by Patricia Higton
Prayer in tears (1 Samuel 1)
Hannah felt trapped in what seemed to be an impossible situation. She had endured for years not only the heartache of barrenness, but also the cruel taunts of her husband’s second wife, who was blessed with children. Gradually sadness turned to despair and despair to bitterness. Not even her devoted husband could console her.
But despite being in such a sorry state, Hannah turned to the Lord in prayer. She could so easily have turned away from God, feeling that he had abandoned her. She could have allowed feelings of inferiority, guilt or resentment to create a barrier between her and God. Instead, she poured out her heart in prayer.
It was honest prayer – she didn’t try to cover up her misery. It was persistent prayer – like the widow in Jesus’ parable, she kept on pleading with the Lord (Luke 18: l-8). And it was emotional prayer. – this was no time for stilted phrases or a stiff upper lip.
The Lord loves us to tell him how strongly we feel about a situation. He knows us through and through, of course – so why do we try to cover up our true state of heart, or the depth of our emotion? The Lord would far prefer us to tell him about our doubts, fears, or even anger about his apparent delay in intervening in a situation which troubles us. If we open up to him in this way, it is at the very least an indication that we still have some faith -which, together with love, are the main responses God looks for in the human heart. As we keep on praying when others give up, that is a sign of deepening faith, even when the situation seems bleak or even impossible.
It is noteworthy that Hannah’s prayer life did not fizzle out when the crisis was over. She remembered to praise God for his deliverance (2:1-10). The whole experience evidently deepened her understanding of God and his ways.
‘When difficult situations arise, whether in your life, the lives of those close to you, in your church, or in the nation – does that prompt you to pour it all out to the Lord in persistent prayer – or do you allow discouragement and despondency to create a barrier between you and the Lord?
Lord, help me not to pretend in your presence, because you know me through and through. When the going gets really tough, may I always turn towards you, rather than in the opposite direction.
Praying by faith (Luke 1:46-55)
Since Mary knew her Old Testament Scriptures well, it was only natural that in this outburst of praise, she would echo phrases from Hannah’s famous song after the birth of her son (1 Samuel 2:1-10). But in Mary’s case the song was prophetic, reflecting her total acceptance of – and faith in – God’s promise to her.
It is important to note that she rejoiced primarily in God and his love, before she praised him for what he had promised to do. She was also able to see significance not only for her own life, but for Israel and future generations. There was no self-centredness or superficiality in Mary’s faith.
The depth of her worship revealed Mary’s understanding of God and his ways. She recognised that God’s heart is full of mercy (verse 50). Yes, he is mighty and holy (verse 50) and judge of even the most powerful of men (verses 52 and 53). But he is also Saviour (verse 47); his concern is for those who are humble in spirit (verses 48 and 52), who are in awe of God (verse 50), who are hungry in every sense of that word (verse 53).
Within a very short space of time this young peasant girl had responded positively to the most amazing prediction ever made to a human being -that she was to be the mother of the Son of God, She submitted herself utterly to God’s purposes -although perhaps aware even then, chat they would bring trauma as well as wonderful blessing.
But Mary also embraced God’s words so deeply in her spirit that, inspired by the Holy Spirit, she was able to praise God in the presence of others, for what he would do for her and for Israel in the future, as a result of the promise being fulfilled.
Is your response to God’s promises as wholehearted as Mary’s? And what about your private worship? Is there superficiality, or do you rejoice in God before praising him for what he has done? Is there selfishness or do you praise him for his wider purposes for the Church, the nation, the world? Do you understand that God is judge as well as Saviour, but that his mercy and love characterise all his ways? Do you perceive that God responds to heart characteristics of humility, hunger for righteousness and holy awe?
Turn the reflection above into prayer for the transformation of your worship, whether personal or in a group
Prayer before conversion (Acts 16:6-40)
Lydia was a business woman who lived in the Roman province of Asia. As a Gentile, she was not yet a full convert to Judaism, but was a ‘God-fearer’. The majority around her worshipped idols, but she had discovered that there is one true God. A handful of such people in Philippi were drawn to worship with the small number of Jews. Too few to build a synagogue, they met for prayer on the river bank.
It is possible that some readers are as yet on the fringe of the Church, still inquiring about Christianity. Or perhaps you are praying for friends in that situation. Either way, we can learn from the story of Lydia. God had been at work in a definite way in her life, perhaps for just a short time, perhaps for many years. She already participated in worship times and a prayer meeting. Her understanding was not fully developed, nor had she committed herself wholeheartedly. But her interest was genuine and no doubt God was already answering hex prayers, drawing out her worship and challenging her through Scripture. He never despises the embryonic faith and understanding of those who are sincerely seeking the truth.
Even so, Lydia was unable to respond to the saving message of the Gospel of her own accord. Something supernatural had to happen: we read that the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message (verse 14).
Our main prayer for enquirers should be for a supernatural work of God in their lives. This alone will draw out a response (instantaneous or gradual) to the Gospel of salvation.
It is encouraging to note that Lydia was immediately used by God once she had responded to him – she evangelised members of her household. She also opened her home to Paul and his team, exercising the vital ministry of hospitality. This was to become even more necessary after Paul and Silas had been through various traumatic experiences. Lydia’s home proved to be a haven where they could recover, as well as a meeting place for the embryonic Church in Philippi (verse 40). It is fascinating to realise that the converted jailer would have met there, with this influential lady, her friends and their households, worshipping and praying together.
The letter to the Philippians was written to this church some ten years later. Read it in the light of this knowledge and note a continuing emphasis on prayer.
If you are an enquirer, or praying for someone to become a Christian, ask God for that supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, which calls forth a response of faith in Jesus.
A prayer group in action (Acts 12:1-19)
Prayer groups, as well as personal prayer, have an important part to play in the Christian life, as we have already noted in the story of Lydia. Here we have an account of a prayer meeting that took place in the home of Mark’s mother, Mary.
In fact, corporate prayer was fundamental to the life of the early Church (Acts 2:42:4:24 and 3 l).The Lord met with them in power in times of prayer. Decisions were born and bred in prayer- how different from so many church committees today. The early Christians were involved in listening to God as well as interceding (e.g. Acts l3:2).The prayer group thus became the power house, resulting in more vitality, further guidance and growth in numbers.
How many Christians think prayer meetings are an optional extra? How far from the example of the early Church, where corporate prayer was recognised as essential to the life and extension of God’s kingdom. When major problems beset the early Church – persecution, imprisonment and martyrdom – this led to ever more fervent prayer (verse 5).
But it is comforting to read in this story that, like us. the first Christians had their weaknesses. The believers, meeting in the home of Mary the mother of Mark, were praying fervently for Peter to be released from prison. Perhaps the servant girl, Rhoda, was included in the prayer group, as the Lord was breaking down barriers between master and servant, Jew and Gentile. Men and women also were praying together. But Rhoda was so overcome to see the answer to their prayers standing on the doorstep, that she left poor Peter out there exhausted, still knocking!
Her news was greeted with disbelief, but fortunately everyone eventually got the message that God had wonderfully intervened. It doesn’t take much imagination to think of the praises which must have raised the roof, when Peter told them that God had sent an angel to rescue him, in answer to their prayers.
Is corporate prayer at the heart of the life of your church? If not, could you begin in a small way? When you pray, is it just for personal needs, or do you major on praying for the Lord to rescue those who are bound (whether Christians persecuted today, or oppressed in other ways, or who need to be rescued from the kingdom of darkness)?
Lord, stir up my determination to pray with other Christians for the extension of your kingdom.
© Patricia Higton: see conditions for reproduction