One of our favorite things as ministers to tell people is: God answers prayer – it just might not be the answer we want in the time we want. Hannah’s is a great example of answered prayer – just what she asked for in a reasonable time frame. How marvelous to be reminded that sometimes God answers prayer just the way we pray for it!
Once, early in my ministry, I ran out of money a few days before my next paycheck. With two small kids to take care of, I said a small prayer. I prayed that I didn’t need a million dollars, I just needed $20 – enough to buy a package of diapers and a gallon of milk. The next day I came to work and there was a card on my desk with $20. The card was from a parishioner thanking me for my ministry, knowing that the early days with a young family can be tough, and wanting to help me out. (True story.) I do not suggest that God is like a genie in a bottle, granting wishes. I do suggest that sometimes we are asked to pray boldly and often God does answer prayers in just the way we need and want. In my case, the prayer included a need for a greater good (to care for my family), and involved the faithful response of a parishioner. In Hannah’s case, her request was for a greater good (she promised to raise the child in the temple), and included the involvement of the community (for raising the child, not for conceiving him, of course!) It is for these reasons when people were hesitant to pray for healing of a serious illness for fear it would not be answered, I encouraged people to “pray boldly.” Because you never know when God might just say “yes.”
1 Samuel 1:9-11, 19-20; 2:1-10:
After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”
They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”
Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world. He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail. The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”