Prayer, Power, and Praise

Scriptures: 1 Samuel 1:9-11, 19-20; 2:1-10; Luke 1:46-55

Today we’re going to focus on Hannah. So I want to explain a little bit more about her situation. This is actually much like the situation with Israel (that is, Jacob). Elkanah, who was her husband, had two wives. Hannah, who it says in the Scriptures he loved most dearly, and Peninnah, who was his second wife. And Hannah was barren. Peninnah had kids. Peninnah was lording it over Hannah, because her kids would be the ones to inherit, since Hannah had none.

And this was done day in and day out. She was mocked. She was humiliated, Hannah was. She was probably treated by others in the community as well as one who was – I know women were already second class – but second class of second class. You see, kids in those days were seen as a blessing. kids in those days were seen as a gift from God. Kids in those days were the future.

And always, always, the Israelites moved forward. They looked forward. Their faith is unusual, and the Christian faith as well, in that we are continuously looking forward to a goal that is to come. Other faiths may look back to ancestors and worship ancestors, and things like that. Some – a lot of them – have circular ideas, with reincarnation, or the Wheel of Time in the Celtic understanding with Druids.

But the Israelites looked forward, and the children were representative of that future. They were important. And when you didn’t have one, when you couldn’t have any, it was often seen as a curse from God. You did something wrong, because God wouldn’t be punishing you like this otherwise.

You see that most notably in Job, the whole book of Job. Job was a man who it says was righteous, a man who it says was a worshiper of God. Yet when the calamities fell upon him, his three best friends, after sitting with him for a week and rubbing ash in their hair and tearing their clothes, turned to him and said, “OK, Job, now we’ve empathized with you. What did you do?” And if you read the book of Job, the whole thing, up to about chapter thirty-nine, is a discussion between them, as they try to probe.

So Hannah was probably seen as somebody who was cursed by God, somebody who had done something wrong. Or her parents maybe, something so egregious that God was punishing her.

So Hannah goes to the temple, one year when they’re down there, and prays in the Spirit. A lament. She pours her heart out to God. Part of what we didn’t read shows that Eli sees her praying, and she’s praying without actually saying anything. Her lips are moving but nothing’s coming out, and he thinks she’s drunk. And he chides her for it. She says, “I’m not drunk. I’m just praying to the Lord.”

And Eli, thankfully, has enough sense and presence and hidden humility, that he apologizes and blesses her. You have to understand, Eli wasn’t the best of priests, either. He himself had a tendency to hit the bottle, and sleep around a bit. His sons were even worse. You see, the priesthood in that day and age was kind of hereditary. Instead of just being the clan of Levi, it seemed to follow from father to son to father to son. God was about to make a change, with Samuel.

Now Hannah’s prayer in the Spirit showed her total dependence on God. It says that she wept and prayed to the Lord. And then she made a sacrifice. She dedicated her son to God. She said, “Oh Lord, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me and not forget your servant to give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

That was a particular kind of thing, a Nazarite. They drank no alcohol, they didn’t cut their hair, and they had a couple of other things that they did, how they lived. So she’s basically saying, “I am going to take my son and give him into your service. And he will live the life of one who is set apart and called by you.”

Now I want you to think about for a moment about that. She has no sons. She wants a son. A son would be a pride for her, a point of pride and a point of inheritance. And yet she says, “God, if you just give me a son, I will give him back to you. I will turn him over to you. I will let him go.”

And in the passages in between where we finished, in chapter two, that’s what happens. They take Samuel when he is of age, about six years old, and they take him to the temple. And he comes under the tutelage of Eli. She doesn’t see him anymore. Except maybe on holidays.

This is the promise that she was making. She was dedicating her son to God and sacrificing her own desires, in a way, if God would just show the world that she was not hated by God, that she had done nothing wrong, that she did not deserve the censure she was getting.

And God remembered her, and gave her a son. You know, I can relate, a little bit, to Hannah’s situation. Though not a lot. We weren’t censured or thought second-class citizens or anything. But our second child was born seven years after the first.

Now, when we had Zach, we had decided we’d been married for three years, it was time, so we just saw started trying, and bam! It happened right away. And then after about two years, we wanted to have a second child so that they wouldn’t be so close that they’d be rivals, but they’d be close enough that they’d be able to relate to each other.

And we couldn’t have a child. We tried for years. We went through tests. And it didn’t look like we were going to be able to have any more children. We looked at adoption, and we were considering that. But we had given up on having a child ourselves, when God gifted us with Al. There were problems with the pregnancy. Pauline had blood pressure issues, she had some hip issues. But also there were markers in blood tests and things that showed there were going to be some problems.

We actually went to genetic counselors in Grand Rapids. And they said there’s going to be some issues, and they talked to us about the fact she’s half Jewish and I’m half Pennsylvania Dutch, pretty much pure on both sides, and that means that we’re about eight thousand times more likely to have Tay-Sachs disease and things like that.

And they said, “Your child is going to have some challenges.” They actually recommended that we consider abortion. But we said, “That’s not an option. God has given us the gift of this son and I’m sure God has a purpose for him.” And then when he was – I don’t know how many months old, six months old? – we dedicated Alaric to God. I know we Presbyterians tend to do infant baptism, but my wife was a Baptist for most of her life, so you know… But it seemed appropriate in particular with Al, that we dedicate Al to God, and give him to God.

This is what Hannah did, and God answered her prayer. And what we see, then, is a second prayer after that. So we have two prayers. One is a lament, a groaning in the Spirit, and the second is a doxology, or a praising in the Spirit. And I want us to look at both of those, because I’m sure we have all experienced those moments in our lives, when we have laments, and when we have doxologies.

Now the lament – in our times of doubt and fear, we have the example of Hannah. Notice that you can feel free to cry out or just cry, and give it to God. nd God will provide comfort. Now, it may be given awkwardly. Look at Eli. First thing he said was “you’re drunk,” and then, when he realized she wasn’t, he patted her on the shoulder and said, “I’m really sorry to hear that, and God will bless you.” But it will be real, that comfort that God gives.

How many times have you been put in that situation, where you may actually be asked to give comfort, and you feel very, very awkward. It’s tough. But God will answer your prayer, your lament, and provide healing in His time. But note that it may require sacrifice. You may have to let go of something, or someone dear to you.

You may have to let go of that grief. You may have to let go of that anger. You may have to let go of that whatever-it-is that just holds you and that you are holding onto tightly, that thing that is causing grief in your life, whether you realize it or not, and bringing you to that place. And you need to sacrifice it to God, give it to God.

And then, in between the prayer and the answer, you move forward by the power of faith. You have confidence in God’s care and plan, and work at fulfilling it. Notice that Hannah had relations with Elkanah. Life went on as normal. We don’t know how long it was between that prayer and her conception.

You can’t sit back and say, “OK, God, your turn!” Yes, you trust in God, but you still have to move forward and work. Trust in the power of prayer, by the power of faith, through the power of the Holy Spirit. And then, when the prayer is answered, praise Him.

Hannah gave her prayer of praise at the moment that she turned Samuel over to God, and actually put him out of her life. You might say, “Whoa, that’s — I had problems sending my kid to kindergarten, and I was crying.” Here she turned him over to somebody else to raise, and she gave got a prayer of praise, through the power of the Holy Spirit. She praised God, with one of the other most beautiful passages in Scripture. These two doxologies are some of the most beautiful poetry in Scripture.

Too often, when we get an answer to prayer, we say, “About time.” And we forget to give God. praise. We may thank God, which is great, and good, and we need to do that, but we also need to praise God.

What’s the difference?” you might say. We think God for His goodness. We thank God for His mercy. We thank God for fulfilling His plan with us, for answering our prayers. But the prayers that we see, both of these prayers, show important elements of a prayer of praise.

First of all, you recognize God’s supremacy, His power, His might. There is no God like my God. Secondly, we recognize our need. That we need to have God with us. Without Him, we are nothing. Third, you proclaim God’s protection, power, and presence. If you look at chapter two of Samuel, she starts out with “My heart rejoices in the Lord, in the Lord my horn” (that’s “my strength”) “is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. God salvation has come. There is no one holy like the Lord.”

Then she begins praising the attributes of God. She knows who He is. And she shows how God can overturn the ways of the world by His will. How often do we really praise God? Other than when we sing hymns and stuff that here in church. How often would you break out into a song of praise in the middle of the week?

Paul says that we should have hymns and songs of praise and spiritual songs running through our heads all the time. Continuous prayer. Even if your tone-deaf. We want to praise God, for what He has done, His answer to prayer, His fulfillment of His will and His plan. And then we glorify him.

Prayer, power, and praise. All three are necessary parts of our faith walk, as we follow Christ. I would encourage you to use those three things regularly. Pray. And don’t be afraid to pray for everything – laments, desires, after praying for God’s guidance. Then move forward, though, on that prayer, in the power of the Spirit. Don’t sit back and wait. Don’t withhold your decision until you see that God has made it manifestly clear.

And then praise God. Whatever His answer might be, remember who He is, and give thanks that He has heard you. Sometimes that can be hard when that’s a No. Sometimes it can be hard when it seems like He’s closed the door to something you really wanted to try.

There’s a cliché that’s out there to say “God never closes the door but that He opens a window.” So if He says no, give God praise ,and look for the window. See where He’s leading you next. And may you walk in his way and give Him your praise, and glorify Him with all your life.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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