Meditations in 1 Samuel 4. God who answers prayer
1 Sam 1:19,20 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the LORD for him.”
The records within chapter 1 of 1 Samuel clearly attribute Hannah’s barrenness to the Lord (v.5 AND 6) and now her ability to conceive. Sceptics might say it was pure coincidence that she now conceived but as a friend of mine used to say, “the strange thing about prayer is that when I stop praying the coincidences stop happening.” When you observe the account dispassionately you observe for a number of year Hannah being unable to conceive, then her praying and then within a short period of time her conceiving. The coincidence is too strong for it to be ‘just a coincidence’.
Thus we arrive at a very simple conclusion: God answers prayer. For Hannah there is no doubt about this. Hebrew names very often had a meaning to them and when she names her son Samuel we find it means “heard of God” and she says she gives him that name “because I asked the Lord for him” and by implication the Lord answered and enabled her to conceive where previously she had been unable to.
The fact that any of us ever pray means we, at least, hope God will answer and change our circumstances but when we look at the Bible record we find a very varied record when it comes to these barren women that we previously noted. In Abram’s case, there is no record of him praying, simply that God chooses him and says to this childless man with a barren wife, “I will make you into a great nation.” (Gen 12:2) and eventually, when both he and his wife are beyond childbearing age, enables them to have a son, Isaac.
In the fullness of time, Isaac grows up and marries Rebekah who for twenty years – despite his praying – remains barren until she eventually has twins. When we come to the fourth couple that we mentioned previously, Zechariah and Elizabeth, there is no record of them having prayed until the angel Gabriel turns up and says his prayer has been answered (Lk 1:13) but I suspect that that prayer had been many years earlier because we are told “they were both well along in years,” (v.7) and then when Zechariah says, “I am an old man and my wife is well along in years,” (v.18) there is a strong inference that he means they are both beyond child-bearing age, and this is reinforced by Gabriel’s words to Mary that, “Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age,” again with a strong inference that she was well beyond child-bearing age.
So in the four accounts of barren women Hannah prayed desperately and got a quick answer, Abram doesn’t appear to have prayed at all about Sarai’s barrenness, Isaac prayed for twenty years for Rebekah who eventually conceived and Zechariah seems to have prayed earlier in life but probably gave up asking as they got too old to have children, before the angel of the Lord turned up with the news of the coming baby. Simply observing these accounts it is virtually impossible to create any clear principles about answers to prayer beyond:
- God often acts even though we don’t pray (Abram)
- God appears to wait a long time before answering (Isaac & Zechariah)
- God seems to answer quickly when we are desperate (Hannah)
Thus we have a sovereign God who decrees what is right and so He acts into our affairs to bring about what is best. We, on our side, often find ourselves in hopeless situations which make us cry out in desperation and sometimes the Lord answers quickly and sometimes He appears to say, “Wait.”
The “quick answers” are a blessing and a cause for thankfulness, but the long delayed answers require grace in the form of trust in a loving God who knows best, and perseverance to keep on pressing on for what we believe is right.
The subjects of childlessness and healing are closely associated because both require a belief in a God who does intervene in our physical affairs, even when they seem impossible. When it comes down to it, it is a mystery as to why God waits or even doesn’t appear to answer at all, and we just have to trust in the Bible record that He is a loving God who does what is best for us.
When it comes to healing my personal testimony includes ALL of the following:
- I have prayed for people to be healed and they have been. I have prayed for many more others and they have not been.
- I have had over a long period of time, trouble with both my knees. About fifteen years ago, one of the girls in our congregation just came up to me in the middle of worship and prayed for my knees and I had no pain for some 3 to 4 years.
- Gradually the pain increased again until I went to a Bible week and was prayed for and was completely healed. A short while later I tripped in a pothole in the road and twisted both knees and was back to square one.
- Over the coming months I prayed and prayed, full of faith really believing it was God’s desire to completely heal me again – as did various other people who prayed for me, but a year later I was on an operating table having a new knee operation – which went incredibly quickly and incredibly well so I was around apparently faster than others having similar operations about that time.
- Four years later both my knees were again causing me much pain, long and continuous. Sitting in a main meeting at another Bible week, I suddenly found the pain in my right knee completely go. As the speaker called for people to be healed someone prayed over me and the pain in my left knee also completely went. One knee God sovereignly healed, and the other He healed as one of His children prayed over me.
Des God heal? Yes, He certainly does. Does He sometimes want is to use modern medicine? Yes, He does. Does He sometimes move sovereignly in healing? Yes He does. Does He sometimes appear to hold back? Yes He does. Does He wait and use people to bring healing? Yes He does. Overall conclusion? God is not a machine, you cannot control Him. He is an all-wise, loving and compassionate person (who is Spirit) who knows what is best for us. Be assured of His love for you, whether or not He turns up or requires you to wait. His love for you is not under question; what is, is how we will respond if He requires us to wait.
Perhaps I should also testify that the two prayers that the Lord answers most regularly of mine are, “Lord please will you show me where I put…(the keys, pliers, scissors etc.),” and “Lord will you give me wisdom and show me how to….” (see Jas 1:5). I cannot remember the last time when He did not answer those two prayers!