Have you ever had a problem that has so overwhelmed you, you just don’t know what to do with it? Perhaps you don’t tell anyone about it, and keep it all bottled up – so much so you worry one-day you’ll go ‘pop’. Or maybe you tell anyone and everyone about it – so much so that they get fed up of you endlessly harping on about it! Over time you find their sympathy doesn’t really sooth the pain, let alone solve the problem.
In 1 Samuel 1 we find Hannah, an ordinary woman with an overwhelming problem. A very real and very painful problem. ‘The Lord had closed her womb’ (v.6). She couldn’t have children. Living during those times, maintaining the family line was a big deal. Real pressure. Great stigma. Overwhelming agony.
To make matters worse Hannah’s ‘rival’, Peninnah (her husband Elkanah’s other wife), did have children and continuously provoked Hannah (vv.2, 6-7). If that wasn’t bad enough, although Elkanah deals very kindly with Hannah, he just didn’t really seem to get it (vv.5, 8). And Hannah sinks into the depths of despair (v.8). She weeps. She refuses to eat. Surely this searing pain is too much to bear? How does she cope with not being able to have children in such a society, with constant mocking and little understanding from within her own family?
Perhaps Hannah’s problem isn’t your problem, but maybe you feel equally overwhelmed by something going on in your life right now. What can you possibly do about it?
Just imagine for a moment that you are Hannah. How would you respond (be honest now)? Well, it shames me to say, but I would probably moan to Elkanah – first talk, then shout, then manipulate. I would grumble to anyone who would listen to ensure that everyone knew how badly I was being treated. I would tell Peninnah a thing or two and dish out the same treatment she was serving me. I’d be awkward at home. I’d make Elkanah’s life a misery. I’d avoid Peninnah and her kids even if that meant refusing to participate in the annual sacrifice. But that’s me. Don’t follow my example. Let’s look at Hannah’s reaction.
Hannah responds to her situation in two ways. She seems to get on with life and she prays (vv.7, 10). I’m not saying she’s put on a brave face or kept a stiff upper lip but she did carry on doing what she always did. How was she able to do that? If it was me I’d be curled up in front of the fire eating chocolate and watching Disney whilst updating my sad status on Facebook! But remember, Hannah responded in two ways and they’re not independent of each other. She gets out of bed and is able to face the day with all its potential heartache because she does something else; she prays.
But it’s not just that she prays, it’s the way she prays (v.13, 15-16). Here is a woman overwhelmed by her situation so she pours out her anguish to God. She opens up her broken heart to her Lord in heart-felt, persistent, earnest and honest prayer. This reveals just how much she’s relying on God to intervene. She can’t do anything about her circumstance and neither can Elkanah — but God can. She believes it and it drives her to pray. But don’t think her prayer is like that of a spoilt child, far from it; she humbly recognises she’s God’s servant (v.11); she will take from her Master whatever he chooses to give her – or not give her.
What’s also remarkable about Hannah’s prayer is the promise to give her son – yes, the very one she’s longing for – back to God (v.11). What’s that all about? This isn’t some sort of bargaining chip – if you do this for me God then I’ll do this for you. Rather, she’s saying to God, if you can do this impossible thing and give insignificant me the son I desire, then boy, are you worth serving! Hannah believes that if anyone can do anything about her situation, it’s God, and if he is able to do that then he is worth serving and giving everything for.
Pouring out your soul
I’m sure you pray about your problems – the distant sister, the uncontrollable grandchild, the increasing debt, the diagnosis from the doctor, the unsaved son, the awkward boss, the difficult parent – but how much of that praying would you describe as pouring out your soul to God? If I’m honest, I know little of this type of praying. Why is that? I think there are a few reasons.
- Prayer is hard work. Normal prayer is hard work but praying in a way where we pour out our souls takes time and effort. It’s exhausting.
- We don’t really trust God. We’d never say that publicly, of course, but our prayer life betrays us. If we really believed that God is willing and able to do something about our problems, wouldn’t we spend more time pleading with him to do so?
- We’re not desperate enough. I say I want my neighbour to be saved and my friend to be reconciled but if that’s really true, then why aren’t my prayers desperate?
- Pouring out our souls exposes us. It makes us vulnerable. We don’t like admitting that we have to depend on someone else. We like to be in control. Praying like this reveals that we desperately do need God. It shows us that we really can’t do life on our own.
But it’s worth investing in this type of praying. Did you notice what happens to Hannah after she pours out her soul? A change comes over her. She eats something and she smiles for the first time in a long time (v.18). And all this happens before her prayer is answered. She had no promise that God would answer her prayer. It seems the unburdening of her heart to God gave her a deep-seated trust in him. A new closeness. The situation is in his hands. He knows. She trusts.
Powerful and effective prayer
But God does kindly answer Hannah’s prayer and give her a son (vv.19-20), Samuel. She must have been over the moon! But she kept her promise and took Samuel to the Tabernacle where he would live and serve God. Wow, that was some sacrifice – giving up the son she so desired! But God honoured her sacrifice. Samuel served God his whole life was greatly used by God. Have you ever thought about how different history would be if God hadn’t answered Hannah’s prayer or if Hannah hadn’t prayed a prayer for God to answer?
So, what about you? What will you do with your problems? Even the ones that threaten to overwhelm you? Will you continually worry about them? Endlessly discuss them with others? Or will you pray about them? Will you resolve to put in the hard work of prayer? Are you ready to throw yourself on God? Will you trust him with every situation that’s thrown at you? Are you willing to open up to God and admit that you really do need him? Will you pour out your soul to him? If we were to pray like this, our faith in God would grow, our trust in him would strengthen and our relationship with him would deepen, and maybe, in God’s kindness, we’d see more answers to prayer than we’ve ever known before.