Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ever Afraid to Pray Like You Feel?

Reading: 1 Samuel 1
Hannah's prayer of 1 Samuel 2:1-10 is fairly well known. It is often cited as the background for Mary's prayer in Luke 1:46-55. It is a magnificent prayer. There is another of Hannah's prayers that is much less known and much less talked about. Yet, I suggest to you that there will be times in your life that this prayer may be more important for you to know about.
13Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”  15“Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. 16Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”  17Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” (1 Samuel 1:13-17)
This prayer was far less refined and wasn't nearly as polished as the prayer of chapter 2. It was also far less acceptable to our religious sensibilities. First of all, her affect was such that Eli considered her drunk. The reason? She was deeply troubled. Have you ever been so deeply troubled that your affect might appear as one who is drunk? Hannah was pouring out her soul to the Lord and whatever was inside came out in troubling ways that matched the sorrow of her soul.
Drunk” was Eli's perspective of what might be the cause; Hannah tells us otherwise. “I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” The Christian Standard Bible reads, “...from the depth of my anguish and resentment.” The ESV reads, “out of my great anxiety and vexation.” In the previous verse, she said, “I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.” Do you ever pour out your soul to the Lord? Have you ever poured out your soul before the Lord and when it came out you discovered a depth of anguish and resentment; a depth of anxiety and vexation; a soul full of grief? If you have, did you fear that you had blasphemed God?
Hannah, whose name means “encamped against,” or, “bent down,” was one of Elkanah's wives. It seems in the story line that the Lord is the One encamped against her (1 Samuel 1:5-7). She had much reason for her vexation of soul, her anguish and resentment. Peninnah, the other wife of Elkanah, whose name meant “chief,” was truly positioned as “chief” over Hannah, as far as the blessings of this life go. And Peninnah never hesitated to rub it in. When Hannah poured out her soul, there was some ugly in there and that ugly came out. Yet, even that was an expression of her faith in God. She would not remain quiet and pretend that God was not part of the equation.
Hannah's prayer was a lament. One scholar defines a lament, “To to refuse to accept things as they are, to protest God's continued silence, and to press God for deliverance.”1 The scriptures are full of laments. The psalms, the book of Job, the prophets (one whole book is named for laments, Lamentations) the Gospels even have them. Hannah refused to accept the seeming reality that God was encamped against her! She refused to accept God's continued silence. Elkanah's weak theological help (“Am I not gift enough from God for you?”) was not sufficient. Hannah would settle for nothing less than deliverance.
God doesn't rebuke us for bringing our fears and anxiety to Him, he reminds us that He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). God doesn't rebuke us for even bringing our resentment to Him. I might suggest that sometimes our biggest problem with resentment is that we don't bring them to Him. When we are instructed to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” we are going to have to face our resentments right then and there while we are praying.2 God is not ashamed to associate Himself with those who refuse to be satisfied with a “whatever will be will be” attitude in the face of this world's brokenness (Hebrews 11:16).
God invites us to pour out our souls to Him (Psalm 62:8; Lamentations 2:19). And just as with Hannah, God answers prayers of lament (1 Samuel 1:17-20). Answers to laments are often that from which much more polished and refined prayers like 1 Samuel 2:1-10 grow. The prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2 may be more famous, more fit for public consumption, and less offensive to our religious sensibilities, but it was not more effectual with God. God answered Hannah's pouring out her heart in anguish and bitterness of soul, and God will hear your prayers poured out to Him in times of deep trouble. Even your dissatisfaction can be an expression of faith in God when it refuses to accept a deaf, silent, or unjust god, in place of the Living God. May we offer more prayers of lament in this broken world.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1Ellington, Scott A., Risking Truth: Reshaping the World through Prayers of Lament, pg. xi.
2I often find myself pausing before I can pray that line, or in the middle of it and saying, “Hold on, Lord, maybe not just like I forgive... maybe Lord, I need some real help forgiving. Help me forgive....”. It forces me to face any resentment or unforgiveness that is there.