Desperation; nothing fuels our prayer life like when we’re desperate. When God’s people are helpless, hopeless, and ready to give up then God is ready to work in our lives. What if the desperation we find ourselves in is actually God’s plan for us? As a loving Father, God is always at work for our best and His glory. Desperate times are God’s training ground for growth. We learn to trust God in new ways during these times. We learn the benefits of humble dependence. We learn to trust God not only in desperation but also in ordinary needs. Since faith in God brings Him glory and is for our good, we know that anything that grows our faith is a loving gift from a loving God. This is seen clearly in the story of Hannah in her beautiful, desperate prayer for God to provide her a child (Samuel, the last and greatest judge in Israel) who she in turn would dedicate to the Lord. Here’s what we learn from Hannah’s prayers of desperation:
Pray to Change Things (1 Sam. 1:10-11)
It seemed God was against Hannah. God had prevented Hannah from bearing children (v. 6). In her barrenness, Hannah found no consolation from those around her. Her family (like many families) was a huge mess. For years, Hannah felt the stinging mockery of her rival Peninnah (vv. 6-7), and her husband Elkanah’s attempts to comfort her with well-intended sympathy fell flat (v. 8).
The conflict would not go away. Some problems seem like they never go away. Elkanah violated God’s design in marriage by having more than one wife. Now he is reaping the consequences of his actions, but so is Hannah. Husbands need to realize that their decisions affect their wives and children too. Deeply distressed, she began to pray to the Lord through bitter tears that caught the ear of her compassionate heavenly Father.
While Peninnah and Elkanah looked at Hannah’s outward circumstances, God was moving ahead with his plan. Think of those in your world who are struggling with God’s timing in answering their prayers and who need your love and help. By supporting those who are struggling, you may help them remain steadfast in their faith and confident in his timing to bring fulfillment to their lives.
Hannah made a vow to God that if He would provide her a son, she would give him back to God. (vs. 11) She was not bribing God but was demonstrating an act of humble faith, recognizing that only God could overcome her barrenness. In the same way, we are all spiritually barren when it comes to salvation.
Pray Through Opposition (1 Sam. 1:12-16)
Each of us may face times of barrenness when nothing “comes to birth” in our work, service, or relationships. It is difficult to pray in faith when we feel so ineffective. But, as Hannah discovered, prayer opens the way for God to work.
Eli’s Criticism (vv. 12-14) – Eli the priest observed Hannah and assumed that she was drunk! (v. 13). Eli didn’t recognize anguished prayer when he saw it. In the same way, the disciples were accused of drunkenness after the Holy Spirit fell upon them at Pentecost (Acts 2:13). Many will not recognize or understand why someone would deal with their heartache through prayer.
Hannah could have been very angry and hateful and used grievous words. She could have retaliated and lashed out at Eli about his wicked sons. The fact that she is at the temple made her vulnerable to these sons (2:22-23). Hannah doesn’t mention these sons to Eli. Why? What has she been doing? The answer is praying. Prayer helps us to respond the right way to people who may come across the wrong way.
Hannah is a broken woman, broken and humbled by her heartache and trials. Her reputation has already taken a beating being a barren woman. This was considered a judgment of God. She has already been taunted for years by Peninnah so what is one more accusation. She has already been misunderstood by her husband in a sense, and now by the priest. God was breaking her down to build her up
God is in the business of using broken things and broken people. Before a thing can be made, sometimes it must be broken. Before a house is built, a tree must be broken down. Before a foundation is laid, the rocks must be blasted from the quarry. Before the ripe grain can cover the fields, the soil must be broken and beaten small.
Hannah’s Confession (vv. 15-18) – Hannah’s response to Eli’s accusation reveals much concerning her heart before the Lord. She described herself as “deeply troubled” (v. 15), pouring out her soul before the Lord and praying from deep anguish and grief (v. 16).
This is the antidote for discouragement: Tell God how we really feel and leave our problems with him. Then rely upon the support of good friends and counselors.
Pray and Give Back to God (1 Samuel 20-28)
Hannah discovered that the greatest joy in having a child is to give that child fully and freely back to God. She entered motherhood prepared to do what all mothers must eventually do—let go of their children
God’s Response (v. 20) From His goodness and mercy, God answered Hannah’s prayer and provided her with a son. Hannah had no spiritual credentials other than her humility, and yet this obscure woman from the hills of Ephraim found an audience with God.
Hannah’s Response (vs. 26-28) She in turn made good on her vow and gave her son back to the Lord. Hannah was vindicated by the grace of God.
The time has come to keep a promise. God has given Hannah peace about the timing. The baby boy she suckled is about to leave her side. No longer will her son’s big wide eyes that glow with wonder, excitement, and joy look up into Hannah’s face on a daily basis. No longer will she feel those little arms around her neck and hear those tender words, “I love you Mommy” like she used too. No longer will the walls of her home echo with the cries of a little boy who has a boo boo or with the laughter of a child playing. One less setting will be at Hannah’s table now. All she has is her memories and periodic visits to the Temple. Will she miss her Samuel? Yes! But God has given her grace and peace and even joy in the surrender of her son to the Lord. Her eyes are on the Lord! Her love for God is greater than her love for Samuel. If a loved one is lost in death or divorce, then we can learn to respond the way Hannah did.
Hannah’s story teaches us about our humility and dependence on God as well as God’s faithfulness to us. God can be trusted in every circumstance because He works all things for our good (Rom. 8:28). We are all spiritually barren, unable to save ourselves and in a state of desperation. However, God is faithful. He provided His Son, Jesus, for all who admit their utter helplessness and cry out to Him in faith.
By faith Hannah sees the light at the end of the tunnel. Hannah has truly taken her burden to the Lord and left it there. God has given her total faith, trust, and confidence in Him. She is at peace and rest. Jesus promised this rest to us (Matthew 11:28).