I Samuel 1: 3 – 20 Prayer Changes Things November 14, 2021


Prayer Changes Things

I Samuel 1: 3 – 20

(preached November 14, 2021)

Have you seen the bumper sticker that says, “Prayer Changes Things?”  That bumper sticker always gets my attention; I agree with its message.  I believe that prayer changes things.  But sometimes I wonder, what do we mean when we say that prayer changes things?  For some, saying that prayer changes things means that, when you pray, your circumstances change for the better.  If you’re sick, you recover.  If you’re looking for a job, or a home, or a wife, or a husband, you find one.  That understanding of prayer says that the things we pray for happen.  We get the results we want.


In our passage for today from the Hebrew Scriptures, Hannah prays fervently to God.  It’s clear what she’s praying for here.  Hannah longs for a son.  Her prayers are heartfelt.  She prays, “Lord!  just look at your servant’s pain and remember me.  Don’t forget your servant!  Give her a boy!”  Hannah even plays a version of “Let’s Make a Deal” with God.  She says, “Lord, if you will give me a son, I promise I’ll give him back to you for the rest of his life.  He will be dedicated to your service in the temple for his whole life.”  In her fervent prayers, Hannah is so consumed by longing that Eli, the priest, thinks she’s drunk.  What else could explain her sighs and groans?  What else could explain the tears that stream down her face?


You and I can hardly blame Hannah for wanting a son so much. In the ancient world, a woman’s status was completely dependent on a man.  Women didn’t have the choices we have today: to go to school, and get a job, and play a part in the world outside the home.  In Hannah’s time, if a woman didn’t get married and have children, she had no status in her community.  She was almost invisible.  And, to make things worse, if a woman couldn’t conceive a child, it was considered to be her fault.


But things are even worse for Hannah.  Not only is she unable to conceive; she’s also cruelly taunted by the other wife of her husband Elkanah.  His other wife, Peninnah, teases Hannah without mercy.  Day after day, year after year, Peninnah taunts her.  Day after day, year after year, Hannah longs for a son.  She prays and prays.  Finally, Hannah does conceive a son.  She gives birth to a boy and names him Samuel, which means, “I asked the Lord for him.”


So I guess we could say that Hannah’s prayers are answered.  Hannah is s able to conceive.  She gives birth to a son.  Prayer changes things for Hannah; prayer changes things for the better.  I guess we could say that Hannah’s prayers get the result she’s hoping for.


A lot of the time when we talk about prayer, we talk in terms of results.  Because we’re looking for results, our prayers often sound like a list of requests, a sort of to-do list for God.  For example, we might say, “Please, God, help me pass this test.” Or, “please, God, help me get that job or find that house or please, God, help me find someone to love.”  We focus on what God can do for us.


I don’t think God is put off by those requests.  We know from Jesus himself that we can tell God what we need. Jesus taught that God loves us and desires good for us.  In the Sermon on the Mount, he said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened” (Matthew 7: 7).  From Jesus we know that God wants us to ask, and search, and knock.  God wants us to communicate with him, to be in relationship, because God loves us more than we can possibly imagine.  God wants us to knock, so that God can open the door to the new life that God intends for us.


If we take Jesus at his word, we know that we can ask God for what we need.  We can ask for the results we want because God loves us.  But consider if you will the nature of God’s love. God’s love for us may not be about fulfilling our to-do lists, giving us the results we want.  The God we know in Jesus Christ simply wants us to open ourselves to him in our prayers.  God wants us to grow in a relationship of trust, to know that we are held in his love.  God wants us to trust that, no matter what happens, God holds the future.


God answered Hannah’s prayers for a son.  Samuel was born.  But sometimes when we pray, we don’t get the results we want.  Sometimes prayer doesn’t change our circumstances for the better.  But prayer does change things.  If we pray in trust that God loves us and will take care of us no matter what, prayer changes us.  If in prayer we simply open ourselves to God, and share with God our deepest feelings, we will grow in trust in our relationship with God.


Knowing that prayer can change us changes the way we pray.  We don’t ask for results.  Christian writer Father John-Julian describes a way of prayer in the book, Letters to Jacob: Mostly About Prayer.  In the way of prayer Father John-Julian describes, we don’t ask God for results.  Instead, in prayer, we simply open ourselves to God.  We share our feelings with God the way we would share them with a close friend.


We share with God what’s in our hearts: our worries, our fears, our longings.  We don’t ask for a result.  For example, if we’re worried about a test, instead of saying, “Please God, help me pass this test,” we simply share our feelings.  We might say, “Oh God, I’m really worried about this test.”  Or instead of praying, “Please, God, help me to succeed at this new job,” we might say, “Oh God, I’m so nervous about starting this new job.”  We share our worries with God and let go in trust that God will take care of us (Father John-Julian OJN, Letters to Jacob, p. 12).


That place of trust is where God wants us to be.  We grow closer to God when we make our prayers less of a to-do list for God.  We grow closer to God when we simply share our deepest feelings.  If this way of praying makes you feel vulnerable, you’re on the right track.  You’re open and ready to trust that the door you’re knocking on will open to the new life God has in mind for you.


Does prayer change things?  If that question is asking, does prayer get the results we want, sometimes the answer is no.  If that question says that God checks off the things on our to-do list, the answer is no.  But prayer does change things.  What prayer changes is us.  Prayer changes us when we open ourselves to God, in faith.  Prayer changes us when we share our deepest feelings. Prayer changes us when we let go in trust that God holds the future.


Rev. Elva Merry Pawle  Pentecost 25