Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by Rev. John Howard Farmer

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A Prayerful Heart

How and why we come to a time of prayer usually differs one instance from another. The visitation of life’s troubles takes us to our knees. A need for deliverance may press. Overwhelming, over-arching moments may preoccupy us beyond what we believe we can bear. During these and other stressful moments our hearts may be too full to pray.

The emotions of our hearts may in fact stop our mouths. We need to tune our hearts to God’s. He hears us in our abundant need and answers us from his heart of love, mercy and grace.

While women must have prayed aloud in church for years earlier, Hannah (I Samuel 1:9-18) seems to be the first recorded instance of feminine prayer recorded in the Old Testament. Listen, read, her prayer:

“After supper, at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord.

“She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: ‘O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a Nazirite until the day of his death.

‘He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.’ As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth.

“Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk.

“So Eli said to her, ‘How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.’

“But Hannah answered, ‘No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.’

“Then Eli answered, ‘Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.’ And she said, ‘Let your servant find favor in your sight.’ Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.”

Hannah was the least fortunate wife of Elkanah. The result of her burdened prayer was the gift of their son Samuel.

The British theologian Herbert Lockyer (1886 England-1984 USA) looked at this heavy-hearted prayer and suggested some conclusions:

“The true place for help in all our time of need is the throne of grace.

“The more complex our trouble, the deeper we wrestle for truth, should focus how serious our prayers.

“We’ve lost a powerful tool in contemporary society. It really is okay to make vows unto God. They are contracts under which we agree to some promise of God, even if he doesn’t mature our covenant. We are to keep the faith, to keep praying.

“Remember that the gift of children is a holy one. Parenthood is often the result of the love shared between persons. Since it results in new life on this earth we ought to pray to God to make us good parents. Like Hannah it wouldn’t hurt to do so before hand. Goodness knows, our children will later teach us to pray.

“Promises made to God should be kept. When we are too full to pray aloud, our hearts dispel our misery. If we bargain with God over an issue of prayer, we have a bounden duty to uphold our covenant. We must keep our promises to God.

“We shouldn’t get up from our knees, when the God of truth and light grants our prayer petitions, without thanking him and praising his name.”

Now, do you realize that often our heartfelt prayers are at odds with the prayers of others? God, in his absolute wisdom must balance the weight of what he knows is in all our best interests, while taking into account how, for what, and when we pray.

One of my favorite heart hymns is “Purer in Heart, O God,” written by Fannie Estelle Church Davison in the late 1800s, put to music by James H. Fillmore (1849-1936). This hymn first appeared in American hymnals around 1921; enjoy this sample:

“Purer in heart, O God, help me to be; may I devote my life wholly to Thee. Watch thou my wayward feet, guide me with counsel sweet; purer in heart. help me to be. Purer in heart, O God, help me to be; teach me to do thy will most lovingly. Be thou my friend and guide, let me with Thee abide; purer in heart, help me to be.

“Purer in heart, O God, help me to be, that I thy holy face one day may see. Keep me from secret sin, reign thou my soul within; purer in heart, help me to be.”

We must allow Christ to reign in our souls by making him Lord of our hearts. “For with the heart we believe and obtain righteousness, and with our mouths we make confession and obtain salvation,” (Rom. 10:9-10).

So, shall we agree to pray, even if silently, even if only our lips move? We can tune our overflowing hearts to God’s.