do, their chiefs were two hundred; and all their kinsmen were at their command."
Hannah discerned that her child was an answer to prayer. She and Elkanah conceived. Hannah carried the child and once it was born, named the child "Samuel". Why? Per 1 Samuel 1:20, Hannah discerned that the Lord heard her prayer. Imagine having a name that literally means: "I'm a walking answer to prayer"! This is why the Apostle Paul prayed like he did in Philippians 1:9
"And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment."
Paul prized discernment. Whenever we discern in prayer, we are recognizing God's hand in our lives. Hebrews 5:14 notes how such discernment marks spiritual maturity:
"But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil."
Hannah prayed with desperation. God heard her prayer. She recognized such as a result of discernment delivered to her through prayer. Notice another trait of effective prayer learned from Hannah's prayer life.
3. Dedication. 1 Samuel 1:21-28
One thing about Hannah, she did not wait for grass to grow underneath the feet of obedience. For three years Hannah weaned young Samuel. As soon as the lad was weaned, she stayed good to her vow with which she promised God back earlier in the first chapter. She gave Samuel to the Lord for His service. Dedication is the fruit of the desperation and discernment born in prayer. James 5:16b-18 reminds us:
"The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit."
Whenever we are consistent in prayer, we will find ourselves consistent in dedication to God. To illustrate, take my late grandmother. My grandmother had prayed for God to raise up preachers. When she heard I was called by God as a teenager, she dedicated herself to getting me brochures from different Bible colleges. She drove over 30 minutes out of her way to send them, so that none would recognize their origin. It was only a few years before her death that my grandmother had shared this detail. Dedication is immediate obedience done repeatedly until the task is done. When I look at Hannah's actions at the end of 1 Samuel 1 and into 1 Samuel 2, I find them flowing from her fervent prayer life. So what were the consequences of Hannah's desperation, discernment and dedication to God in prayer?
4. Delight in God. 1 Samuel 2:1-11
Space and time preclude a detailed breakdown of Hannah's extraordinary doxology in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. We can offer at least a basic outline that highlights the heart of God in Hannah:
I. God's Attributes. 2:1-3
II. God's Actions. 2:4-9
III. God's Names. 2:10
A study of this prayer reveals no less than twelve attributes, four actions and three names of God. True theology leads to doxology. Hannah's heart for God displays a mind on God. This reminds one of David's words in Psalm 16:8-9
"I have set the Lord continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 9 Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will dwell securely."
Similarly, the Apostle Paul states in 2 Corinthians 12:9
"And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me."
The depth and heights of Hannah's prayer are consequent of the breadth of her prayer life. I find it quite interesting to compare the prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 to the Magnificat of Mary in Luke 1:46-55. Both prayers express sheer delight in God. Both Hannah and Mary experienced extraordinary circumstances surrounding their pregnancies both tie their prayers to God's covenant promises.
Today we explored the elements of effective prayer by observing the answered prayer of Hannah for a child (i.e. Samuel, who would be a premier prophet in ancient Israel). We discovered the following elements in Hannah's prayer and praise:
1. Desperation for God
2. Discernment from God
3. Dedication of obedience to God
4. Delight in God