The Shape of Answered Prayer — Hannah’s Prayer

Hannah’s prayer perfectly illustrated why God answered her prayer. In James 4:3, we read, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” Hannah did not pray for something she could spend on her pleasures.

Because Hannah was childless and had been ridiculed for so long by Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, Hannah prayed with bitter weeping and out of misery for a son. Elkanah’s special attention to Hannah and his demonstrations of love for Hannah could not alleviate her grief. But notice, Hannah did not ask the LORD “wrongly” for a son.

In her prayer for a son, Hannah gave the LORD an unselfish reason for Him to grant her a son. She pledged that if the LORD gave her a son that she would dedicate him to the service of the LORD. After Samuel was born, Hannah praised the LORD, saying, “There is no Holy One like the LORD, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2). Every time God answers one of our prayers, like Hanna, we should be able to praise God for His answer. Before we pray, we can always ask ourselves, “If God answers this prayer, will I be able to glorify God for His answer or will this prayer only demonstrate how selfish I am?”

Hannah kept her pledge to the LORD, and after she weaned Samuel, at about the age of three, she took him to Shiloh for him to be raised as a priest at the temple and remain a nazirite forever. Hannah only three years to be with Samuel day-by-day, and after that she would only see him year-by-year. However, the LORD blessed her abundantly when He helped Hannah and Elkanah have three sons and two daughters. Though the Bible does not tell us, when Samuel later made his home in Ramah (where Elkanah and Hannah lived), he may have cared for his parents in their old age.

Through Samuel, the LORD fulfilled His words of judgment to the priest, Eli, “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed one forever” (1 Samuel 2:35). Samuel fulfilled all the LORD promised through him. The work of the Holy Spirit when He inspires our prayers, as He inspired Hannah’s prayers, remains a great mystery, for the LORD had planned to replace Eli and his sons with Samuel even before Hannah conceived Samuel.

Our suffering and misery may or may not be a sign that God has abandoned us. We usually know whether or not we are suffering from the LORD’s discipline or from some unwise choices. Hannah suffered because the LORD had closed her womb for a higher purpose, not because He had abandoned her (1 Samuel 1:5). Her son was planned by the LORD to serve the LORD according to the LORD’s timing. In like manner, the LORD answered Abraham’s and Sarah’s prayers for a son, and the LORD gave them Isaac, and the LORD answered the prayers of Manoah and his wife, and the LORD gave them Samson (also a nazirite). Our suffering and misery may be a sign that God is inspiring us to pray in a special way, for special people, or even for people unknown to us as the LORD inspired Hannah to pray. Despite our misery and suffering, we can always pray for the LORD to teach us through the Holy Spirit how to pray as we ought to fulfill His purposes.

Please note: Hannah did not try to bribe the LORD to answer her prayer so she could spend His answer on her pleasures. She prayed for the LORD to answer her prayer so the LORD could bless many of His people through a son that she desperately wanted. When we pray, we can ask ourselves if we are praying for selfish reasons or unselfish reasons. Hannah did have concern for herself, she was miserable; but she did not pray selfishly for pleasures. She gave an unselfish reason for the LORD to answer her prayers, and the Spirit moved her to pray according to the will of God.

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