In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, ‘Lord Almighty, if you will only look on 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.’
1 Samuel 1:10-11
Have you ever been so desperate that you’ve started to bargain with God? ‘If you help me pass this exam, I’ll work really hard for all the others.’ ‘If you help me win this business deal, I’ll give you 20% of the profits.’ ‘If you just make the kids sleep through the night, I’ll do anything…’
The trouble is, when God keeps his side, we have to keep ours, which can be more costly than we ever dreamed (remember the story of Jephthah in Judges 11:30-35?).
We can only imagine the heartache Hannah went through as she contemplated keeping her promise. And yet, once Samuel was weaned, she responded extravagantly, above and beyond the letter of her vow. Compare the story of Samson, who was also dedicated to the Lord and on whose head a razor was never to be used. He lived at home with his parents and they had the joy of bringing him up. There is no reason why Hannah couldn’t do the same, but she didn’t. In her thankfulness to God, she gave wholeheartedly, leaving her young son to be brought up in the house of the Lord, with no guarantee that she would ever have another.
If we read on into chapter 2, we find a prayer not of further heartache, nor of renewed pleading, but of unalloyed joy and thankfulness.
Hannah had sought, and prayed for, the gift, but in her waiting and hoping, and in her obedience despite the cost, she found her greater fulfillment in the giver.
The danger for us is that we so often forget to attribute the outcome of our hopes and prayers to God. Surely I’m not the only person who has prayed for something then, when it works out, caught myself thinking, ‘Oh, I didn’t need to pray after all; I knew the exam answers/won that business deal/managed to get the kids to sleep through.’ Too often I forget to thank the Lord at all, let alone as fervently as I had pleaded with him in the first place.
Hannah’s lesson is that as we ask God for the desires of our hearts, and cast ourselves on him, we discover that he is our true desire after all. The gifts are good, but we can hold them lightly, knowing that he is better by far.
For Further Reflection
- How often do you remember to thank God for his answers to your prayers?
- Just as our attitude and our example of God’s sustaining power during times of waiting can be a wonderful witness to our friends and colleagues, so can our response to answered prayer. It’s easy to acknowledge God’s work to your friends at church, but how could you give him credit among your friends who don’t yet know him?