Has anyone ever watched you pray silently and concluded that you were drunk? It has never happened to me. However, it happened to Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:9-18. In the past I pictured Hannah’s prayer as coming from a prim and proper June Cleaver-ish young lady sitting up straight in a chair, hands folded and gently placed in her lap. Given that picture, I struggled to understand how Eli could watch a woman sit basically motionless (except for the slight movement of her lips) and presume that she was intoxicated. A deeper consideration of the text (a novel idea, right?) caused me to adjust my mental picture.
Ponder the terms that describe Hannah and her prayer: “deeply distressed” (v. 10), “wept bitterly” (v. 10), “troubled in spirit” (v. 15), “pouring out [her] soul” (v. 15), and “great anxiety and vexation” (v. 16). With those descriptions of this devout woman and the intensity of her emotions, I find it much easier to understand Eli’s response. A silent, practically motionless woman would not lead another to conclude that she was inebriated. But such a conclusion is understandable if that same woman were animated by the heaviest of burdens and looked like she was carrying on a tear-soaked, bitter conversation with no one.
That must have been one intense, deep, and passionate prayer.
The pen of Paul writes of another example of this kind of prayer. In Colossians 4:12, we read,
“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”
Consider these thoughts from the prayer-life of Epaphras.
His prayers were constant (“always”). His prayers were personal (“on your behalf”). His prayers were purposeful (“that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God”). And his prayers were intense. The word translated “struggling” is from the Greek agonizomai, which means to fight or to compete in an athletic contest. When an athlete competes to the best of his ability and exhausts himself in the contest, reporters have been known to say that the athlete “left it all out on the field.” In other words, the player held nothing back. When he left the field of play, he did so knowing that he had nothing left to give. He gave it everything he had. That’s what Epaphras did when he prayed. When he was finished, he had nothing left in the tank.
When I think about Hannah and Epaphras (and Jesus in Gethsemane, Luke 22:44), I’m ashamed that so many of my prayers lack intensity. How easy it can be for our prayers to turn into little more than the recitation of words and phrases memorized long ago. Most of us can probably pray on auto-pilot without ever digging deep into our souls. The words may be there, but the heart isn’t. It seems I remember Jesus addressing that phenomenon (Matt. 15:8).
Spend some time in God’s presence today, but don’t merely recite old phrases. “Pour out your heart before him” (Psa. 62:8).