Meditations in 1 Samuel 2. The Anguish of Desperate Prayers
1 Sam 1:11 And she made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
I happened to come across the following quote from a modern Christian writer the other day: “Prayer requires things of us that we are not always willing to give. Time. Attention, Vulnerability. Submission. Transformation. And often we feel inadequate to pray because we are stuck on works-based righteousness that makes us a slave to approaching prayer as a vending machine.” He continues in a similar vein but we’ll stop it there. Personally I find the biggest difficulty of praying at a set ‘quiet time’ every day, is monotony. I know what God wants of me and I ask for it. I know who I ‘should’ pray for (my family, church, friends, etc. etc.) and so I do, but it becomes a rote.
It is only when we come to a prayer like that of Hannah (and others in the Bible) that we realise that the most honest prayers, the real prayers, the prayers that pour out of the heart, come in a crisis. Let’s check it out with Hannah.
We saw in the first study that she is barren, which is bad enough in itself, but she is also the second wife in a polygamous marriage and the other wife is bearing children as fast as she can go – and then jeering at Hannah for her inability to become a mother: “because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her.” This other women was doing it purposefully “to irritate” or upset her. How unkind is that, and there appeared nothing that Hannah could do about it. She was locked into this marriage and was unable to do anything about her barrenness. (1 Sam 1:6).
This constant in your face chiding brings Hannah to tears: “This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.” (v.7) Year after year! It keeps on, nothing changes. Month after month and disappointment comes. They go each year to the Tabernacle at Shiloh to worship the Lord. To be able to do this Elkanah must have been quite wealthy, for many Israelites could only do it rarely, but they do it every year. So here she is with a loving husband who tries to console her, an affluent and probably comfortable life, but all that is meaningless in the face of her inability to become a mother.
By the time of this present visit to Shiloh she is clearly desperate. It has gone on for so long it has broken her. She is so desperate that she would even give away the child to God if she would only have one – she bargains with God. Now we’ll leave wonderings about that until we think on God’s providence and simply focus on what she feels for the moment. Go back and read that opening quote above. How meaningless that all sounds when you observe Hannah. She needs no lessons in prayer, she is desperate, she is past caring, she just has one focus – God give me a child, I cant take it any more! ( I so want to talk about what is going on behind the scenes in heaven, but we must leave it for now).
A long time ago I researched all the prayers of the Bible – and most of them come in a crisis situation. The New Testament prayer that stands out most to me (apart from Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane) is that of the church in Acts 4, shortly after Peter and John have been threatened by the Sanhedrin and the church comes together and prays. I won’t do a breakdown of that prayer here, but one part of it shows the situation: “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4:29) It is a prayer of desperation in the face of the threats of the authorities – and God answers in power. When we get to a point of desperation, God turns up in power. It is almost, it seems, that He waits for us to come to a point where we KNOW the truth – we are helpless – before He steps in.
When our ‘prayers’ are nice and respectable – and boring – perhaps we need to ask the Lord to open our eyes to the plight of people around us or the world in general, so that we become moved to really urgent prayer. When stories come back from the church in China, you realise you do not have a problem with prayer when you face real persecution. Our absence of desperation so often means we are not under pressure in the world of affluence that tolerates us but consider your life: is it childless when it comes to bringing spiritual children into this world? I am not wishing to impose guilt and not all of us are called to be evangelists, but would you dare pray, “Lord, burden my heart of the lost”? If you do, get ready for desperation.
But a penultimate thought: I have been taking it for granted that when people get desperate, they pray, but that isn’t always so. If prayer isn’t a natural part of your life it may be that you don’t think to ask for God’s help. Don’t you realise that our loving heavenly Father just longs to help us and is simply waiting to hear from us?
Which brings me to a final thought. In the previous meditation we thought about a number of women in the Bible who were barren and who only had children in older age. The temptation from the enemy is to think badly of God who ‘stopped’ them conceiving, but was that ‘stopping’ more a case of simply He had not intervened in the affairs of this Fallen World where things go wrong – one of them being women remaining childless? One of the things the enemy wants us to forget is that in every case we considered, God DID intervene and did enable them to conceive. It is easy to jump to wrong conclusions as we’ll see in the next study.