“Prayers for Desperate Times—Hannah’s Prayer”
1 Samuel 1:1-2:2 January 11, 2009
SI: We’re in the middle of a nine week study of prayers for desperate times.
We’re looking at nine different believers in the Bible who were facing
an overwhelming crisis, and they prayed, and God answered.
These stories are faith lessons for you when you find yourself praying
in desperate times. Maybe you are in one of those times right now.
Before we read, I want to give credit where credit is due.
Tim Keller preached an awesome sermon on this passage.
He opened my eyes to things I had never seen in Hannah’s story.
I have gleaned a lot of those things and I’m passing them on to you.
INTRO: Don’t you find it irritating when the news tells about a
scientific study that supposedly proves some amazing new fact—
but it’s something that everybody already knows?
Like the Time magazine cover article a number of hears ago that said
new studies have shown that men and women are, in fact, different.
This past August there was a study that made the news.
Headline: “Emotional pain hurts more than physical pain, researchers say.”
One line in the article said: “recent discoveries suggest social or emotional
pain is as real and intense as physical pain.”
I hope that study was not paid for with our tax dollars.
Universal human experience throughout the ages tells us that emotional pain can
be as real and intense as physical pain. We see it in Hannah’s story.
Even though she lived 3,000 years ago, in a very different culture, story rings true.
This was a woman in pain.
Bitterness of soul. Misery. That’s the way her condition is described.
It was manifested by loss of appetite, irritation, weeping.
It was made worse by the cruel words of the rival wife.
In Hannah’s desperation and distress she prayed.
God answered. And she was delivered.
Verse 18 says it all:
“Then she went her way, and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.”
How did it happen? You may think you know.
You may think it’s because she got a child.
She got what she wanted and that made her happy. But that’s not it.
It’s something much more profound—much deeper.
You will see it as the story unfolds—it’s something wonderful.
It may be for some of you that your desperate time is more like King Jehoshaphat.
You remember his story from last week.
A huge foreign army had invaded the land and was threatening Jerusalem,
and King Jehoshaphat was alarmed so he prayed.
That may be your situation.
Something big out there is coming against you—forces on the outside.
Big events that are shaking things.
But it may be that your desperate time is more like Hannah’s.
It’s primarily personal and internal. Yes, there are some external factors.
But it’s mostly bitterness of soul.
It’s pain that very few people see,
maybe nobody but you,
maybe only people in your immediate family.
The same God who delivered Hannah, is your God.
And just as she prayed, so you can pray—and he will hear and answer.
Let’s look at her story under just two points.
The cause and the cure of Hannah’s pain.
And, of course, we’ll apply this to ourselves.
MP#1 The cause of Hannah’s pain
She was childless. If you know people who have been unable to have children,
Or if you have suffered that yourself, then you know it causes grief and pain.
But Hannah’s pain had an even deeper dimension
because of what childlessness meant in the Ancient Middle East.
In that time and culture your economic and social status was directly
related to how many children you had. Children were your labor force.
And the more children you had, the better off you were financially.
The fewer children you had, the less you had financially.
And there were no social safety nets. Children were your retirement.
Childless couples faced the possibility of starvation in old age without children.
So having children was a matter of life and death.
Hannah was apparently Elkanah’s first wife. Wife of his youth.
The girl he married for love. But when she couldn’t have children,
he got a second wife, Peninnah, for economic reasons.
He had to have children. It was a matter of life and death.
This was also true for your tribe or nation.
The more children you had the bigger your army.
The fewer children you had the smaller your army.
Small nations and tribes were invaded and conquered.
Not as many children lived to adulthood as do today—maybe 4 out of 10.
So women who had lots of children were heroes.
And women who couldn’t were worthless—in their own eyes,
and in the eyes of everybody else.
What did this do to women?
It virtually forced them into an idolatry of children.
Idolatry is the Bible’s way of describing what’s wrong with us.
And idol is a created thing that we trust to give us what God alone can give.
An idol is a good thing that we make an ultimate thing.
It’s something that is ok to want and enjoy in the proper context,
but we make it the center of our lives.
We say, this is what I must have in order to have meaning, purpose, security,
and a sense of worth. If I don’t have this, my life’s not worth living.
The culture of the Ancient Middle East pushed women to make an idol
out of having children. If you had them, a hero. If couldn’t, worthless.
You can see the despair and bitterness it produced in Hannah.
There is a natural desire for children that is good.
There is a natural grief over childlessness that is right and proper.
But in Hannah’s case, her natural desire to have a child became idolatry.
It led to a distorted self-image and it was crushing her with pain and misery.
It was idolatry that gave Peninnah power to taunt Hannah.
One commentator called her the depressingly fertile Peninnah.
Penninah was able to say to Hannah—You’re no woman. You’re no wife.
So what if he gives you special attention—So what if he loves you.
You can’t give him what he wants.
And because Hannah was bowing to this idol, those words had the power
to make her utterly miserable.
American culture does not say to women, you have to have children to be worthy.
It says, you have to be hot.
You have to be slim and beautiful and have a certain body-type.
Every culture puts things in front of men and women—
sometimes different things for older men and younger men,
older women and younger women and says—
you have to have this or you are nothing.
And whatever it is, if you accept it—it will drive you into the ground.
If you build your life on your children—
you will crush them with your expectations for them to make you happy,
and you will be crushed when they don’t give you that happiness.
If you build your life on romance and love or on money and achievement,
whatever it may be—all have bents toward different idols—will be breakdown.
Sometimes people experience a breakdown and just respond by switching idols.
Money didn’t make me happy, so I’m going to try marriage.
It doesn’t work to switch one idol for another.
Elkanah tried that with Hannah. It doesn’t matter that you can’t have children.
You have me. You have my love. You are lovely to me, Hannah.
Isn’t that enough for you? Doesn’t that fill you up?
Of course it didn’t.
A husband’s love is a great thing, but it’s not the ultimate thing either.
Hannah seemed to know that and it didn’t help her at all.
The only way to escape idolatry is to have the true, living God more important
in your heart than anything else. The Lord alone is big enough to fill you.
He’s the only one who can comfort those natural griefs and sorrows
that come from living in a fallen world.
And that’s where we are going to go in just a minute when we see the cure
for Hannah’s pain.
But before we get to that point, we need to apply this to ourselves.
What are your problem emotions?
If you are angry ask yourself:
Is there something too important to me?
Is that why I’m angry—because I’m being blocked from having
something I think is necessary for my life to be worthwhile?
If you are fearful or badly worried ask yourself:
Is there something too important to me?
Is that why I’m so scared?
Something being threatened I think I must have?
If you are despondent or hating yourself ask:
Is there something too important to me?
Is that why I’m so down?
Because I lost or failed at something that that is so important that without it
there is just no sunshine in my life.
Why am I feeling this way? What’s the cause of my pain?
Don’t just settle for saying—financial problems or marriage problems,
or not having a boyfriend, or whatever.
Look deeper and see if there is an idolatry that has a grip on you.
I think Hannah did that, and it was a little first step on the path
to her deliverance. Let’s see now. Let’s see the cure for Hannah’s pain.
MP#2 The cure for Hannah’s
Hannah’s pain and misery reached a crisis point.
They were at Shiloh for Passover where they went every year.
It says that after they had finished eating and drinking, Hannah stood up.
To stand up, to arise in Scripture more than just getting on your feet.
To arise means to take action. This was a spiritual turning point for Hannah.
So she arose, went into the temple and began to pray.
And her prayer shows a remarkable change of heart.
She prayed: O Lord Almighty.
She acknowledged the absolute sovereignty of God.
Ultimately he was the one who had closed her womb, he could open it.
And then she prayed for him to look on her misery and hear her prayer.
In this we see that she believed something important about God.
She believed that the broken heart of a childless woman mattered to him.
The Lord of Hosts, who rules over the nations cares.
He is infinitely great and infinitely tender.
And as Hannah poured out her deepest pain she began to process it
in light of who God is—Sovereign and Loving.
And then she said: If you give me a son, I’ll give him to Lord all days of his life.
It seems at first like Hannah was just bargaining with God.
Like she was trying to manipulate him—You do this for me, I’ll do this for you.
But that is not at all what she was doing.
In fact, this petition shows that Hannah had finally set her idolatry behind her,
repented of it, and for the first time was truly seeking happiness in God alone.
Here’s how we know. In Israel, a man had to be from tribe of Levi to be a priest.
But if a man from another tribe wanted to be a priest, he could take a vow.
Called a Nazarite vow. He would leave his tribe, become an assistant priest.
There were two marks of a Nazarite. Couldn’t drink alcohol, couldn’t cut his hair.
That’s what Hannah promised God. No razor will touch his head, a Nazarite.
So do you see why this wasn’t bargaining with God?
Because a Nazarite child was no help to the family economy.
A Nazarite child could not even help them in their old age.
A Nazarite child couldn’t even give Hannah the emotional pleasure of watching
him grow up among her friends’ children—
In other words, she had given up all the reasons that her culture told her
she had to have a child. So why did she still want a child?
Because as an Israelite woman she knew God’s promise to Abraham.
She knew God had said that through the descendants of Abraham,
that salvation would come to all the world. This was in the back of the minds
of devout Israelite women. That by having children, she would be participating
in God’s work of salvation.
Change in Hannah’s heart was she took that reason, and made it her own.
Basically saying to God:
All my life I’ve wanted a child for me. Now, I want a child for you.
All my life I’ve wanted to be a mother and bring life into the world.
Now I realize that I want to bring real life into the world,
your life that will come through your Word and salvation.
By having this child, and giving him up as a priest,
Hannah knew that she would be participating in God’s mission of salvation.
So she was able to pray, Lord, give me a son so I can participate in that mission.
If you God this way, with this motive—you can be absolutely sure that no matter
how God answers, it is for the best. If he gives you what you ask for, or not,
or something completely different from what you expected.
You can be sure that it’s just what you need—so you can relax.
I’ve told you before the story our old Florida friend, Al Rodenhouse.
Al once bought a small orange grove, shortly after that, his church wanted to start
a counseling ministry, needed money. Al said, I’ve just bought this grove.
I’ll give the profits every year to the work. Started praying, Lord provide.
Every year, just what was needed—price of orange juice up and down.
Then one winter, a freeze killed every tree the grove. Very year ministry closed.
Thing never forgotten about the way Al told me that story—
he was just as delighted in that freeze as he was in years of bumper crops.
Because for him it really was all about participating in God’s work.
What are the things you really want? Do you see how freeing it is to say:
Lord, I don’t want money or success or security or marriage or children for me.
But God, I do want you to give me everything I need to participate
in Jesus Christ’s work here on earth. And he will do it.
He’ll give you everything you need for the role he has for you.
If you need a children to accomplish that, he’ll give you children.
If you need marriage for that, or money or whatever—he’ll give it.
The pressure will be gone. Grip it has on you will be gone.
Where did Hannah get the power to pray like that? In her suffering.
If Hannah had not suffered. If she had had a child early on.
She would have bought into the child idolatry of her day.
She would have held that child right in Peninnah’s face and said—
Ha, ha, ha, Who’s the woman now? I’ve got a child and I’m the favorite wife.
Would she have ever given that child up to be a Nazarite?
No. She couldn’t have parted with him.
All of her identity and hopes would have been tied up with him.
But she did give him up. And it’s a moving scene.
This little boy she had nursed and raised until he was several years old.
She took him to the temple, and gave him up to be raised by another.
She made a sacrifice that was very costly to a mother’s heart.
And the Lord saw what she had done.
One preacher imagines that as the Lord watched Hannah leave her boy
and walk home that he turned to the hosts of heaven surrounding the throne,
and said with a catch in this throat: I will not permit this to be forgotten!
And God made Samuel one of the greatest men in church history.
He grew up in an a dark time in Israel’s history.
It was a time of spiritual, moral, and civil confusion—
and he guided Israel and saved her from her enemies.
Because of Hannah’s suffering, and because of her sacrifice—God’s people saved.
That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ.
It’s Jesus saving us from our enemies.
It’s the love of God giving his son. It points us to the cross.
In the cross we see the ultimate suffering and sacrifice and out of it comes life.
If you trust Christ, then Hannah’s God is your God.
That means your pain is not for nothing.
Your bitterness of soul, your loss of appetite and weeping—can be redeemed.
Don’t give up, he will turn your suffering into gold.