5th August 2011

Not Limiting Prayer

 Samuel before Saul series (1 Samuel 1:6-18) 

As she (Hannah) kept praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk.”
1 Samuel 1:12-13 (NIV UK)

Anyone can pray anytime, anywhere, from the heart, and sometimes silently. 

Prayer was often ceremonial in Samuel’s Israel. It involved the correct place, an officiating priest, and a congregational response. The practice was for men to make a sacrifice at the Tabernacle at least once a year. They could pray with the priests and the rest of the male congregation. The New Testament idea that God can be accessed by anyone, anywhere and at any time was not understood clearly. 

Hannah, the mother-to-be of Samuel, would go with her husband, Elkanah, and his other wife, Penninah, to the Tabernacle at Shiloh. She was upset because she was barren, and, depressed by this and by the constant taunting of Penninah, she refused to eat the double portion of food she had been given. “If you really loved me”, Elkanah said to Hannah, “you’d eat something. After all, don’t I mean more to you than 10 sons?”  The number 10 was a symbol of completion. Elkanah was saying that he was all Hannah needed. But Hannah would have none of it. Typically it should have been her husband who petitioned God on her behalf, but he did not seem so inclined. Therefore Hannah took matters into her own hands, and decided to plead her own cause. She went straight to the entrance of the Tabernacle, where women would serve the men who came to sacrifice and pray. 

It was there that Eli, the elderly priest and judge, observed her soundless prayer. In her agitation Hannah’s lips mouthed the words without saying them. Here was someone praying outside the appointed place. Not only that, here was a woman praying outside the appointed place!! In those days prayer was usually audible (see Psalm 3:4 6:9), and so, when Eli saw Hannah’s lips move without any sound, he thought she was drunk. Chances are drunkenness was not uncommon at such festival celebrations. Hannah objected respectfully. She, Eli’s “servant”, was not drunk. “I was pouring out my soul to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:15-16). 

There is much for us in this account. Prayer is for everyone, everywhere and anytime. It is also not limited to ceremonies. Hannah did not hold back in her prayer to God. She told God what was on her mind. We too can do the same. Wherever you are right now…at home, in the car, on a train, at the airport, in the shopping mall, you can pray. It doesn’t have to be out aloud. You don’t even have to mouth the words. 

Pray now. 

Father, thank you that I can pray to you at any point wherever I am. Thank you that you welcome the voiceless prayers of my heart.

Study by James Henderson

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