The Prayer of the Heart
Most prayer begins as Hannah’s did, in pain and with tears. But while her prayer was caused by pain, it wasn’t confined to it. It took the form of a vow. By casting her prayer as a vow, Hannah involved herself responsibly, even sacrificially, in her prayer, for she both asked and gave. She asked for a child from God, but she also gave this child back to God. Her generosity was as integral to her prayer as her poverty.
Hannah showed up at the sanctuary without bringing a sacrifice and boldly presented her petition before her God. She used her own words, her own voice, without intermediaries. Centuries later, rabbis would see Hannah as a model of authentic prayer, the prayer of the heart (1 Samuel 1:13) that eventually came to replace sacrifice altogether.
1 Samuel 1:9-19, The Message
So Hannah ate. Then she pulled herself together, slipped away quietly, and entered the sanctuary. The priest Eli was on duty at the entrance to God’s Temple in the customary seat. Crushed in soul, Hannah prayed to God and cried and cried—inconsolably. Then she made a vow:
If you’ll take a good, hard look at my pain,
If you’ll quit neglecting me and go into action for me
By giving me a son,
I’ll give him completely, unreservedly to you.
I’ll set him apart for a life of holy discipline.
It so happened that as she continued in prayer before God, Eli was watching her closely. Hannah was praying in her heart, silently. Her lips moved, but no sound was heard. Eli jumped to the conclusion that she was drunk. He approached her and said, “You’re drunk! How long do you plan to keep this up? Sober up, woman!”
Hannah said, “Oh no, sir—please! I’m a woman brokenhearted. I haven’t been drinking. Not a drop of wine or beer. The only thing I’ve been pouring out is my heart, pouring it out to God. Don’t for a minute think I’m a bad woman. It’s because I’m so desperately unhappy and in such pain that I’ve stayed here so long.”
Eli answered her, “Go in peace. And may the God of Israel give you what you have asked of him.”
“Think well of me—and pray for me!” she said, and went her way. Then she ate heartily, her face radiant.
Up before dawn, they worshiped God and returned home to Ramah. Elkanah slept with Hannah his wife, and God began making the necessary arrangements in response to what she had asked.
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“The Prayer of the Heart” is just one of the more than 600 insights found in The Message Devotional Bible. This special edition Bible contains notes and reflections from Eugene Peterson set alongside the Scripture that inspired them.
For more about Hannah and other women of the Bible, read Believers, an installment of the Her Name is Woman series from NavPress.