How does God answer prayer?

The Pain of Childlessness

Hannah had been childless for years and it was deeply painful, what made matters worse was that her husband had 2 wives and the other wife (Peninnah) was reproducing like a rabbit and was teasing and provoking Hannah.  Hannah was upset, so upset that she couldn’t even eat. (1 Samuel 1)  She knew the pain of hearing others announce their pregnancies, the pain of the nappy aisle, and the pain of seeing push chairs in the park.

 How would Hannah respond to the mocking Peninnah? I guess she had two options, (1) Be mean back or (2) Pray & ask God for help. Hannah went for option 2 and she poured out her heart to the Lord.  We see the freedom we have to give our grief and sorrow to God.  

“Our Lord can handle our tears; it won’t make him nervous or ill at ease if you unload your distress at his feet.”  (Dale Ralph Davies) 

Isn’t it great that we don’t have to pretend everything is all right? God gives us permission to pour our hearts out to Him.  And incredibly God always answers the prayers of his children.  If we’re trusting in Jesus then we are his children whatever our age!  At our Mothering Sunday Service I explained to the children that God answers in one of four ways: NO! SLOW! GO! or OVERFLOW! 

The Painful silence of ‘no’

 For how many years had Hannah cried out to the Lord? The answer had seemed to be ‘No’, and sometimes that is God’s answer and we can be left hurting and wondering why, but not left without hope.  Our mums sometimes said ‘no’ to us because they knew what was best, how much more does God know what is best for his children, we have to trust Him, and we have more reason than Hannah had to do so.

The Long wait of ‘slow’

For Hannah, it turned out the answer had been ‘SLOW’! God sometimes says – “you’re asking for a good thing, but the time is not right, keep asking”. God wants us to learn to persevere and keep asking.  Perhaps Hannah would not have been ready to give her son to the Lord if God had answered any earlier and would have missed out on the OVERFLOW answer that was to come.

Hannah begs with God to give her a son, she is so desperate that she promises that she will give him back to the Lord.  Sometimes we can hold onto our children too tightly, but Hannah knows that the best thing for her child is to serve the Lord.  After Hannah has poured out her heart to the Lord, she is no longer sad and is able to eat.  The sceptic would say, of course she is, because she now has a baby, but incredibly this peace is long before any baby is even conceived.  After giving her burden to the Lord, Hannah has peace that passes understanding, she knows that the Almighty God will do what is best. 

The joy of ‘go’ and ‘overflow’

God seems to give a “GO” answer as a baby son is born!  But it’s more than “GO” – it’s OVERFLOW!  Can you imagine how hard it would have been for Hannah to give her baby back to the Lord? She’d waited years for this child, and then when he was weaned, she gave him to serve in the temple.  But God was going to do immeasurably more than she could ask or imagine.  Samuel would grow up speaking God’s Word, and would even anoint the first kings of Israel – Saul and David. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you who was born in David’s line? King Jesus! Hannah had asked for an earthly thing, God had given her an eternal thing.  We might say Hannah gave her son to the Lord, but incredibly through her son’s ministry the Lord would eventually give His Son for Hannah! This most wonderful gift would mean that Hannah would be able to enjoy an eternity with her son.

The chapter closes with Hannah saying that she has ‘lent’ her son to the Lord, how long for? Just a lifetime! Hannah knew she would get him back for eternity! Here is a wonderful comfort to God’s children who have lost children – you will see them again and never lose them again.

God always answers prayer, but sometimes he says NO – will we pour out our hearts to Him and trust that he knows what is best?  Living this side of the cross, we can be sure of his love more even more than Hannah.  Sometimes He says ‘SLOW’ will we keep asking? Sometimes he says “GO” – will we rejoice and seek to serve Him? And sometimes out of a desperately hard situation He says “OVERFLOW!”