I know some people who refuse to pray aloud in groups. Some of them are just modest or shy, or they get tongue-tied and feel awkward. But some of them refuse because they feel their prayers are “inadequate.” They wish their prayers were eloquent or flowery, righteous-sounding or inspiring, but they don’t believe their prayers are “enough.”
But God listens with perfect ears. He hears beyond our words. Simple, humble prayers– spoken or silent–are His favorite kind!
We often waste our time trying to impress God (or others) with our words. But God isn’t waiting to be impressed– He’s waiting to spend real time with His child!
When children are first learning to speak, we delight in their coo-ing and lisping. As they grow, we sometimes tune out their babbling, their stories, their griping, and their whining. But as the years go by, we miss hearing their voices, and we long to have them call and talk to us– even for a few minutes.
God never tunes out our babbling, but when we don’t pray, He misses the sound of our voices and the sharing of our thoughts, just like any parent would.
Never discount the power and the value of simple prayers. God doesn’t!
The story in the Bible about Hannah is about prayer; it is also about depression, anguish, misunderstanding, marriage, rivalry, infertility, trust, and obedience.
Yesterday, I talked a bit about the priest, Eli, and his wicked sons. It is that same Eli who becomes a surrogate parent for Hannah’s precious, promised son, Samuel.
Think about that. In all my years reading through this story, it never occurred to me that Hannah had already known about Eli’s sons and their wickedness. Hannah knew that Eli was not the best role model for her small son. She knew that she was sending her child into an environment that included corruption, injustice, and perversion. This child she had promised to “give back” to God would grow up in a family more dysfunctional and dangerous than if he had stayed with Hannah, Elkanah, and even Peninnah and his half-siblings.
The Bible does not give us all the details of either family, (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Samuel+2%3A11-26&version=ESV ) but there is evidence that Elkanah was a good provider, an honest and worthy man, and a good father. Eli, on the other hand, was told of his sons’ wickedness, and, other than giving one mild rebuke, he turns a blind eye to their practices and grows fat and lazy in his service. There is no mention of a mother or motherly influence at all in Samuel’s new “foster” family. Why would Hannah surrender her maternal rights (and why would Elkanah agree to forfeit his paternal rights) to send Samuel into this hornet’s nest?
Perhaps the answer can be found just before the account of Eli’s wicked sons. At the end of Hannah’s Song (which we will examine in more detail later), we have a profound statement of faith:
1 Samuel 2:9-10 English Standard Version (ESV) 9 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail. 10 The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
Hannah was not giving Samuel to Eli to raise; she was giving Samuel to God to raise and guide and protect.
I am writing this today, not to encourage parents to absolve themselves of responsibility for training and caring for their own family, but to encourage those parents who may not be in a position to guide and protect their children. Some of us have children, grandchildren, siblings, or other young and vulnerable family members living away from our care or influence. Some are living in dysfunctional and even dangerous environments. God KNOWS. He SEES. He HEARS. We do not know, nor do we understand, why God allows innocent people to suffer. We do not know what fears or concerns Hannah and Elkanah may have had about Samuel’s upbringing. We do not know what Samuel endured under Eli’s care, or what he saw or heard in the presence of Eli’s sons. As a child, he may have been spared some of the worst of their behavior.
We do know two things, however. Hannah and Elkanah may or may not have had reason to trust Eli. He did allow them to visit each year, and he seems to have been fond of young Samuel; certainly the Bible stories I used to read in Sunday School made Eli seem like a kindly uncle. But the reality was that Samuel’s life was not in Eli’s hands–it was in God’s! Hannah and Elkanah trusted God to guide their son, even as they relished every moment they were able to spend with him. They certainly prayed for his safety and growth in wisdom as he served in the Tabernacle of the Almighty.
Secondly, we know that God can bring good out of even bad circumstances. Eli was weak and indulgent with his sons; he was warned and did nothing. He sat down on the job and faced judgment without repentance. When Samuel was grown, this pattern could have been repeated. Samuel’s own sons began taking bribes and perverting justice. Samuel was still serving faithfully, even as an old man, but his sons were not following his good example. However, when the people came to Samuel with reports of his sons’ activities and asked him to step aside and appoint a king, Samuel sought the Lord. God reassured him, and Samuel was faithful to appoint and advise Israel’s first king, Saul. God was faithful to guide Samuel’s footsteps, and to bring justice against the wicked sons of Eli.
Eli’s flawed examples of fatherhood and leadership still served as models for Samuel. Even as a child, he showed wisdom, respect, and love for his “foster father” and mentor. Hannah and Elkanah never wavered in their trust that God could and would guide their son and provide for him. Their faith wasn’t based on the knowledge that Samuel would one day become the chief priest and anoint both Saul and his successor, David. They only knew that God could be trusted.
That is not a promise that every child in a bad environment will be “safe” and rise above their circumstances to become famous or powerful. But it is reason to keep hope and faith when we feel powerless. None of Hannah and Elkanah’s (or Peninnah’s) other children are mentioned in the Biblical narrative. They may have been honest, upright citizens, successful in business or esteemed in their hometown of Ramah. Samuel’s story is not a parable–there is no “moral” about “giving a child back” to God and being able to expect success and fame and blessing. There is, however, a lesson here about recognizing that every child is a gift– not a reward, not a burden–our children belong to God. We should do our best to guide them, nurture them, protect them, and above all, to love them. But their destiny– including tragic circumstances and glorious opportunities–is not ours to control.
Next time, we explore another important relationship– that of Hannah and her Son.
My father was a quiet man. He loved music, and jokes, and animals, and peaceful summer nights listening to crickets and sipping tea on the front porch. My father was not a man of lengthy, eloquent prayers. His prayers were often short, and sometimes punctuated with emotional tears. But my father prayed. He led our family in prayer and devotions; he prayed in church on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. He spent much time, head bowed, talking silently with his Savior.
I spoke of a mother’s prayers last month, and they are important. But fathers play a different role. My mother’s prayers always seemed to wrap me in a cozy blanket of affection and hope. My father prayers were more like an umbrella– spreading out over our family to seek God’s protection and grace. Even if Dad’s voice wavered in prayer, his vocabulary was bold, filled with a rock-solid faith, and a deep sense of God’s power and wisdom ready to be poured out on our family.
But the most lasting impression I have of my father’s prayers is that of Dad’s reverence for God. I never, EVER, heard my father take the Lord’s name in vain. (Not even when his favorite baseball team was losing– again!) I never heard him express doubt of God’s care, His provision, or His wisdom. He approached the throne of grace with awe and deep gratitude. He never lost his sense of wonder at God’s creation, or his sense of awareness of and need for God’s mercy.
We need men of prayer. I am so grateful for a husband who prays– regularly, fervently, compassionately, and boldly. What would happen in our world if more men prayed daily in the quiet of their homes or places of work? Our society makes fun of men who pray on public platforms, praising themselves as much or more than they praise God. It denigrates prayer as weakness and hypocrisy, but what if more men of faith led their families in daily prayer? What if, with trembling voices, more men sought out wisdom and strength to meet the challenges they face, instead of putting on a brave but false face of independence and self-sufficiency? What if, instead of excusing vulgarity and cursing, more men took the challenge to clean up their language and set better examples.
If you know men of faith– take some time this weekend to let them know how much their good example means. Encourage them to finish the race, to keep going, and to leave the kind of legacy that matters most. And don’t forget to lift them up in prayer!