Sunday, December 13, 2009

prayer is not a formula

Sitting in front of a smoldering fire in my family room I am reminded that prayer is not a formula.

This semester I have been pouring over I Samuel chapter 1 where it records the story of Hannah, absolutely frantic for a son. Hannah is one of two wives to Elkanah (v. 2). Although she is barren (by the Lord's doing), her husband dearly loved her (v. 5). The Bible makes in clear that it was God who closed Hannah's womb (v. 5, 6), although her rival (Elkanah's other wife, Peninnah) had children. Year by year, as the family would go up the house of the Lord, at Shiloh (v. 3), Hannah would weep and refuse to eat (v. 7) because Peninnah made her life miserable.

One year, Hannah went alone to the temple in "bitterness of soul" (v. 10). Eli, the priest, was there watching this take place (v. 9). She "prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish" (v. 10). Her vow is found in verse 11, "O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head." Hannah continued praying before the Lord silently; she "spoke in her heart" (v. 13). Watching all of this transpire, Eli thought that she was drunk (v. 15). Sad, isn't it, that the priest was more accustom to seeing people drunk outside the temple than recognizing true desperation for God? Eli chides her for being drunk, but Hannah replies that she hasn't been drinking! Rather, she was "a woman of sorrowful spirit" having "poured out [her] heart before the Lord" (v. 14-15). This is similar language to Psalm 62:8, "Trust in Him at all times, you people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah." Hannah says that before this time she had spoken "out of the abundance of her complaint and grief" (v. 16).

The language here is simple, but the grief that Hannah felt must have been truly heart-wrenching. She uses the word "affliction" showing how this issue was affecting her life; it was the "thorn in her flesh". In Old Testament culture, having children was an important part of a woman's life. On top of that, Hannah clearly had the desire to raise godly children and give them back to the Lord. Her motives were pure. Her desire for children was God-given. Yet, God hadn't answered her pleas. Have you ever pleaded desperately with the Lord for something? A legitimate need? A God-given desire?

Eli responds, "Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him" (v. 17). Personal interjection here: a dear friend has been studying this passage with me and she keeps saying, "Don't you wish you had an Eli who could tell you that the Lord would grant your petition?"

Hannah, who has been weeping over this issue for years, gets up, goes on her way and eats (v. 19). Her countenance changes as well (v. 19). The next morning, the family rose early and worshiped before the Lord (v. 20). This, I believe, shows that Hannah pleaded and petitioned the Lord, but then she left it there at the alter of the Lord. After years of grieving over this issue, she is able to get up, go on her way, eat, no longer be sad and worship. She trusts that the Lord has heard her petition and that He can be trusted with it. In essence, her actions show the attitude of her heart, that she has given the issue to God and is leaving it there for Him to deal with.

Hannah bears a son.

Jump forward a book to II Samuel 12:16-23. David has committed adultery with Bathsheba and out of the adulterous relationship, a son is born. Just as the Lord (in I Samuel) closes Hannah's womb, here in II Samuel the Lord strikes David's child with illness (v. 15). David pleads with the Lord (v. 16). He fasts (v. 16). He is contrite on the floor (v. 16). He refused to be comforted (v. 17).

David's son died.

Once David receives the news, one would expect him to sink into a deep depression. Rather, he gets up off the ground, he washes and changes clothes, ate, and went into the house of the LORD and worshiped (v. 20).

Clearly two separate situations. Each has its own oscillating variables, which cannot be ignored. However the formula is similar. Sincere prayer. Heartfelt weeping. Refusal of food. Sacrificial worship. Purposeful surrender. Absolute desperation for God to work.

The same "formula" is found in both passages. God responds differently in each situation. In one He gives a child, in the other He takes a child. YET... Hannah and David respond similarly. Their actions show that God can be trusted as they completely and totally give the matter to Him and leave it there! Once their request has been laid out before the Lord, they arise from their weeping and continue with life.

Oh Lord, may I be as faithful to fully lay my requests before You and leave them there, knowing that You can be trusted with all aspects of my life including my deepest desires and needs. May I then continue life, living in full assurance that Your way is truly best.

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