It has been said, “What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is and no more” (Robert McCheyne).
By this standard I submit to you that Hannah was a great woman. Hannah was a great woman, and her pattern for praise and prayer is an inspiration for present day followers of Jesus Christ.
But before Hannah’s praise, before Hannah’s prayer, is Hannah’s PAIN.
We read in 1Samuel 1:2ff, “(Elkanah) had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.” Hannah’s predicament is made worse by the fact that her rival kept provoking her (1:6).
If Hannah ever fought back with harsh words, we’ll never know. If Hannah ever considered leaving her husband, and this polygamous arrangement, we’ll never know. I’m guessing that the temptation was there. Still, another option would have been to do nothing. Hannah could have simply shrugged her shoulders and said, ‘It is what it is.’
What Hannah ultimately chooses to do, however, provides us with an excellent example for responding to pain: Hannah prays.
Hannah was feeling broken. She had stopped eating. She was visibly downcast. She was often found to be weeping. But she prays.
I long for that to be the instinct for the follower of Christ in seasons of pain and suffering. Instead of fighting back, instead of running away, instead of giving up, we pray. I long for our instinct to be that we pour out our soul to the One who has the power to alter our circumstances, and the power to change us.
Hannah’s circumstances do change. She eventually conceives and gives birth to a son, Samuel (1:20). We know from experience, and we know from looking at other biblical texts, that God does not always change our circumstances when we pray. Jesus prayed repeatedly in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Take this cup from Me“, but it was never taken away (Mt. 26:39). Paul prayed three times for the removal of his thorn, but it was never removed (2Cor. 12:8).
Our circumstances might not change when we pray, but something else surely will: We will change. Our perspective will change. Our faith and trust in God will strengthen. Our affection for God will increase. We will change when we pray.
Looking at Hannah’s approach, we observe first that Hannah prayed passionately. We are told, “Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord” (1:10). According to the biblical example, emotion is a good thing when praying. Hannah does not make her case to God the way a lawyer reasons a case before a judge. Hannah makes her case with tears streaming down her face. She weeps before the throne of God. Hannah prays passionately.
The second thing we observe is that Hannah prays sincerely. We read, “Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard” (1:13). Eli the priest saw this and thought Hannah was drunk (1:13), and so he confronts her. Hannah must have been quite animated for Eli to draw such a conclusion.
I love Hannah’s explanation: “I was pouring out my soul to the Lord” (1:15). You see, there is a big difference between saying a prayer and praying. We see in Hannah that prayer has less to do with spoken words than it does with the trajectory and orientation of our heart. The example here is that we pour out our soul to God when we pray. The example Hannah gives is to pray sincerely.
The third element which marks Hannah’s approach to prayer is that she prays persistently. We read, “As (Hannah) kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth” (1:12). We are given the impression that part of the reason Hannah got Eli’s attention was because she had been there a while!
I have heard followers of Christ express a concern that repeating our prayers demonstrates a lack of faith. We remember Jesus telling us that our Heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask Him, and so we limit our words accordingly (Mt. 6:8). And yet, at the same time, we note that the biblical example also points us to persistence. Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, prays repeatedly about His impending death. The patriarch Jacob is said to have wrestled all night with God saying: “I will not let you go until you bless me” (Gen. 32:26). We are told that Hannah “kept on praying” to the Lord. Her example to us is to pray persistently.
I marvel at this woman of faith who prayed out of a context of profound pain. Inevitably, there will come seasons in your life when pain and suffering will challenge you. Whether it be physical illness, relationship turmoil, or financial pressures–I want to commend to you Hannah’s example:
She did not fight back. She did not run away. She did not give up. Hannah prayed.
Hannah did not ‘say a prayer’, but rather she prayed passionately, sincerely, and persistently to the God she worshiped and adored. May Hannah’s example inspire each of us to do the same.