1 Samuel 1:1-28

As we have seen from the previous study, there are so many ways to pray, but Hannah focused on being honest. She had a loving husband, but was one of two wives and her rival, Peninnah, had children but Hannah had none. Her husband tried to make it up to her in other ways, but Peninnah went out of her way to provoke and upset Hannah, especially when they went up as a family to the temple to offer sacrifices. Being barren was a great social stigma in those days and Hannah was unable to accept a life that, so far as she was concerned, had little or no value. She was desperate, but she knew where to go for help. She poured out her heart to God, begging that, if He would only give her a son, she would give him back to the Lord for all the days of his life.

As Hannah was praying and pouring out her heart to the Lord with tears, Eli, the priest, misinterpreted what he saw and thought that she was drunk. He reprimanded her but she responded very graciously, explaining to him why she was so distressed. On hearing this, Eli blessed her and sent her on her way much encouraged.

Having a child, especially a male child, was really important in Hannah's day. Her self-worth depended on her being able to produce a son. Things may have changed for us today - especially in the West - but it's worth thinking about whether or not there are any attitudes in our own, present-day culture that can dictate our self-worth and value if we allow them to. Whatever our situation may be, there is always a "pecking order" where people expect us to fit. It may be about the job we do, the amount of money we have, where we live, the type of car we drive or the clothes we wear. Do we allow our sense of value and self-worth to be defined by such things or are we content in knowing that God loves us and places the greatest value on our worth to Him?

Making prayer a priority

Hannah's prayer was duly answered with the birth of a boy, Samuel. When he was "weaned" (old enough in our culture to start school), Hannah took him to the temple at Shiloh for a life of service dedicated to God. (1 Samuel 1:28) After keeping her promise to God, she was further blessed with three other sons and two daughters. Our Father is no one's debtor. (1 Samuel 2:21)

Praying for ourselves

What do we pray for ourselves? Do we only pray when we are experiencing storms in our own life? Here are some ideas for prayer:

  • For everything. (Luke 18:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Colossians 4:2)
  • For missionaries. (2 Corinthians 1:11; Colossians 4:2-4)
  • For royalty and political leaders. (Ezra 6:10; 1 Timothy 2:2)
  • For peace in Jerusalem. (Psalm 122:6)
  • For the healing of our country. (2 Chronicles 7:14; 1 Timothy 2:1-4)
  • For prosperity where we live. (Jeremiah 29:7)
  • For those who don't know Jesus. (John 17:20)
  • For our enemies. (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28)
  • For knowledge of the God's love. (Ephesians 3:17-19)
  • For a life that pleases God. (Colossians 1:10)
  • For an awareness of God being close. (Deuteronomy 4:7)
  • For healing. (James 5:15)
  • For forgiveness. (Hosea 14:2; Mark 11:25)
  • For power. (Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 3:16)
  • For strength in trouble. (Matthew 26:38-42; John 12:27; Psalm 91:15)
  • For strength against temptation. (Matthew 26:41; Luke 22:40)
  • For revival. (Habakkuk 3:2)

Praying for others

How to pray for other Christians:

  • Be thankful for their faith and changed lives. (Colossians 1:3-5)
  • Ask God to help them know what He wants them to do. (Colossians 1:9)
  • Ask God to give them spiritual understanding. (Colossians 1:9)
  • Ask God to help them live for Him. (Colossians 1:10)
  • Ask God to give them more knowledge of Him. (Colossians 1:10)
  • Ask God to give them strength for endurance. (Colossians 1:11)
  • Ask God to fill them with joy, strength and thankfulness. (Colossians 1:11)

Praying practically

Prayer can take many forms and sometimes it can be good just to sit and talk with God about whatever is on our mind. Leave space for Him to respond and learn to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Such times can be really enriching and refreshing. At other times, it does no harm for our prayers to be workmanlike. Four aspects of this are particularly helpful.

  1. Specific. God has shown us in His creation that details are important to Him. They should be for us too. If our prayers are vague, the answer are likely to be equally vague.
  2. Promises. God has given us many, many promises in His word. He is always happy for us to "remind" Him of them and to ask Him to fulfil them. God doesn't forget things in the way that we do but, when we remember His promises, He is delighted and ready and waiting to respond.
  3. Persistence. Let's be relentless in praying for His work - even miraculous work - in every part of our lives. If it's important to us, let's show Him by being persistent in our prayers.
  4. Fasting. Similarly, fasting is a good way of proving to ourselves that we are serious about something. At the same time, it shows God too that we are being serious about our praying.

A life dedicated to God

Samuel was a great prayer warrior. He had, perhaps, inherited this from his mother. During his apprenticeship in the temple at Shiloh, he learned to hear the voice of God. (1 Samuel 3:1-10) He also learned to speak the words of God to his people. (2 Samuel 3:19-21) He proved to be one of the great prophets in Israel's history, the last of the judges and the link with the age of kings, beginning with Saul, whom he anointed. (1 Samuel 10:1) It all began with Hannah, who was prepared to dedicate her first-born son to God, ensuring that he would be thoroughly prepared for his eventual life's work.

If we are blessed with the joy of children, we need always to remember the importance of giving them back to God. This can start when they are still in the womb as we pray God's word over them daily. Like Hannah, we can then take them for dedication to God in church and we can introduce them to daily prayers and an awareness of God's presence in their lives from early on.

Living with trials

Hannah's troubles began early in her marriage and "went on year after year". (1 Samuel 1:7) Her rival, Peninnah provoked her mercilessly, causing her great bitterness of soul, to the point where she could no longer eat and could only sit and weep. (1 Samuel 1:7-16) We may also have been through such storms in our lives. Some blow up suddenly, whilst others may develop gradually but then go on and on. How can we learn to deal with such things?
Whenever possible, it's good to learn how to cope with problems when things are not too serious. For example, we can take a relatively minor thing such as a cold and bring that to God in prayer. Having learned from that experience, we shall be far better equipped to face an altogether more serious diagnosis if that should emerge later.

Hannah's pain seemed to be endless, punctuated only by the regular pregnancies of her rival as a reminder of her own "failure". She found it difficult to accept her husband's attempts to console her because he clearly did not understand her problem of childlessness. (1 Samuel 1:8) He may have meant well, but he had no clue as to the depth of her emotional and physical needs. Often, the deeper the hurt, the more isolated we feel. We withdraw from everyone who would try to give answers and encourage us. It can be a very lonely road.

After enduring this problem with no positive outcome for several years, Hannah recognised that she needed to turn to the Lord and pour out her heart to Him. He was the only One who could satisfy her needs. This is the greatest lesson we can learn from Hannah: whatever our problem, we can run straight to our heavenly Father and pour out the truth of how we are feeling... from our heart. We have to beware of becoming so caught up in our pain that we lash out and start to blame God for the trouble that we are in. That generally leads to increasing doubt and unbelief, creating fear and desperation all around us. We need to remind ourselves that God is not out to bring us down or cause us to fail. He always wants only the best for us.

But we have to learn to allow Him to take our pain and hurt. Our "escape route" is to centre ourselves in Jesus, to dump our situation in His lap and ask Him to sort it our for us. There are times when God withholds things from us or delays His answer to our prayers. He wants to encourage us to choose Him, more than anything else that we think we need or want! In doing so, He runs the risk that we may turn away from Him, even though His plan is to draw us deeper into Himself; to have an ever more intimate relationship with Him than we have experienced before.

It is normal for Christians to have an appetite for the impossible. It has been written into our spiritual DNA to hunger for the impossibilities around us to bow at the name of Jesus. Bill Johnson, an American pastor at Bethel Church in Redding, California, writes: "The lack of miracles isn't because it is not in God's will for us. The problem exists between our ears. As a result, a transformation - a renewing of the mind - is needed and it's only possible through the work of the Holy Spirit, which typically comes upon desperate people. Jesus said, 'As the Father sent Me, I send you.' (John 20:21) It's not complicated; it's just expensive. It costs us everything. It is now up to us to follow His example without excuses, rejecting all distractions. This is our destiny."

Dealing with a storm

  • Forgiveness. If God is going to respond to our prayers, our own hearts have to be right with Him. We have to forgive those who have hurt us. (Matthew 6:14-15)
  • Focus on Jesus. We need to bring the problem to Him and lay it before Him. (Matthew 7:7; Ephesians 1:17)
  • Submission. We have to allow God to be God and not to try and impose our solutions on Him. (Isaiah 55:8-11)
  • Think big. In fact, think very big! We need to retain an eternal perspective. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
  • Be patient. Jesus learnt obedience through suffering. (Psalm 34:17-18; Matthew 16:24; Hebrews 5:8)
  • Persevere. Storms are there to help us develop maturity. (James 1:2-4)
  • Trust Him. (Proverbs 3:5; Isaiah 30:15; Romans 10-13)
  • Praise Him. Put faith into action with praise. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
  • Remember, He's your friend. He is not trying to punish you. (John 15:15)
  • God is good. Hold on to this, despite disappointment and disillusionment. (Psalm 34:6)

"Happy moments... PRAISE GOD!
Difficult moments... SEEK GOD.
Quiet moments... WORSHIP GOD.
Painful moments... TRUST GOD.
Every moment... THANK GOD!"

(Rick Warren from "The Purpose-Driven Life")

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