This post is the first of three on prayer, drawn from the opening chapter of 1 Samuel.
Do you pray? Maybe you're like me, someone who definitely prays, who even counts prayer to be a significant part of your life-and yet you find yourself feeling guilty that you still don't pray with near the frequency you should. After all, the apostle Paul told us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). I hardly manage to pray with substantial frequency, let alone constancy.
Thus, I find it helpful when reading Scripture to observe the various reasons we are to pray. In prayer, God doesn't just give us an action to perform. He is welcoming us into a deeper relationship with himself, the very relationship for which we were designed and made. But our default tendency is to believe we don't need this relationship, that we are sufficient on our own. Which is why the first reason for prayer that I want to examine is this: desperation.
Have you ever felt desperate? In the opening pages of the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel, we meet a woman named Hannah. And Hannah is a woman distressed to the point of desperation.
She is desperate for a couple of reasons: she has to share her husband with another woman. She has no children of her own, while the rival wife (Peninnah) is able to have several. Thus we read in v7 that Peninnah would provoke Hannah to the point where Hannah wept bitterly, and would not eat. In v10 we find her at the door of the tabernacle, where she was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. Her lips are moving, but she is so beside herself in anguish that no words are coming out, and the priest at Shiloh, an old man named Eli, assumes that she is drunk.
Maybe you can place yourself in Hannah's shoes. You have a deep desire for something, an ache so bad it hurts. And then your lack is rubbed in your face by a rival, and even your loved ones and the figures who ought to represent some level of comfort (eg, Hannah's husband Elkanah, and Eli the priest) don't understand you in the least. In the words of Proverbs 14:10, the heart knows its own bitterness.
To whom shall she turn?
In these times, who can we turn to? Hannah knows. We find this in her reply to Eli's accusation of drunkenness, "I have had neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation. She is deeply troubled, anxious, and vexed. And she turns to the Lord in prayer. Elkanah hasn't heard her. Eli hasn't heard her. But Hannah trusts that God will hear her.
We will look in upcoming posts at how God responds to Hannah's prayer, and the encouragement we can take from that. But what I want to draw your attention to in this post is this simple fact: Hannah knows herself to be desperate. And she takes that desperation to God.
We so often live under the delusion of self-sufficiency. We don't think we need any help, let alone God's help. But God knows better. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14). When we see ourselves in this light, as so much dust, always on the verge of returning to that dust, we will understand how desperate we are. Maybe it takes an extreme circumstance to put you there-an illness, a job loss, the death of a loved one. Or maybe the creeping realities of age, an unstable world, or always feeling tired give you daily reminders. Whatever is the cause of our coming to grips with frailty, the result should be the same: it should drive us to our knees.
Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear! All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.