Unanswered prayer – when we feel that God is not giving us the answers in prayer for which we are seeking – is a difficult area for many Christians to tackle. We know the promises of God regarding prayer, but sometimes our experience seems far removed from these promises. This morning, Dave looked at the testimony of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:1-28 TNIV to show us how God often uses difficult circumstances to refine our attitudes and draw us closer to Him. As Bill Hybels says, “God always has the answer to our prayers: ‘No – Slow – Grow – Let’s Go.'”
Hannah is an unlikely heroine, yet her persistence in prayer resulted in the birth of one of Israel’s greatest prophets, Samuel. The story starts with the story of her barrenness, which Scripture makes clear resulted directly from God. Sometimes our hardships and limitations come from God, rather than from the enemy (who in any case can only do what God allows him to do, as the story of Job makes clear, whilst the healing of the blind man in John 9 refutes the oft-held notion that unanswered prayer is always the result of personal sin.) Hannah wrestles with her infertility for many years, longing for a child and having to face the verbal abuse from her rival, Penninah. She has to move from bitterness, anger and frustration to a place of surrender and submission before she sees the answer to her prayers.
For many years, Hannah’s predicament does not change. She is sorrowful, angry, and finds it almost impossible to cope with this heartache. Her name means ‘woman of grace’, but her grace must have been sorely tested by Penninah’s mockery and ease at bearing children. Hannah learns, however, to seek God through her sorrow. Ps 51:17 TNIV reminds us that the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. Her prayer in this chapter is a prayer of submission (1 Sam 1:11 TNIV), for she promises to give her son back to God if she is granted her request and this becomes also a prayer of sacrifice, for she now realises that children are not just given to the parents for themselves but are a gift from God, loaned to parents for a short time, but given ultimately for God’s greater purposes.
Hannah’s attitude has changed. Her selfishness at wanting a child for herself and for her own reasons has been replaced by selflessness. She is now prepared to put God’s will above her own and to do what God wants. She has learned to respond as Mary would in later days: ‘May it be to me according to your word.’ (Luke 1:38 TNIV).
Samuel, the son born in due course, means ‘asked of God.’ The chapter may start with unanswered prayer, but it definitely doesn’t end there! Hannah is true to her promise and gives her son back to God, for Israel needed a prophet who could be soaked in God’s presence from an early age. She has moved from despondency over unanswered prayer to a greater understanding of God’s plans and her attitude has changed so that she now approaches God with clean hands and a pure heart, knowing that God is in control at all times and is always willing to hear and answer prayer.