Sometimes, prayer is a routine thing. (We harp on this, but it isn’t actually bad unless you check out and make it just a ritual). You know, like when you pray before you eat. It’s a good routine, but it’s pretty normal. Then there are times when you just need to pour out your heart to God. This is a story about one of those times.
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Learning Prayer from a Mighty Woman
Recently I’ve been studying the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1-2. (I’m using a great study guide called Undivided by Stephanie Smith, review coming soon!) Hannah is barren and desperate for a child, and one day Eli the priest sees her praying in God’s temple.
Hannah was very upset and couldn’t stop crying as she prayed to the Lord and poured out her heart. Then she made God this promise: “Lord of heavenly forces, just look at your servant’s pain and remember me! Don’t forget your servant! Give her a boy! Then I’ll give him to the Lord for his entire life.”
As she kept praying before God, the priest Eli watched her mouth. Now, Hannah was praying in her heart; her lips were moving, but her voice was silent, so Eli thought she was drunk. I mean, after all, people didn’t really pray silently back then, and she had just come from a festival where people were drinking and partying!
So Eli said to her, “How long are you going to act like a drunk in God’s house?! Sober up!”
“No sir!” Hannah replied. “I’m not drunk, I promise you! I’m just a very sad woman. I haven’t had any wine or beer. I’ve been pouring out my heart to the Lord. Don’t think your servant is some good-for-nothing woman. This whole time I’ve been praying out of my great worry and trouble!”
So Eli responded, “Then go in peace. And may the God of Israel give you what you’ve asked from him.”
“Please think well of me, your servant,” Hannah said. Then she went on her way, ate some food, and wasn’t sad any longer.
Adapted from 1 Samuel 1 CEB. You can see the full story on this blog post.
What does it mean to pour out your heart to God?
Apparently, this isn’t something the priest Eli saw people doing very often; he thought Hannah was drunk! According to the Cambridge Dictionary, to pour out your heart is to “tell someone your secret feelings and things that worry you.”
When you pour out your heart, it’s a raw, emotional thing.
Hannah is bringing the full weight of her grief, sadness, jealousy, hurt, disappointment, and every other emotion to God. And God can handle it! In fact, God is the only one truly strong enough to handle the weight of all our emotions. While there is value in pouring out your heart to a trusted friend, God is the best and most important person to bring our hearts to. 1 Peter 5:7 says to “Throw all your anxiety on him, because he cares about you!” There are no shields up here, no walls or barriers. There is no wrong way to pray, except not to pray. Be real with God.1 Peter 5:7 says to 'Throw all your anxiety on him, because he cares about you!' There are no shields up here, no walls or barriers. There is no wrong way to pray, except not to pray. Be real with God.Click To Tweet
When you pour out your heart, it’s a private, personal thing.
Hannah isn’t praying for an audience. In fact, it is possible that she prayed silently, in her heart, so as not to have an audience! Even when Eli does question her, she tells him that she is praying, but she doesn’t tell him what she prays for. (Funny business. Imagine if she had told him about her sacred vow to give the child back to God. Eli doesn’t realize, when he says God will grant her wish, that he is a few years away from getting custody of this woman’s toddler!). I’m not saying we shouldn’t tell people what we are praying for. That was Hannah’s personal choice, and scripture encourages us to have people pray for us. But her time spent in prayer was private, it was personal. It was not putting on a show. She only wanted God’s attention.
When you pour out your heart, it’s a life-changing, world-changing thing.
Did you notice what happened after her conversation with Eli? Hannah “went on her way, ate some food, and wasn’t sad any longer.” Can you imagine what her husband and family thought? The woman who was teased mercilessly, to the point of tears, so sad she can’t eat, she goes in to pray and comes out with a smile on her face.
God hasn’t actually answered her prayer yet.
Nothing has changed. Yet.
But the time spent, real, raw, open before God, has changed Hannah. Her attitude is different. The way she carries herself is different. Prayer changes the pray-er even before it changes the world.
One of my favorite verses, as I struggled with anxiety this last year, was Philippians 4:6-7.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This is the recipe.
This is the recipe of what to do when we are anxious: present our requests to God by prayer and petition with thanksgiving. The result: the peace of God that will guard our hearts and minds. Hannah lives this out, she illustrates this verse. Imagine it. She brought her anxiety, her request to God. God gives her this peace and now she goes back to her family, and that peace guards her heart against the fear, the doubt, even the taunts of her sister-wife Penninah. Even if God hadn’t given Hannah a child, that time spent in prayer changed her life.This is the recipe of what to do when we are anxious: present our requests to God by prayer and petition with thanksgiving. The result: the peace of God that will guard our hearts and minds.Click To Tweet
Are you anxious or stressed? Go into a private place or even a public place loud enough where people won’t hear you. Pour out your heart to God! He can handle your mess! He can give you that heart-guarding peace. And if you want someone to pray with you or for you, please reach out to me via social media, in the comments below, or via email at joy [at] realworldbiblestudy [dot] com. I would be honored to stand by you.
 Ronald Youngblood, “Hannah (Person),” David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New Haven, Conn. ; Yale University Press, 2008), 51.
P.S. If you want to hear the full story, check out the video below!