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Feeling pressed down? Pray!
At different points in our lives, it is possible to feel overwhelmed by unchangeable circumstances. At the moment, we are trying to make sense of global issues such as the COVID pandemic, Russia-Ukraine conflict, global inflation, food insecurity and climate change, to name a few. At a more personal level, we might be feeling pressed down while waiting for a new turn of events, or the fulfillment of a promise or purpose. Though these circumstances are seemingly out of our control, we rest in the assurance that “God works everything for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:2*). God is sovereign over all, but in all these things He calls us to pray and persevere.
There is a special woman named Hannah in the Old Testament who would identify with us today. Her story of faith in God, despite her challenging circumstances, inspires us to persevere and seek the God-of-the Angels-Army in prayer to bring a breakthrough. She was a woman who experienced the emotional pain of barrenness. Being barren was considered a curse from God in old testament times. Women who had children were considered greatly blessed. Her adversity became even greater when her husband, Elkanah, took a second, and quite arrogant, wife named Peninnah who would be able to bear him children. Despite her condition, Hannah longed with all her heart to bear sons and daughters to carry on the family name, which led her to pour out her heart to God in prayer.
Hannah lived during the end of the Judges era, when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25). During that period, Eli was the judge of Israel at the time but not a good one since he was not able to lead them back to the Lord in faithfulness. The land was filled with violence, idolatry, and followed foreign religions. Hannah’s husband, Elkana, belonged to a lineage of priests. Hence as a family they would go to the temple yearly to worship the Lord. Though her husband had embraced to the the cultural norms of bigamy, which is outside the law of God, he loved Hannah with great affection and great provision to alleviate her situation.
It seemed that everything was against Hannah in the lower story, yet God had an upper story through her struggle and desperation, and opened up her womb to bear a son called Samuel. God worked through Samuel and anointed him to be the spiritual leader of Israel, leading the nation back to the Lord.
There are few lessons we can learn from Hannah’s life of perseverance and prayer:
- When in conflict, don’t retaliate but pray.
“But her rival wife taunted her cruelly, rubbing it in and never letting her forget that God had not given her children. This went on year after year. Every time she went to the sanctuary of God she could expect to be taunted. Hannah was reduced to tears and had no appetite.” 1 Samuel 1:7 (MSSG)
Hannah does not seem to retaliate and react to Peninnah’s mean provocation any time she rubbed it in her face that God has not given her children. Perhaps Peninnah taunted her dailly out of jealousy knowing Elkanah gave his special affection towards Hannah. We notice Hannah’s response and understanding of God’s upper story as she runs to Him as the only one who can change things and open up her womb. She went to the sanctuary of God to pray.
- When in pain, “pull yourself together” and escape in prayer.
Her husband Elkanah said, “Oh, Hannah, why are you crying? Why aren’t you eating? And why are you so upset? Am I not of more worth to you than ten sons?” So Hannah ate. Then she pulled herself together, slipped away quietly, and entered the sanctuary. The priest Eli was on duty at the entrance to God’s Temple in the customary seat. Crushed in soul, Hannah prayed to God and cried and cried—inconsolably. 1 Samuel 1:9-11 (MSSG)
When faced with great pain and anguish, it is easy to succumb to depression, helplessness, and even escape to other things to numb the pain to have relief. Here Hannah instead of staying in a valley of low emotions and self pity she pulled herself together, and moved towards a place with God. There is no greater comfort than to pour out her heart in prayer. God is more than willing to listen. Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6) and as we run to Him, the Holy Spirit ministers comfort into our hearts.
Hannah must have experienced a sense of relief from her anxiety as she prayed silently in her heart after crying inconsolably. By the time she left the sanctuary in the presence of God, 1 Samuel 1:18 says, that her face became radiant.
Just as Hannah did, whatever your circumstance might be, don’t hold back in expressing your deepest emotions! He is faithful to listen, comfort, and deliver you.
- When in a difficult situation, surrender and commit your heart’s desire to God in prayer.
Then she made a vow: Oh, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, If you’ll take a good, hard look at my pain, If you’ll quit neglecting me and go into action for me. By giving me a son, I’ll give him completely, unreservedly to you. I’ll set him apart for a life of holy discipline. It so happened that as she continued in prayer before God, Eli was watching her closely. Hannah was praying in her heart, silently. Her lips moved, but no sound was heard. (1 Samuel 1:12-14)
In this account we read how Hannah makes a promise to God after pouring her heart in humility, experiencing a shift in her being, and disposition. God worked in her heart. She realized that her true need was not to have children, but God Himself. Her true need was to be content in God. The way she surrendered her desire of a child by dedicating her son even before he was conceived was remarkable evidence of her full trust. Hannah exchanged her deepest felt need for the deepest relationship with God to the point that she dedicated her son. She understood that everything that God ultimately gives as an answer to prayer ultimately belongs to Him and wanted to honor Him back.
At the end of the account we see Eli, the Levite priest, blessing Hannah. God had opened up her womb and she gave birth to Samuel, whom she dedicated to the service of God as vowed. Through Hannah’s prayer and surrender, God brought the upper story! God was with Samuel as he grew in the temple and became a judge and major prophet, ushering a new and good era for the people of Israel!
Just like Hannah did, whatever you are believing in prayer, commit it to His will and purpose! He is faithful to bring His purpose, the Upper story, in a challenging situation.