When I survey the many prayers of praise offered in scripture, few impress me more than Hannah’s in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Overwhelmed by her childlessness, needled by her sister wife, and comforted by an emotionally deaf husband, Hannah “was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly” (1 Samuel 1:10). But God heard Hannah, she bore a son, honored her vow, and praised God for it.
For years Hannah’s prayer never totally connected with me. Her prayer seemed to bear little resemblance to the events that evoked it. It is not the prayer I would have prayed in her situation (“thanks for finally giving me what I asked for”). But the more I thought about Hannah’s prayer, the more I realized the disconnect reflected badly on me, not Hannah. Instead of praying, “look at what God did for me,” Hannah’s prayer is, “look at who God is!”
Hannah thinks deeply about the character and power of God. She is making realizations about God that go far beyond her situation. “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation” (v1). She is awed by God’s unparalleled holiness (v2), unsearchable wisdom (v3), amazing power (v4), and unerring justice (vv9-10). Her own reversal of fortunes is just one of many examples of God exalting the humble and humbling the exalted (vv5-8).
Do you see what Hannah’s prayer of praise is about? It’s not about her, but God. The answered prayer was not just about getting what she asked for, but what the answer taught her about the God who did the answering. Hannah thought about what God did in her life and drew much bigger conclusions about what kind of a God he is. Let Hannah teach you how to praise God well…
Good praise comes when we see God’s hand in our lives. Do you imagine that such a tremendous prayer of praise would happen if when Samuel was born Hannah said, “how fortunate!” Not a chance. Who or what we attribute the good things in our lives to will determine whether we are capable of offering Hannah-like praise. Am I lucky? Has fate smiled on me? Was it by my genius and boot-strapping effort? No praise follows such thoughts.
Next time some anxiety you’ve been praying about is put to rest what will you say? “Whew, I’m glad that’s out of the way” or will you praise the God of all comfort? Next time a loved one is brought through an illness what will you say? “He pulled though” or will you praise your Creator? Next time a sinner’s heart is pricked to repent what will you say? “Glad you finally got your act together” or will your praise the God who sent his son to seek and save the lost? James said, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” If we really believed that, praise would never be far from our lips.
Good praise comes when we live with God. Good praise only comes from one for whom God is a constant companion. He is never far from the center of our thoughts. Assembling to worship is a lifelong habit. God’s will is my greatest concern. Do you imagine that Hannah would be capable of offering such a prayer if she wasn’t such an earnest seeker of God in the first place? If she were a cultural Jew for whom worship and prayer were empty rituals? Hannah came with her family to worship and sacrifice at Shiloh year after year (1 Samuel 1:3). Hannah wrestled with a lot during those years, with “no” as the constant reply to her most earnest request. But even in the frustration and muck of life, Hannah sought God. And then, when the prayer was finally answered, the praise came naturally. Good praise does not come from half-interested religious hobbyists who hold God at arm’s length. Good praise always comes from people who live and wrestle with God daily.
Good praise comes when we see that God is up to much more than just attending to my requests. I am most impressed by Hannah’s perspective. She saw the big picture. She realized that what God had done for her on a small scale he would do for all creation one day. She realized that if God can do this for her, what can’t he do? If God cares about a lowly childless wife from the hill country of Ephraim, who can lie outside God’s sphere of care?
When I get my health back, I must consider that God may be up to more than just attending to my comfort. He has given me life and energy to work for his kingdom (Philippians 1:23, 24). When I am forgiven of my sins, I must be more than thankful for God’s mercy and forgiveness on an individual level. What God has done for me, he yearns to do for all mankind (2 Peter 3:9). The puzzle pieces begin to come together as Hannah sees God’s grand project of righting wrongs, rendering justice, and delivering the faithful take shape.
Hannah believed in God’s providence more than blind luck. Hannah was well prepared to praise God because of the years spent in his service. And when her prayer was answered, she thought in terms of what God was up to in the world beyond the narrow prism of her personal concerns.
Lord help us to praise to you in the manner you deserve.
by Drew Nelson