HANNAH; Or, The Power of Prayer
James Smith, 1856
"For this child I prayed; and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of him." 1 Samuel 1:27
Prayer is of divine appointment. God does not need it — but he loves it, and encourages it in a variety of ways. Faith is the soul of prayer, and prayer is one of the natural utterances of faith. Where there is no faith — there is no prayer, whatever forms may be used. And where there is no prayer — there is no faith, whatever profession may be made. To attempt to pray without faith is irksome; and where there is faith, unless it is in lively exercise, prayer is a dry duty. But when faith is vigorous and lively — then prayer is a precious privilege.
The only object of prayer is God — God as revealed in his word — God as satisfied for our sins — God as reconciling his poor rebellious creatures unto himself through Jesus' death. No creature should be worshiped, however pure his nature, elevated his station, or glorious his gifts. To worship the virgin Mary is idolatry. There is but one God — but one object of worship.
Prayer from a sinner must pass through a Mediator. Absolute holy Godhead, can have no dealings with a sinner in a way of mercy, but through a Mediator. As there is but one God, so there is but one mediator "between God and man — the man Christ Jesus." Jesus stands before the throne as the great High Priest. He is between God and us. He is the mediator that can lay his hand upon us both (Job 9:33). He has satisfied God's justice for us; and now he receives our poor prayers and praises, perfumes them with his own merits, and so presents them to his Father. My soul, keep your eye steadily fixed on Jesus whenever you approach God. He is the way to the Father, the medium of communion with, and communication from, the Father.
The Bible is full of promises made to prayer. Indeed every promise supports prayer. When God has made his richest, freest, most absolute promises to his people, he says, "I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them." God promises to hear prayer, and to answer prayer. He invites us to pray. He exhorts us to pray. He promises that we shall not pray in vain.
Yet we are backward to pray. The fact is — Satan hates it, fears it, and is determined if possible to prevent it. Therefore he annoys us in it, keeps us from it, and tempts us to the neglect of it.
There is great power in prayer. It is when praying that we have "power with God." God is represented as . . .
touched by our appeals,
affected by out tears, and
influenced by our cries.
So powerful is prayer, that Luther said of it, "God is powerful to grant — but impotent to deny." Indeed, he never refuses to answer our prayers — except in so doing he would dishonor his own glorious name and character; or injure us; or if granting would be detrimental to others. In such cases, we could not wish for an answer, nor can we expect one. But even when we do not obtain what we pray for, the very exercise is a blessing; and our God frequently gives us something richer and better, so that we cannot pray in vain!
But let us look at Hannah. Her circumstances were very trying and painful. Her husband had another wife besides herself. Hannah herself was barren. Peninnah was her adversary, who provoked her sore to make her fret. Jealousy was the root of this, and we know that "jealousy is cruel as the grave." Hannah wept. She fasted. Habitual fretting made her spirit sorrowful. Her husband tried to comfort her — but tried in vain; for in Shiloh, where the tabernacle then was, "she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sorely."
She had no positive promise. This is what prayer generally needs. When we have a direct promise, it seems to warrant our importunity, to fire our fervor, and to embolden us in pleading with God. Sometimes we can find a particular promise, which holds forth to our faith the very blessing which we need; but often we are obliged to have recourse to a general promise, and then submission must put in, "If it is your will;" or, "If it is for your glory."
For spiritual blessings — we can never pray too frequently, too fervently, or too confidently. But for temporal blessings — we must always ask in submission to divine wisdom. We cannot have too much grace — but we may have too much gold. Spiritual blessings will keep us near to God — but abundance of this world's goods may lead us from him.
Hannah's heart was set upon a child. As was common with Jewish women, she felt a strong desire to be a mother. If she could obtain a child from the Lord — she was willing to lend him to the Lord. Might she but call a son hers for a time — the Lord should call him his forever. She looked upon a son as a crowning blessing. Here her desires centered. She had now no hope but in God. Nature denied her — but the God of nature might grant her desire. She saw that God was supreme, that his will was law, that his ear was open — and hope sprang up in her heart! She would make a special application to him, she would try what faith and prayer would do.
As God was in his tabernacle, as he was enthroned on the mercy-seat, as he had said, "There will I meet with you" — she went to Shiloh, she went into the house of the Lord. Her spirit was full. Her soul was sorrowful. Her heart was heavily burdened. She felt a power within impelling her. She must pray. She would ask of God. She would appeal to his pity, she would prove his willingness to answer prayer. She prayed — but she did not speak. Her lips moved — but her voice was not heard. The Spirit of grace was helping her infirmities, and her heart conceived a groan which she could not utter. But the ear of God caught that groan. The heart of God received it. The tender sympathy of God was excited by it. He said, "It shall be done!"
Happy Hannah, you have succeeded! Your prayer is heard. Your faith shall be honored. Your importunity shall be crowned. You shall have a son! Samuel shall be a living witness to the power of prayer, a lasting proof that the Lord listens to the cry of a poor woman.
Faith perceives the blessing in the distance.
Hope fully expects its arrival.
Love looks up and blesses the gracious Giver.
The burden is gone from her heart. The cloud has passed away from her brow. The sorrow is chased from her spirit. Elkanah shall now have a cheerful wife — and God a grateful worshiper.
Hannah has conquered,
Peninnah is silenced,
Elkanah is delighted,
Satan is baffled,
God is glorified, and
the church of God is instructed and profited, and all by the power of prayer!
Oh, may I ever look upon God as a prayer-hearing, prayer-loving, God! May I ever read God's Word, to ascertain what he has promised, and what I may expect from his hands! Oh, may I ever carry every burden, every sorrow, and every heartfelt desire — to his throne! Oh, you who hears prayer — grant me the spirit of prayer, and let me prove the power of prayer, for body and soul, for myself and others, for time and eternity!
Beloved, real prayer has always power to relieve a burdened mind. What would we do sometimes — if it were not for the throne of grace? When the mind is burdened with worldly cares, domestic anxieties, church troubles, and ten thousand fears arising from a variety of quarters — nothing but prayer will afford us relief. We can tell no one but God what we think, what we feel, what we fear; but in telling him sometimes, while our faces are covered with blushes, and our souls are shaken with cogitations — we feel a secret and sacred influence exerted. There is no positive or immediate deliverance — but we ourselves are softened, soothed, and stimulated to start afresh, and quietly carry our cross after Jesus.
Prayer has power to elevate the downcast. Guilty fears, painful misgivings, and dreary forebodings — often cast us down. With David we have to exclaim, "My soul is cast down within me!" The lips are closed to our fellow-travelers; we can tell no one what we feel, fear, or think; Satan takes advantage of this, and harasses us still more, until we are weary, dejected, and depressed. Then we go to the Lord. We cast ourselves at his feet. A deep sigh, a heavy groan, a silent tear, an upward glance — is all that we can give. We kneel in silence before the Lord. We pace our room. We envy others whom we think have liberty at the mercy-seat. We sigh out, "Oh, that I could find access to breathe my sorrows there!"
While thus exercised, it may be that the cry ascends, the tear drops — and the Lord looks down, and now we can confess our sins, plead the atoning blood, exercise faith in the Savior's loving Word, and we begin to rise. The next thing is, we feel the solid rock under our feet, we inhale the pure air of the better land, and then the sun breaks out upon us, and then we can sing, "I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay — and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings!"
The soul begins now to feel its wings and plume its feathers, the strengthened eye looks upward, and an inward fluttering is felt. See, it is rising. It ascends higher still. The bosom of Jesus is reached. The holiest is entered. The sorrows of life are forgotten. The joys of salvation are realized. The promise is fulfilled, "Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint!"
The soul is no longer downcast or dejected — but may be addressed as the church was once, "Though you have lain among the pots — yet shall you be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold."
There is power in prayer to embolden the timid. What made Martin Luther so courageous? It was prayer! What made John Knox so bold? It was prayer! What cheered the holy martyrs in prison, supported them before their cruel judges, and made them joyful in the flames? It was prayer! Many a good man has gone into the Lord's presence as timid as a bird — but has come out as bold as a lion. Prayer makes the feeble spirit brave, and nerves him for the constant fight. It fortifies the discouraged, and makes the weak say, "I am strong!"
Prayer has power to bring down the richest, choicest, greatest, blessings from God. As the prayer of Elijah opened Heaven, and thoroughly watered the thirsty land of Israel after a drought of three years and six months — so the prayers of the least, the feeblest, of the Lord's people, will bring down a full pardon of all sin into the soul, sweet peace into the conscience, and joy unspeakable and full of glory into the heart.
There is not a blessing provided in the everlasting covenant, or promised in the blessed Bible, or needed by the hungry soul — but prayer has power to bring it down. "All things, whatever you ask in prayer believing — you shall receive." "Whatever you ask in my name," said Jesus, "that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." "Ask — and you shall receive; seek — and you shall find; knock — and it shall be opened unto you; for everyone that asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him that knocks — it shall be opened."
Reader, do you pray? I ask not, do you repeat prayers, or read forms of prayers? For I cannot understand how a mere form can satisfy a living soul. I believe that the Lord teaches all his children to speak to him, and that he loves to hear them speak to him in their own language. It may be simple, it may be broken, it may be very ungrammatical — but it is the child's own. The Father says, "Let me hear your voice." The child replies, "My voice you shall hear early in the morning; early will I cry unto you, and will look up."
No mere form of prayer would have suited Hannah; and if taught of God, no mere form of prayer will suit you.
Do you pray? Is your prayer the utterance of your heart's feelings, desires and fears? Do you, when upon your knees, tell the Lord just what you feel, fear, desire, wish, and hope for? Do you speak to him in your own language — as to a loving father, who knows your frame, and remembers that you are but dust? Is there power in your prayers? I do not mean, Do you feel power — though that is very desirable, and often very sweet. But did you ever obtain a blessing from God in answer to prayer, a spiritual blessing, the very blessing that you prayed for?
Have you taken to him your doubts — and exchanged them for confidence?
Have you taken to him your fears — and exchanged them for courage?
Have you taken to him your guilt — and exchanged it for pardon?
Have you taken to him your filthy rags — and exchanged them for his spotless robes?
Have you taken to him the Hell of misery sometimes felt in the heart — and exchanged it for the Heaven of joy which descends from God's right hand?
Do you pray for temporal things — because your Father is the God of providence?
Do you pray for spiritual blessings — because he is the God of grace?
Do you sometimes feel driven to prayer — by outward trouble and inward anguish? And do you sometimes feel drawn to prayer — by the sweet, winning, constraining grace of the Holy Spirit in your soul? The Lord's people learn by experience, that real prayer . . .
flows from divine life in the soul,
is produced by the Holy Spirit,
ascends through Jesus,
eases the mind,
relieves the conscience,
cheers the heart,
elevates the soul,
smoothes the rugged way,
repels the attacks of Satan, and
that at times raises the soul above the love of life and the fear of death.
Do you know anything of this experience?
If you live without prayer, you are dead in sin. If you are satisfied with a mere form of prayer — you are in no better state. If you carry a form with you when you go to address your Father in private — you act very unlike a child. God loves the prayer of the heart — the prayer that expresses confidence in him — the prayer that asks and expects great and numerous blessings from him. He does not look at the language — but at the feelings; and if there is faith, fervency, and importunity — he approves, accepts, and answers.
Oh, for the power of the Spirit of God within us, that the power of prayer may be exerted by us — and the rich, needed, and much-desired blessing of God, may be brought down by us on our souls, our families, the church, and the world around us!