1 There was a certain man from Ramathaim whose name was Elkanah . . . 2 He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. 3 Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the LORD Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the LORD. 4 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb. 6 And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 8 Elkanah her husband would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
9 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the LORD’s temple. 10 In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
12 As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of 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. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.
19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the LORD for him.”
Great Praying Often Begins With Great Sorrow
Hannah was so distressed by the jeers and sneers of Penninah that she was moved to tears and had stopped eating. Hannah was dealing with the disappointment and heartache of barrenness, but also the humiliation and shame that comes with being singled out and made fun of. In this story, Hannah calls herself “deeply troubled.” Her husband wanted to help her, but he couldn’t. Have you ever been there with a spouse or good friend? You want to fix it, but you can’t? The comfort her husband provided wasn’t enough. She had to turn to the Lord. Scripture says she started her prayer with bitterness of soul. Life hadn’t been fair. Living was hard. She longed for what she didn’t have and it caused her great sorrow.
Unbeknown to Hannah, God was using her circumstances to drive her to a particular kind of prayer. God was withholding his blessing, not because he was displeased with Hannah, but because he held her in high esteem. God needed a special man to be a leader of Israel during a crucial period in the nation’s history. He needed a child set apart and dedicated to the LORD’s service, brought up to love the laws and worship of God’s chosen people. Hophni and Phineas, Eli’s sons, had turned out bad. Eli was to be given a second chance to groom a successor.
So we see why the LORD permitted the sorrow of Hannah. She was the ideal mother for God’s servant Samuel. During the six years Samuel was in her care she molded his character. She taught him to reverence the LORD; she set him an example of love and devotion to God; she laid the foundations of Samuel’s piety and principled life.
Our kids love to hear stories about when they were born and what I went through while I carried them. Can you imagine the stories Hannah told Samuel? Maybe she talked about how her sorrow turned to joy. Maybe she reminded him that he was a special child because he was the result of answered prayer. Sometimes sorrow is the seed God uses to reap a special kind of harvest.
It’s been said, “When it seems hardest to pray, we should pray the hardest.” It is in times of sorrow that we find ourselves praying as never before. Perhaps we are on our face, lying on the floor. Maybe we’re moved to tears. Maybe we go deeper in our Christian friendships because in times of great sorrow we’re more willing to be vulnerable and to ask for prayer. Maybe our prayer conversation with God is what we point to when we move beyond sorrow to hope again. Maybe we’ll look back and realize it was prayer that got us through the ordeal.
Great Praying is Specific Praying.
Hannah’s prayer was focused. She asked God to give her a son. She left God in no doubt of what she wanted. In John 16:23-24 Jesus says you will be given what you ask for in Jesus’ name. That’s powerful. If you ask for God to bless you so that you can be a good witness for him, that’s alright. If you ask God, however, to help you win Sam Smith to the Lord while you see him twice a week at the YMCA, that’s completely different. Specific praying yields specific results.
Being specific in prayer has another benefit. When God gives us an answer, we know it. We’ll know that when Sam Smith got saved because of our witness at the YMCA twice a week that God did that. Wednesday night, Tami Evans asked that we pray for Samantha Gasdick, a friend of hers who had been unable to use her voice for 12 weeks. She had been to a speech therapist and tests had been run to look for tumors on her vocal cords or larynx. Nothing could be found. She lost her job because of it. The next morning, Samantha who is not a Christian, called Tami and her voice had returned! She then called her good friend who does nails for a living and told her about her healing. Would you believe her good friend that was doing nails was doing Tami’s nails that very minute? Knowing I was preaching this message on prayer, I called Samantha on Thursday afternoon to rejoice with her. She was thrilled. I called her again Friday and her voice had left her again. She said her voice return only lasted a couple of hours. I told her I wasn’t discouraged because the God who gave her a voice for a few hours on Thursday was the same God who could cause it to permanently return, and I prayed specifically that her voice return would be permanent so that Samantha would KNOW it was God who had done it.
I met Stacy Minor at an altar a few months back and prayed specifically that before the day was out, she would receive news that God was on the scene and working miracles in the situations we prayed about. She got her phone call that evening! Specific praying produces specific results.
When I’m heading out to the mall and I need to find something I just start praying specifically. I just ask God to help me be led to the store which will have the right item I need in the size and color I need it in and that it will be on sale. God never disappoints me.
Great Praying Unburdens Our Souls.
She said in all honesty: “if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me….” Hannah told God how she felt. Perhaps you struggle with that emotional component of your walk with God. But it’s so important because there was a relief that came when Hannah was willing to be vulnerable and “let it all out.” It doesn’t hurt to tell God when we are upset, disappointed or sad. It’s like it restored Hannah’s equilibrium. Hannah felt better after her prayer. She was able to eat. She went back home. Her face was no longer downcast.
When we unburden our souls with someone, there is an intimacy between us and that person that takes place. It’s the same way with God. He says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” in Matthew 11:28. How do we come to Him? We come in prayer. For prayer is the place where burdens change shoulders.
Psalm 42-1 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? 3 My tears have been my food day and night. 4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul.
Psalm 62:8 8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.
Someone said, “Prayer must come not from the roof of the mouth, but from the root of the heart.” To pray with all of your heart is going to involve your emotional self. Prayer is sort of like getting things off your chest with God, letting Him know how your really feel. You can’t pour out your heart to just anyone. Some people aren’t safe. God, however, can always be trusted with your pain, with your feelings, with your heart.
Great Praying Changes Things.
First of all, it changes circumstances.
“In the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son.”
Why was she granted her request? We can only speculate, but Scripture shows us Hannah prayed with a servant’s heart. 18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.”
She said everything she wanted to say. Her pain poured out through her tears. Her heart got involved when she ran out of audible words. She stated her pain and her need, but she never forgot her purpose. She remembered who she was. She was God’s servant. She was a handmaiden of the Lord, and while she hoped and believed God would grant her what she asked for she had the attitude that God knew best and that He would ultimately decide what was best and that she would stay submitted to Him regardless.
How do I know she wasn’t just trying to butter God up by reminding Him that she was His servant? We read, 11 And she made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” Oh, she wanted a son, yes, but her servant’s heart was revealed in her willingness to use the blessing of a son in the Lord’s service. She wasn’t just God’s servant in her supplication, but she was God’s servant with her sacrifice. She recognized that if God granted her request for a son, He would be in charge of that boy. She would only be a steward of that answer to prayer.
We might pray for a financial blessing but have no intention of letting God dictate how we’ll use those funds. Every time I take the kids to the grocery, they try to convince me that we’ll be the winners of whatever sweepstakes a certain kind of cereal or yogurt will be marketing. This week we bought some of that drinkable yogurt and of course winning money became the priority of Josh’s mind. He informed me that if the ten thousand dollars was in that particular pack of drinkable yogurt, he’d be the recipient of the money. When I asked him why he thought it would be his money, he simply replied, “Because it was my idea to get it.” To which of course I replied, “Who paid for it?” Listen, church anything we receive from God is a blessing and we’ve never paid for any of it! We’re just stewards of that blessing. Hannah’s servant attitude was demonstrated in her understanding that if God blessed her she would become a steward of that blessing and not be someone that would control or manipulate it.
I believe that Hannah’s prayer and resulting sacrifice paid the price for the anointing that was on Samuel over his entire life. She thought she was asking for a child for herself but Israel got a Judge and a Prophet of unparalleled character and worth. God closed Hannah’s womb to see what that would produce. Things could have turned out far differently. What if Hannah had chosen self pity when she found herself barren? How about discouragement leading to bitterness and bitterness to despair? She could easily have succumbed to resentment or anger with God. Hannah was aware of the privileges of her relationship with God. She prayed: “If you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me…..”
She didn’t want to have a son just to silence her rival or to prove that she was as good as the next woman, but she wanted to have a child so that she could serve the Lord.
Prayer changes things, but we need to pray with a servant’s heart.
Prayer also changes us.
“She went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. I believe it was because she prayed and she cried until she knew God had heard her. She had poured out her whole heart and in doing so she received a change of heart.
II Chronicles 16:9; “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” In Hannah he certainly found such a heart, didn’t he? Her desperate surrendered prayer is one of the greatest in the Bible.
God uses prayer to change us. David prayed in Psalm 25:4-5 “Show me your ways, O LORD. Teach me your paths. Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”
That prayer was a prayer that would result in David being changed. When God shows us His standards and His will for our lives, it isn’t easy. It will require that we grow and change. But once we accept what God shows us, He is able to teach us. And when we’re teachable and growing, He is able to guide us, to lead us into His plan and purpose. “When God shows me, He has my heart. When God teaches me, He has my mind. When God guides me, He has my hand!” (John Maxwell-Partners in Prayer)
I want to share a testimony with you that was written this week by Judith Lester. (Introduce Tony and Judith)
On August 14, 1996 Shanna and I were on our way home after visiting a few days with my parents, who live in Wyoming County. We were only about 7 miles from my parents’ house when a kid who was driving a Ford Ranger was racing with another vehicle, came around a curve on the wrong side hitting my Blazer head on doing about 75mph. I stiffened my left leg bracing myself for the impact. When we hit my leg went through the floor board and was on the ground. My left pelvis was crushed, in about 60 pieces, my nose and ribs were broken, I had stitches in my head and top lip, a broken finger, nerve damage in my right eye, and cuts and bruises all over my body. Fortunately most of the impact was on the driver’s side. I had my 6 year-old daughter in the front seat in a toddler seat. The dash was pushed in trapping me inside. Shanna received a head injury from the glove compartment flying out and hitting her in the head, and her skull was pressed against her brain. However, there was no permanent damage. Prayers were answered. It took the jaws-of-life about 45 minutes to cut me out.
A helicopter flew us to Charleston where Shanna had surgery right away. I was stabilized and then surgery was done on my nose and a traction bar put in my left leg. My husband nor I were saved at this time, but I had a lot of people praying for me. I was in CAMC for 8 days. During that time a Dr. Molina, who was not on call the night I was brought into the hospital, was referred to me. After taking a look at my x-rays he consulted with Tony and me. I don’t remember much in those 8 days but I know Dr. Molina told Tony that I needed a specialist as soon as possible and that there was only a few qualified to do the surgery I needed to have. One was in Pittsburgh. Had it not been for people praying for me, Dr. Molina may not have looked at my x-rays. I was flown down to Pittsburgh right away.
My doctor told me that if I had waited any longer with my crushed bones not getting any blood to them, I would have never walked again. After an 11 hour surgery I was losing blood as fast as I was getting it. I was hooked up on life support, several other machines and my hands were tied down. They let Tony come in to see me for just a few minutes. Swollen almost beyond recognition he kissed me and told me I was going to be OK. I shook my head no. Tony was beside himself. He knew I wasn’t going to make it and he didn’t know he was going to break the news to our daughter and my parents. He called his dad who is preacher and told him I wasn’t going to make it. Without hesitation his dad said YES SHE IS! We gathered to together at church, someone was anointed for her, and we prayed for her. He said God was there and let him know his prayers were heard and answered. The next morning before Tony came into see me, the doctors took me off of life support. When Tony came in to see me I greeted him with a “Hey baby” and he almost collapsed. Prayers had been answered.
A few days had passed and I kept loosing blood. I could feel the life literally being drained out of me. I had received 19 units of blood. It was late one night, and I felt like I just could not make it any longer. I knew I was dying. The only thing I knew to do was pray. I lifted my arms in the air and asked God to please help me. I felt his presence and it was like he was right beside me. At that time a nurse walked into the room and I put my hands down. From that moment on I never felt like I was dying again and I started feeling better. Prayers answered!! God does hear the cries of a sinner.
After 8 days in Pittsburgh I got to go home. A hospital bed arrived, and I was bed ridden for 3 months. I had to lie flat. I had 6 plates and 20 screws in my left hip. My mother took care of my daughter while I was in the hospital and she came up and stayed with me, took care of me, Shanna and helped Tony with whatever she could. Mom stayed through the week and went home on weekends. Mom was getting bad headaches. Her doctor told her it was due to stress.
Six months after the accident and months of therapy I could walk again. My leg was turned in and a couple of inches shorter but I was walking. Prayers were answered. After 8 months I was in a lot of pain and my doctor told me the bone in my hip had died and I needed a bone graph and hip replacement. My second surgery was in December of ’97. Mom was there to stay with me and help with Shanna while Tony worked. January 7, 1998 my 30th birthday, Dad took a day off work and he and Mom came up to surprise me for my birthday, brought me a cake and took me out to get a coat Mom knew I wanted. Life was good and I was so happy. I had gotten through the worst thing that had ever happened to me at that time and I had been saved in May of ’97. I thought that there was nothing that could get me down. Mom and Dad spent the night with me and went home the next day. The day after that I received a call from my cousin; Mom had passed out and taken to the hospital. She never regained consciousness. She died of an aneurysm we didn’t know she had. I was devastated. How could I live my life and ever be happy again without my Mother? My Mom had not been a Christian and all I could think was, “Is she ok?”
One Sunday driving home from church Tony and I were talking and I told him I just need to know if Mom was ok. Tony told me I had to have faith that she was. I didn’t think about it the rest of the day. That night in my dreams Mom called me, all she said was “Sissy I’m alright.” Mom and I talked on the phone at least once a day when she was alive and it just seemed like the natural thing for her to do was call me and let me know she was ok. The last words she spoke, were to her sister, that was with her when she died were, I’m ok. Prayers were answered. I knew Mom was in heaven and I have never worried about her again. The day the doctors were taking Mom off life support, they advised us that we should not be in the room when it happens. Tony could not let her be alone, so he told them he was going to stay. The nurses tried to prepare him on what to expect. After they turned the machines off, they took Tony to a small room to try and collect himself before coming out to tell us she was gone. At that time Tony knelt on the floor and gave his heart to the Lord. Prayers were answered. On
April 7, 1998 three months after Mom died, Tony’s sister, Tammy was killed in a car wreck. Again, the family was devastated. Many prayers went out. We had gone through a lot in a short period of time and God and his answered prayers are what got us through. Tony and I became so much closer and we both got closer to our families.
Years had gone by and I underwent more surgeries were had. When our daughter was 15 years-old, I found out I was pregnant. Surprise! I was excited and scared to death. I have always had a lot of pain because of the accident, and I was on some strong pain medication. I was so worried something was going to be wrong with the baby. By the time I was 2 months pregnant I had gone off all pain medication. It wasn’t easy. I had been on pain medication since the accident, but with prayer I did it. At the time I got pregnant I needed surgery again. I prayed for God’s touch to help me with the pregnancy and the pain and prayers were answered. Emma was born 3 weeks early @7lbs 7oz and healthy. Prayers were answered. When Emma was nine months old I had surgery. The doctor told us before surgery he didn’t know if he could do anything for me. This would be my 4th surgery and my 3rd hip replacement. There wasn’t enough bone left to do much with. He didn’t know if I would be able to walk again after the surgery. That was 2 years ago. The doctor did a hip replacement, a bone graph, and more plates and screws and I am still walking. Again, prayers were answered. God has been so good to me. I don’t why, I do not deserve it, but I make sure to thank him every day for all my blessings. I have 2 beautiful girls and an amazing husband that is always by my side. I don’t only pray for the big important things in my life but, also for the little things. I try to pray for just about everything and my prayers are always answered.
Many people who would deal with these kinds of heartbreaking and painful circumstances might choose bitterness and anger towards God. But because of the power of prayer, Tony and Judith Lester are giving thanks to God because they were changed through the power of prayer.
There was great sorrow in Tony and Judith’s life, but it led to great praying. Maybe you’re here this morning and you are dealing with great sorrow. This can be the beginning of a new kind of life with Christ if you will let it lead you to great praying. Get specific. Don’t just pray for a new job. Pray for the exact position you’d like to have. Don’t just pray that your kids will be blessed. Pray that they’ll be blessed in their minds to know truth, blessed in their bodies to have health, blessed in their life to meet life’s challenges with godly victory and wisdom, blessed to marry Christians, blessed to live up to their God-given potential and blessed to lead many to Christ. Get alone with God and don’t be afraid to tell Him everything. If it makes you cry, tell him everything. If it makes you pound your fist on the desk, tell him everything. He already knows how you feel, but you’ll unburden yourself if you’ll let those feelings out. Pray not only for your life to change, but pray to change yourself.
It is interesting in regards to Hannah’s praying that she was changed before her circumstances were changed. I have to believe even if God hadn’t granted her request to have a son, she would have been just fine. She had experienced a release in that prayer time and had been blessed by Eli to experience peace. She went home with her head high and her belly full. God had met her there. She had been changed.
This would be a great day to start some great praying. Will you stand with me as we pray?