Suffering, pain, and sorrow are familiar experiences for all of us. Some may be more familiar and some may be less, but the truth is that we live in a world that has been corrupted by sin and as a result suffering touches us all. One of the greatest things about the Bible is that it does not shy away from showing the full breadth of human experience. There are depictions of pain, joy, love, anger and every other emotion. As we flip through it’s pages we see people standing in victory and people brought to their knees in anguish.
The book of First Samuel begins with the story of Hannah who was barren. She longed to have a child but it seemed impossible. Overwhelmed with sorrow, Hannah went to the LORD’s Temple and cried out before God.
10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”
1 Samuel 1:10-11
We are given this small portion of her prayer before God. It begins with her addressing God as the “LORD of hosts”. According to the Talmud this is the first time, recorded in Scripture, that this title for God is used in a prayer. Even in her pain and anguish Hannah comes before God and acknowledges His glory. It is easy in times of pain to diminish God, or turn our anger towards Him, but Hannah comes before God proclaiming His glory and trusting in His mercy and love.
Then she pleads with God to look upon her suffering and bless her with a son. Then she says that she will “give him to the LORD all the days of his life” at first glance it seems like a bribe. But she is revealing something more profound in this statement then a simple bribe. She is recognizing that everything belongs to God. Even the son her heart longs for would be a gift from God, entrusted to her for a time. She is also revealing that her hearts desire is for a son who is deeply in love with God. The best thing she could want for her son is a life dedicated to knowing and loving the God who created the universe and granted him life. When God blesses us with children it is tempting to hold them tightly to our side and jealously cage their affections. Hannah has the faith to come before God with her request because she has confidence that He is a good and loving God who sees her suffering and cares about her pain. Her love for God and her faith in His goodness directs her desire for a son who knows and loves God.
While Hannah was praying to God, Eli the priest was watching her from His seat in front of the LORD’s Temple.
12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14 And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.”
When Hannah came before God and laid her heart out before Him she was not poised and collected. In fact her prayer was so fervent that she appeared to be intoxicated. When Hannah heard Eli’s rebuke she answered him.
15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.
Hannah was not drunk she was, “pouring her soul out” to the Lord. She was coming before the Creator of the universe and allowing Him to see all her vulnerability. She poured out her pain at being barren, and tortured by those who looked down on her empty womb. She brought all of her fear, pain and suffering and poured it out before the Lord. Her outpouring of pain was not a trickle or a carefully poured glass it was a crashing river of emotion being fully expressed.
When we consider that throughout history people have suffered through wars, starvation, horrible illnesses, and unimaginable abuses, Hannah’s barrenness does not seem like a big deal. But her prayer has been preserved for generations because she had the faith to pour her soul out before God and He listened. She was not alone in her suffering. She was not forgotten. Her pain was not insignificant. She mattered to God and you do too.
We can have the same confidence in God’s love as Hannah did. When we are burdened with pain we can pour our souls out before the Lord. We do not need flowery words or melodic prayers. All we need is a heart yearning for God’s peace and the willingness to be vulnerable before Him.
Oh LORD of hosts
Thank You for caring about my suffering
Thank You that Your eyes are not blind to my tears
And Your ears are not deaf to my plea
I bring you my pain and my sorrow
All the suffering and anxiety I lay at Your feet
From the moment You breathed the breath of life into humanity You took notice
From my first breath You heard my cry
Allow me the faith to come before You with my pleas
Grant me the peace to stand vulnerable in Your presence
Thank You for the new life You have bought for me
Through the sacrifice of Your Son Jesus Christ
Thank You for the hope of eternal life in Your presence
Where I will be free from suffering and pain
Where I will be truly free to love You
Uninhibited by the snares of my own sin
I pray that in all things Your name will be Glorified
And Your will be done
In the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior
Author: Nathan Phillips, Associate Pastor at the River Alliance Church