We can see in the story of Hannah, in 1 Samuel, that God answers prayer.
“My heart rejoices in the Lord;
My horn is exalted in the Lord,
I smile at my enemies,
Because I rejoice in Your salvation.”
1 Samuel 2:1.
These words are part of the prayer of Hannah, which she sang on the day she took her little son Samuel to live in the temple with the priest, Eli. Hannah had prayed to God to give her a son and promised to dedicate him to His service if her prayer was answered, and we know the story: her prayer was answered. She was rejoicing on the very day she took him to the temple to lend him to the Lord, although it couldn’t have been easy for her to leave him there. (1 Samuel 1:28)
God answers prayer – in His way
I’ve often thought about the story of Hannah and Samuel. There have been times in my life when I have also sensed a need, or a desire for something. Sometimes God answered my prayers and sometimes it seemed that He didn’t. In those times, when I had a deep longing in my heart, I’ve thought of the story of Hannah and wondered – why does it feel like God answers some prayers and not others?
In Isaiah 55:8-9 it is written, “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”
God has a perfect plan for our lives. He sees the beginning from the end, and He has many things to teach us. We can think we know what would be best for us. For example, I should have this job, or marry this person, etc. We can plan out our life and think we have everything under control. But as we see in Isaiah 55:8-9, God’s thoughts are often different than ours. As humans, we are drawn towards seeking earthly gain, and our own comfort. But God’s thoughts are of transforming us from our earthly human tendencies and creating something divine through our situations in life.
God’s plan for my life
If we find that God doesn’t answer our prayers in the way that we are hoping for, then we can take that as an opportunity to come into rest. This can be an active battle, because it means giving up my own will and reconciling myself to God’s plan for my life. I can fight against those thoughts that perhaps God doesn’t love me because I don’t receive what I ask for. I can choose to believe in the verse that says “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand …” Psalm 139:17-18.
When I learn to love God’s will for my life, then His thoughts become my thoughts, and His ways become my ways. I learn to pray according to His will for my life.
Delight yourself in the Lord
I remember hearing a message once, where Psalm 37:4 was mentioned. “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” At that time, I felt that I was lacking something in my life and I was praying to God to fulfill that need. However, in this message, the speaker encouraged the congregation to learn to delight themselves in the Lord. He said that to do this you have to give up your own will and place everything into God’s hands. When I heard that message, I consciously chose to do this. I decided that no matter how much I wanted this thing, I would lay my own desire aside and focus on “delighting myself in the Lord.” I would be occupied with finding the works God prepared for me each day and be awake to use those opportunities to learn to know Him better. (Psalm 139:16) I would work on coming into rest in the simple everyday opportunities that I found to bless the others, and make that my focus, instead of striving so hard to seek my own will.
It has been a number of years since I made that decision. There have been times when I have still felt a need for those earthly things in my heart. And I have taken those prayers to God in those times. But I have also become full of joy, even though God has had other plans for my life. I am fully convinced that He has heard me. And I am even more convinced that He loves me and watches over me closely. I have received a tremendous joy in my heart that isn’t dependent on earthly blessings. It comes from doing God’s will. When I learn to humble myself and let Him guide me, then I will experience that He gives me everything I need to be completely happy no matter what my situation. This joy I can carry with me throughout my life wherever I am.
I think Hannah understood these things also. She received what she asked for, but she was willing to offer her son back to God. This is also important for us. When God blesses us, then we must always be ready to offer His gifts back to Him. He wants to know if we love Him more than anything else on earth. But He is also very interested in blessing those who want to serve Him with their whole hearts.
“Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday.”