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Hannah's Prayer – Br. David Vryhof

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I Samuel 1:1-20

We brothers are sometimes given the privilege of being in the company of people who are willing to share with us their pain.  No doubt many of you have been given this privilege as well.  I say this is a privilege because it is an occasion to be with someone in a moment of great vulnerability.  They are revealing themselves to us with great transparency, admitting their poverty, allowing us to see and touch their deepest wounds, inviting us to share with them the painful losses, disappointments or unfulfilled longings that have broken and shattered their hearts.  We sit in awe before them, feeling a sense of wonder at their courage, their perseverance, and their desire to find God in this place of pain.

We are being given that privilege tonight, as we hear and ponder the story of Hannah.  We should approach her story with awe, cherishing the privilege of witnessing her vulnerability and her courage.

Hannah’s prayer arises out of her deep pain and despair. In a culture that valued children as a sign of the Lord’s favor, Hannah was barren – and because of this she was perceived as cursed by God.  We know how the judgment of others can deform us, and how so often the things we hear about ourselves become the things we believe about ourselves.  We have only to witness the effects of parents who belittle their children, or young people who bully their peers, to see how such treatment demoralizes and destroys the soul.  Even though Hannah is much loved by her husband Elkanah, she still experiences her state as shameful.  Her rival, Peninnah – Elkanah’s second wife – takes full advantage of Hannah’s misery.  We read, “[She]used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb” (v.6). “So it went on year by year,” the writer tells us, layers of pain and humiliation, sapping her confidence and self-esteem, and weighing her down with hopelessness and despair.

Can you remember a time in your own life when you experienced this kind of acute pain?

Perhaps it was a deep longing, like Hannah’s, for something you never had…
for a part of you that was never given an opportunity to grow or be expressed,
or for something you deeply desired for yourself or others that simply never came to be.

Or perhaps yours was the pain that comes with great loss – the death of a loved one or the loss of your home or your career or your reputation.
Something you valued was taken away from you.

Or maybe you were despised or ridiculed by others because
of who you were or because of how you looked or acted, and these
wounds have stayed with you for a very long time.

None of us are exempt from suffering.  It is part of the human condition and we cannot escape it, no matter how hard we try.  It will always find us.  Even Jesus knew suffering.

From this place of deep pain and despair, Hannah prays.  She cries to the Lord with such earnest desperation that she attracts the attention of Eli the priest.  When he questions her, she replies, “I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord” (v.15).  She has no other resource, no other hope.  In the Hebrew scriptures there is a word that describes such people. They are called anawim. The anawim are God’s poor, those who know they cannot help themselves and are completely dependent on the mercy of God.  In the psalm we read tonight, Psalm 123, we hear the cry of the anawim: “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!  As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,  as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us” (Psalm 123).

There is a special place in the heart of God for the anawim.  God hears their cries.  It is the anawim, God’s poor, that Jesus has in mind when he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt.5:3).  They are blessed because they know their poverty, the limits of what they can do for themselves; because they know their need, and that their only hope is to put their complete trust in God.  They are blessed, Jesus says, and theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  We are likewise blessed, when the circumstances of life compel us to recognize our poverty and need and turn to put our whole trust in God.

It is one of the great paradoxes of life that the times of suffering that we experience can actually become gifts.  The English journalist and author, Malcolm Muggeridge, once wrote:

“Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction.  Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my experience, has been through affliction and not through happiness.”1

Times of great suffering can become gifts, especially when they prompt us to lean on God and to “cast all our cares on him” (I Peter 5:7).  I came across a quotation recently from a man named B.M. Launderville.  I have no idea who he is, but the metaphor he uses is fitting.  He writes,

“The vine clings to the oak during the fiercest of storms. Although the violence of nature may uproot the oak, twining tendrils still cling to it. If the vine is on the side opposite the wind, the great oak is its protection; if it is on the exposed side, the tempest only presses it closer to the trunk. In some of the storms of life, God intervenes and shelters us; while in others He allows us to be exposed, so that we will be pressed more closely to Him.”2

Hannah cries out to God from this place of poverty, pain and despair, and God hears her.

Hannah’s prayer is an honest prayer, and God invites this kind of prayer from us.  The psalms are filled with the cries of those who long for salvation and are desperate for deliverance: “Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck.  I am sinking in deep mire, and there is no firm ground for my feet.  I have come into deep waters, and the torrent washes over me. I have grown weary with my crying; my throat is inflamed; my eyes have failed from looking for my God” (Ps 69:1-3).  Often our most authentic prayers come from the depths of our beings, prompted by our suffering.  It is a sad thing if these are the only times we pray, but we should not be afraid to pray in this way – with honestly, authenticity and utter transparency.  Express to God the deep desires of your heart and your real emotions. Tell God of your trouble, even if you have had a hand in bringing it about.  Honest prayer is a mark of intimacy.  It is a characteristic of a relationship that is authentic and real.

Notice that Hannah’s prayer includes a promise: If God will give her a son, she will dedicate him to God’s service.  This is not a bribe, a way of enticing God to give her what she wants.  It is instead an act of selfless devotion.  She is willing to give back to God what she will receive, and to offer up to God this child that has been the object of her longing for so many years.

I find this deeply moving.  It prompts me to wonder whether we take enough time to imagine what we will DO with the blessings God gives us in answer to prayer.

When we pray and God heals us, what will we do with our restored health?
When we cry out of our need and God meets that need, what will we do with the resources that have come to us in answer to our prayer?
When we look upon the world’s need and ask God to help us meet it, what will we do with the wisdom and strength God gives us in response to our prayer?

If we follow Hannah’s example, we will offer these gifts back to God to be used for God’s purposes on earth.  We will dedicate them to God’s glory and ask that God take and use them to accomplish God’s purposes on earth.

Will we escape suffering in this world?  No.  Can we bring this suffering to God?  Absolutely.  And the God who loves us more than we can ever love ourselves, will take and use this suffering for our greater good, and use it to bless us and the world.  “Do not be afraid,” God says to us.  “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

 

1 Malcolm Muggeridge in Homemade, July, 1990.

 

2 Today in the Word, April, 1989, p.17.

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22 Comments

  1. Marta Engdahl on November 7, 2017 at 08:00

    We hear of and know of a lot of suffering, yet wonder why God allows suffering. Yet, if we turn to God, I mean really work at being “present” in our prayer life so we can listen to (not try to direct) Godde (from Myrna a few weeks ago), our expanded and ever expanding relationship with Godde can help us turn our attitude and our response to suffering. that of others as well as our own. It might not be easy or quick, it might take a long time, even a lifetime, . . . but it is joyous. Small steps can lead to an ever-deepening relationship. We just have to keep trying, and asking for Godde’s help.

  2. CHRISTINA MCKERROW on November 6, 2017 at 08:45

    In my elderly years, I seem to have been granted a gift. // We are inclined to toss off, ‘Hi. How are you?’ Generally it is little more than a greeting. The other person may say, ‘Oh! I’m fine.’ But now and again, there seems to be something else going on, and I will say, ‘Tell me. Really, how are you.?’ I am not being invasive. The other person can either say, I’m just fine, or they can really talk about the pain they are suffering. When asked, it gives them an opportunity to speak. I listen. Perhaps, some people may know that I am a widow and my husband was in hospital for ten months before he died. They may know that, like them, I have had my pain.
    For all those in pain: God’s blessings. Christina

  3. sandra on December 7, 2016 at 12:18

    Thank you so much, Brother David. Bless you!

  4. Karen A Hartsell on December 7, 2016 at 10:35

    We have been robbed and I have taken words from the bible to feel safe and secure. I have been praying to God and Blessing Christ for small things during the Holidays and I Thank Him quickly for my Blessings. Our Lord has been good to us.

    Karen and John

  5. Shirley on August 14, 2016 at 12:03

    Thank you.

  6. Anneclaire Le Royer on August 14, 2016 at 06:09

    Thank you, Brother David for this wonderful sermon. My life has many challenges right now, and it is also a very fruitful time for me! The challenges are much bigger than what I can deal withI and I am relying more and more on God’s love and mercy. How blessed am I!

  7. Muriel Akam on March 28, 2016 at 03:57

    My only prayer right now is for the gift of good health- mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health for all my family members and pathways to achieve this ie. appropriate diet, exercise , suitable work and lifestyle choices and above all to praise and thank God for all that we are and have. To know that Christ is with us all in times of good and bad is the greatest comfort.

  8. a city monk on March 26, 2016 at 22:45

    This from Pope Francis’ Good Friday Stations… 2016
    O Cross of Christ, image of love without end and way of the Resurrection, today too we see you in noble and upright persons who do good without seeking praise or admiration from others.
    O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in ministers who are faithful and humble, who illuminate the darkness of our lives like candles that burn freely in order to brighten the lives of the least among us.
    O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the faces of consecrated women and men – good Samaritans – who have left everything to bind up, in evangelical silence, the wounds of poverty and injustice.
    O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the merciful who have found in mercy the greatest expression of justice and faith.
    O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in simple men and women who live their faith joyfully day in and day out, in filial observance of your commandments.
    O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the contrite, who in the depths of the misery of their sins, are able to cry out: Lord, remember me in your kingdom!
    O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the blessed and the saints who know how to cross the dark night of faith without ever losing trust in you and without claiming to understand your mysterious silence.
    O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in families that live their vocation of married life in fidelity and fruitfulness.
    O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in volunteers who generously assist those in need and the downtrodden.
    O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in those persecuted for their faith who, amid their suffering, continue to offer an authentic witness to Jesus and the Gospel.
    O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in those who dream, those with the heart of a child, who work to make the world a better place, ever more human and just. In you, Holy Cross, we see God who loves even to the end, and we see the hatred of those who want to dominate, that hatred which blinds the minds and hearts of those who prefer darkness to light.
    O Cross of Christ, Arc of Noah that saved humanity from the flood of sin, save us from evil and from the Evil One. O Throne of David and seal of the divine and eternal Covenant, awaken us from the seduction of vanity! O cry of love, inspire in us a desire for God, for goodness and for light.
    O Cross of Christ, teach us that the rising of the sun is more powerful than the darkness of night.
    O Cross of Christ, teach us that the apparent victory of evil vanishes before the empty tomb and before the certainty of the Resurrection and the love of God which nothing can defeat, obscure or weaken. Amen!

    • Anneclaire Le Royer on August 14, 2016 at 06:07

      Thank you for sharing this! I have put it in my journal with other prayers I value. Blessings to you!

  9. Miton on March 26, 2016 at 20:15

    If God loved Hannah, why did he close her womb and thereby cause her pain and humiliation?

    • Leslie on November 6, 2017 at 05:32

      I do not think God wills suffering or affliction of any kind for his children. I think all of creation has free will. Genes may mutate into cancer, earthquakes may collapse cathedrals full of worshippers, ovaries may fail to produce hormones which enable implantation of an embryo. If God continuously overrides the free will of his creatures, we could neither understand the laws of physics nor create (we are made in God’s image, so we are also invited to create) solutions such as engineering and medicine.

      • margo fletcher on November 6, 2017 at 09:32

        Hannah’s eventual child is ascribed to God’s miraculous intervention.
        why God intervenes sometimes and not others the only answer is God is God and has a wisdom of God’s own.
        But it always helps to ask.

  10. Michael on March 26, 2016 at 12:09

    Wanting our prayers answered is commomn, but what will we do once they have been answered is something to think about. How can we give back to God and others thus making our prays’ fulfillment complete? It is something I need to think about and pray about. Thank you for your insight

  11. Ruth West on March 26, 2016 at 11:40

    I think back to a time when I was hurt deeply and was in deep pain, physically, mentally and spiritually. It took years for me to come to terms with it, actually to let go and let God. But, now that it is so far behind me, I seldom even think of it. God heard my prayer. “All is well, and all is well…”

  12. Mryka on March 26, 2016 at 11:03

    Thank you so much for this. God gives us meaning through suffering. How I wish the church I experienced as a child had had this attitude. Instead I was constantly told (directly or by watching how people in authority in the church – clergy, teachers – dealt with other people) that I needed to suffer to be close to God, so I’d better arrange to suffer as much as possible, and certainly not try to do anything about my own or others’ suffering, as it was willed by God! Imagine how that appeared to a child!. I have spent a lifetime trying to forgive that attitude on the “they knew not what they did” principle (though I keep backsliding and thinking to myself – the heck they didn’t!) and working so that it does not rear its ugly head again in any church I am associated with. This attitude in itself brings on a certain amount of suffering, but I think I will lay that on God!
    I think that transcending suffering, and finding meaning within it, and being willing to suffer for a holy reason, is a far cry from that teaching I was exposed to, but it is astonishing how common it is even today for the two to be confused. Thank you for an extensive expose about that.

  13. Alan Rollins on March 26, 2016 at 08:34

    Thank you for you words, David; words that resonate so much with me. I am especially moved by the notion that, though I often bring upon my own suffering and failings, I can turn to my father, my God, who is able to redirect me again. I’m afraid God has had to do this with me countless times; the question “when will I ever learn?” is constant with me. I pray for God’s continued patience with me, and I pray I can somehow live up to God’s expectations of me, at long last.

  14. Jane on October 1, 2015 at 00:28

    I appreciate your words. And I’ll never forget listening to you during a vestry retreat several years ago. You touched my heart in a profound way. Thank you Bro. David.

  15. Tracy on September 28, 2015 at 18:48

    Moving. Yep, there’s deep unfulfilled dreams, expectations – and they just build up as each year goes by (sometimes I cry my heart out) but it’s a huge comfort to know we’re not alone & as long as there’s God there is always hope. I also find joy and peace grows at the same time when being in God’s presence and prepared to give Him all – I don’t quite get it!!! But it happens! Life can still be fulfilling & good!!! Weird. How can doing without be good for our souls! But it is. Guess it’s the storm that tells us where to go & hang onto with everything you’ve got… And just one day it might actually all change!

  16. Margaret Dungan on September 28, 2015 at 15:32

    Dear Br.. David
    Thank you for this word today,it was a real blessing to me.
    a light in dark corner.

    Margaret.

  17. Dee Dee on September 28, 2015 at 07:44

    As someone who is trying to understand the pain and suffering of feeling abandoned, these words touched me and brought me some comfort this morning. Thank you.

  18. Roderic Brawn on September 28, 2015 at 06:14

    I will offer the site of this sermon to people I know. I suffer, and each day I try to put a brave face. I go about doing what I can. I have reacted meanly when others have inflicted suffering on me. I just try to do the best I can, but God forgive me, I have no patience with people who would hurt me any more. I am still strong enough to resist. Would that I can gain more strength just to listen and not respond evilly.

  19. Sandy Ditewig on January 16, 2012 at 19:19

    Brother David,
    As I listened to this sermon tonight, I was reminded of a person whose pain I listened to today. Your words were an encouragement to me as I think of this person and others for whom I am praying. It is also an encouragement in my own journey.
    Thank you and God bless you,
    Sandy

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