Menu Close

“Passionate Prayer”

1 Samuel 1,2
Bob DeGray
May 23, 2004

Key Sentence

What will it take to make you passionate about prayer?


I. Passionate Petition (1 Samuel 1, especially 9-17)
II. Passionate Praise (1 Samuel 2:1-10)


        For the last three weeks we’ve been looking at various aspects of worship, and building a case for the fact that worship might be the most important ministry in the church. Is it? We might think so, but we need to consider some of the alternatives. This week we’re going to begin looking at the ministry of prayer. Sure, worship is important, but isn’t prayer the most important ministry in the church? We’ll see.

        Certainly one thing is true for us here at Trinity: we’ve seen some tremendous answers to prayer. One of the earliest and most memorable was a number of years ago when Abby Kittle contracted spinal meningitis. She was in really bad shape the day they transported her to Texas Children’s, and that evening a large group gathered at the church, and another at the hospital and the elders went into intensive care and prayed for her - and before the night was over she had turned the corner and was beginning the first steps toward recovery. We’ve had other miraculous interventions too, like the time Stephanie Hilton’s cancer wasn’t cancer when they removed it: we’d prayed between the diagnosis and the surgery.

        And it’s not limited to medical things. We’ve seen God answer prayers for people’s salvation, especially at key moments in the Awana program; we’ve seen him answer prayers for missionaries and for missions trips; and we’ve seen him very clearly answer prayers for provision. When we were knocking on doors only he could open we were given the provision of this building. When we faced the challenge of raising the money for this building we saw him provide miraculously through the body. We prayed fervently for that and the prayer itself was a blessing.

        But if God answers our prayers why don’t we pray more passionately. And why don’t we praise God fervently and passionately for all his answers. Could it be a lack of opportunities? The Discipleship Board met this week and thought about that. In June we’ll begin offering a time for personal prayer after every service. In the summer you’ll be invited to three evenings of prayer and worship. But will those guarantee that you have personal passion for prayer? I don’t think so. If prayer is going to be a passion for us as a church, it’s got to be a passion for us individually. So this morning we’ll look at a passage that is an example of individual passion for prayer, about a woman whose heart cry was answered by God and who responded with passionate praise. Her name is Hannah and her story is found in 1st Samuel, 1 and 2. We’ve already heard this account, so I’m not going to read it again. Instead I’m going to focus on verses in these chapters that show the emphasis on prayer and the passion for prayer, and for praise.

I. Passionate Petition (1 Samuel 1, especially 9-17)
        1st Samuel starts as Israel is approaching the end of the long period that we call Judges. Under Joshua Israel conquered the land and mostly remained faithful to the Lord. But then they disobeyed, and followed idols, and did what was right in their own eyes, and God repeatedly brought calamity until they turned from sin and cried out to him. Then he rescued them by the hand of a judge. Samuel was the last of these judges, and he got a book of his own, 1st Samuel. The account of his birth is in chapters 1 and 2. During this time the Tabernacle of the Lord and the Ark of the Covenant were in Shiloh, in what became Samaria. Samuel’s father and mother, Elkanah and Hannah, lived not too far away, in Ramathaim, in the region where the tribe of Ephraim had settled. But Elkanah himself, was a Levite. We know from the book of Joshua that groups of Levites were assigned to every major town in Israel.

        Elkanah had two wives, Peninnah and Hannah, and it’s not surprising to find conflict between them, especially since Peninnah had children and Hannah was barren. Apparently the conflict came to a head several times a year when Elkanah took his family to Shiloh to worship at the tabernacle. He would give each person in the family a portion of the meat, but he would give Hannah a double portion because she couldn’t have children and it grieved her. But Peninnah would torment and mock her, until Hannah wept and would not eat. One of the things I like about this account is that Elkanah seems, despite the difficulty of having two wives, to be a good husband and father and follower of the Lord. Look at the way he comforts his wife: “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don't you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?” He’s seeking to comfort her by reminding her that though she doesn’t have children, she still has a lot. That’s being a good husband.

        But the heart of our story begins in verse 9: “Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up.” I don’t know whether this shows that Hannah was comforted by her husband’s love and ate with them, or whether she was there but not eating. In any case, she goes to the courtyard of the tabernacle - you remember that it was surrounded by a curtain fence. Hannah would not have been allowed inside the tabernacle, but she would have been able to go into the courtyard. Eli, the chief priest, had a seat just inside the gate of this courtyard where he could rest in the presence of the Lord and probably keep an eye on things, since his sons, the priests Hophni and Phinehas, were not too reliable.

        This is where Hannah went to pray. Listen to her passion “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord. 11And 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.” This is passionate prayer. Of course it was very personal and urgent to Hannah, so it was easy to be passionate. Her barrenness was a burden. Her affliction by Peninnah was a burden.

        She could, in affliction, have turned away from God and become closed to him, but she hadn’t. She is praying with tears, she’s praying with bitterness, but she is not praying without belief - she is praying ‘to the Lord’. And there is no doubt these things had driven her to prayer many times before. The word for prayer in verse 10 is Hebrew, ‘palal’, often encountered in the form ‘tepillah’. It’s a very basic word for prayer in the Hebrew language, often used to introduce prayers or to describe someone praying. It’s used seven times in these two chapters, and also about 150 other places in the Old Testament. Let me give you some examples of it’s use. An early one is in Numbers 21:6-7 “Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people.” In the same way Samuel, when he grew up, said "Assemble all Israel at Mizpah and I will intercede with the Lord for you." Intercede is a common translation of the same word. Later, in 1 Samuel 12:23 Samuel described his ministry by saying “far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.”

        Elisha, in the time of the kings, was a man of prayer. When the Shunammite’s son died, 2 Kings 4:33, he “shut the door and prayed to the Lord.” The word is used of intervening for the sick, and even the dead. It’s also used when Elisha prayed that the Lord might open his servant’s eyes to see the hills full of horses and chariots of fire. God uses this word in his response to Solomon’s prayer, 2 Chronicles 7:14, where he says “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” We’re called to passionate prayers of confession, humility and repentance, and intercession.

        Throughout the Psalms this word is used to describe the passionate prayers of God’s people, especially David. In the Hebrew poetry of the Psalms, the word is often used in parallel to a word that means a cry or a call of the heart. Psalm 6:9 The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. This is not a word associated with cold-hearted formal prayers but with passionate heart cries. The descriptive phrases at the top of Psalm 102 emphasize this. It’s called “A prayer of an afflicted man. When he is faint and pours out his lament before the Lord.” In Proverbs and Isaiah and Daniel and elsewhere, God’s people are seen crying out to him and are encouraged to do so. Hannah is just an early example: when we see this word for prayer we must associate it with passionate prayers of the heart.

        As Hannah prays, part of her prayer, though certainly not all of it, is a vow to the Lord. “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.”

         This is a vow of desperation, not something we normally want to do, but in this case it’s not just a foxhole prayer. Hannah is asking the Lord to give her a child not for her own satisfaction, but for His glory. Like Abraham sacrificing Isaac, she has come to the point where she recognizes that even our children are a gift from God to be given back for his use. If she had prayed “give me a child so I can get back at Peninnah” it’s not likely the Lord would have complied. Janis Joplin used to sing “O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. My friends all have Porches I must make amends” but that’s not the prayer God answers. No, Hannah has had a change of heart here so that she desires her good but also God’s glory. In the Gospels we are taught to pray in Jesus’ name, which we’ve said means having our mind aligned with God’s precepts and God’s will and delighting to ask what delights him.

        That’s the kind of prayer Hannah is praying by means of this vow. She’s passionate not just because of her own personal desperation to have a child, not just because of jealousy of her rival, but because of her heart for God. She prays, so passionately from her heart that though she is silent, her lips move. Eli the priest mistakes this for drunkenness, but Hannah explains, verse 15, “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.” I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. I have been praying out of great anguish and grief - that’s passion.

        So how do we get passion into our prayers? Don’t you find that there are some things you are really passionate about and consumed by praying? And yet there are other things you know you should pray for but you’re not motivated to do it? What makes the difference? For most of us the difference is in the prayers urgency and personal closeness. Urgency comes into play when there is some crisis in progress or some hard deadline before which change needs to happen. Mike and Shawn were urgent this week about getting a house because the ability to get a contract on their house determined their timing for the move down. And now God has them in a holding patter that adds to the urgency. The degree of closeness determines our passion because we care more about things that impact us personally, that happen to us and to those close to us, than we do about things happening to strangers. If we hear that a friend of Jozef Abrman’s in Slovakia has gone into the hospital for by-pass surgery, we’ll pray, but it might not be a very passionate prayer. But if, or maybe I should say ‘when’, Rich Boyd goes into the hospital for a triple by-pass, that will be close to home, and the passion of our prayers will be multiplied.

        I’m going to pray passionately about something urgent and close that impacts my life. The passionate prayer situations I mentioned at the start of the message were all urgent and close and had a personal impact, and that’s why we prayed so hard. But what do we do if we want to pray for a situation that is not urgent or close or personal? Do we give up and pray according to the tyranny of the urgent?

        I don’t think so. What we need is some strategies for developing passion by making a given need both urgent and personal. How? One of the best ways is to put yourself into another person’s shoes. When we look at the need from the point of view of the needy person, it’s always more urgent than from our point of view. As we imagine ourselves in that situation, it becomes more personal and closer to us. This is actually a Biblical approach. One of the great unsung prayer verses in Scripture is Hebrews 13:3 “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Isn’t that a great verse? Put yourselves in their shoes and then remember them - in prayer.

        What are some other techniques for developing passion? A second one is having God’s priorities rather than our own. This is essentially looking at things from God’s point of view. The same things ought to grab hold of us that grab hold of God, please us that please God, dismay us that dismay God. And we ought to praise God for the things that are pleasing, even if they are not things that we’ve done, and to wrestle with God to change the things that are displeasing to him, even if we’re not personally affected. On the positive side, consider how Paul felt about those he wrote to who were walking with the Lord - even people he hadn’t met. In Colossians 1:3-4 Paul says “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints.” He was energized to prayer because of the things that were pleasing to God in the lives of these people he didn’t even know. On the negative side a contemporary example would be this homosexual marriage situation. It may not affect you personally, but it can have devastating effects for our culture, and it profoundly saddens God who created marriage for the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual union of men and women. If God is passionate about something, we should be passionate about it in prayer.

        A third way to develop passion, very different than the other two but equally valid, is to pray with those who pray passionately. If you hang out with people who really care about others and really pray for them, who really care about God and really praise him, I think you’ll begin to catch that disease. I think we catch it from each other when we will get together in groups and pray. In our men’s studies, our women’s studies, our young people’s studies, our small groups, our committee and board meetings we need to make a commitment to prayer and to catch the passion for prayer from those who pray. Two specific items in our ministry plan address this.

        First, a prayer time has been planned to follow the church service each week. One of the elders, and probably some others, will be in the prayer room every Sunday for half an hour. If you want to pray about something you shared in the service, or that you didn’t want to mention publicly, you’re encouraged to come and join them. Once a month, on Pizza lunch Sunday, all the elders will be there, and we’ll have oil available to pray for you according to James 5.

        The second opportunity for us to teach each other passionate prayer will be the evenings of prayer and worship we’ll have on three Sunday nights this summer. The worship will be different each time - different leaders, different focus - but prayer will be the common denominator as we praise God and petition him according to his will.

II. Passionate Praise (1 Samuel 2:1-10)

        That leads to a fourth thing that builds a passion for prayer - it’s praise. In the second part of our account today, Hannah’s prayer is gloriously answered as she gives birth to Samuel, whose name probably means ‘God heard’. After his birth Hannah stayed at home and did not go to the festivals for probably two or three years, until he was weaned. Then she went with Elkanah up to the feast, and put the young boy in Eli’s hands, in fulfillment of her vow and God’s plan. It’s a testimony to her faith that she fulfilled the vow: many mothers would have been tempted to keep the child. But she not only fulfilled the vow, she did it with prayers of praise.

        In verses 26 to 28, Hannah explains the situation to Eli, and it all revolves around her prayer and God’s answer. “As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. 27I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. 28So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” Passion for prayer is reinforced by answered prayer. Now I know God always answers every prayer, but sometimes its with ‘no’ or ‘wait’. In another sense answered prayers are those in which we have asked for something and God has granted it. When he answers that way, praise and worship are the natural response. Hannah is just as passionate about her praise as she is about her petition. In fact she’s almost militant and definitely prophetic. I think the militancy comes because she’s living at the end of an era in which God’s military victories were especially apparent - most of the judges rescued by military force - so she’s reflecting the worship of her time, which celebrated God as a warrior. The prophetic part comes at the end, and we’ll note it before we finish.

        1st Samuel chapter 2, verse 1: “Then Hannah prayed and said: "My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. 2"There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” Notice that the word for prayer is applied to this praise just as freely as it was applied to her petition. Notice too that her worship is for who God is and what he has done. We saw that pattern when we studied worship. Notice, finally, that her worship is an expression of her joy - she delights in God’s deliverance. We saw that when we studied worship too. And as we saw in Revelation, she calls others to see God’s attributes. Verse 3: “Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed. 4The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength. 5Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry hunger no more. She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away.”

        Hannah is convinced that God cares for people, especially the humble and the needy. She herself was humiliated, shamed, barren and needy, and God provided for her, so she has every reason to praise him. But she generalizes it so her worship isn’t about her, it’s about God. No matter what our circumstances, these things are still true about God and worthy of joyful praise.

        And she knows he’s sovereign. Verse 6: “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. 7The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. 8He raises the poor from the dust and the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. For the foundations of the earth are the Lord's; upon them he has set the world. 9He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. "It is not by strength that one prevails; 10those who oppose the Lord will be shattered. He will thunder against them from heaven; the Lord will judge the ends of the earth.”

        Finally, she knows and praises God that he has a perfect plan. Verse 10 “He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” This is the prophetic part of the passionate praise. Remember, Israel is just finishing a long period of theocracy. God has ruled through raising up judges to rescue and guide. But the people have been very unguidable - rebellious, idolatrous and self centered, doing only what was right in their own eyes. Soon they will begin to cry out for a king - but they haven’begun to do that yet, and won’t until the end of Samuel’s life. So this is truly a prophecy - and not just of any king, but of the one who would come to be called the ‘messianic’ king, the anointed king who would bring a permanent kingdom and permanent salvation. The words “He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed” can be applied to others, especially David, but ultimately they refer to Jesus who is King of kings and Lord of lords. He is ultimately the reason for our passion, because it is he who has blessed us beyond measure and who is worthy of all of our heart’s praise.

        So what have we said? Hannah is a model of passion in petition and passion in praise. How do we get that passion for prayer? First, and this is probably the most practical suggestion for the morning, by putting ourselves in another person’s shoes and making their need urgent and personal to us. Second, by learning to agree with God’s passions and desires and priorities. And third, by imitating others who pray and praise passionately, whether in small groups, or in church on a Sunday morning or Sunday evening worship. I’m convinced that Trinity Fellowship, and the vast majority of us as individuals, can learn greater passion for prayer and passion for praise.