Links Daily Devotional

Open-Hearted Prayer

Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled… I was pouring out my soul to the LORD.” (1 Samuel 1:15, NIV)

You may have seen the recent viral video of the small Asian boy who threw a classic tantrum when he missed a short putt while playing around with his father on the practice green. He fell to the turf, kicked his feet, pounded his fists, and hollered like you’re supposed to when you’re yelling, “Fore!”

From this side of the video screen, it was easy to laugh at the antics of the boy, so over-the-top was his demonstration. But many who shared on the video also felt a strong yearning of identification. How fun it would be, they suggested, if we adults could act how we truly feel when we miss a piddling putt like that.

You might find that suggestion juvenile. All right. But I also find it fascinating, an admission from the masses that the whole stoic-is-studly approach to life keeps us from expressing what we truly feel.

So let’s see if we can’t find a balance as the people God made us to be—that is, people with emotions.

To begin, it would not be universally good to “lay everything on the table.” Some contexts call for restraint, and the old adages do in such cases hold true: “Some things are better left unsaid,” “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” “Discretion is the better part of valor.” Often, in our forbearance, we are saved the embarrassment of having spouted off too soon or too heartlessly—bless God for saving us at these times!

But when we look at Scripture, we find that one place emotional restraint is not necessary is before God. Hiding our emotions from him is as pointless as Adam and Eve hiding their nakedness; the Lord always knows when something is wrong.

One of Scripture’s most helpful vignettes in revealing the authenticity of emotion comes to us in 1 Samuel 1, where Hannah, the beloved but barren wife of Elkanah, brings her plea for a child to God at the temple in Shiloh. So emotional was her prayer that the priest, Eli, had never seen anything like it. He mistook her voiceless speech for drunkenness and scolded her.

“I am not drunk,” she replied through her tears. “I was pouring out my soul to the LORD.”

For all that has been written about patterns of prayer—a decidedly Western way of attacking the discipline—perhaps not enough has been said about the heart of prayer as we see it in Hannah and David and Hezekiah and Jeremiah. Jesus’ prayer on the eve of his crucifixion was so emotional that “his sweat was as drops of blood.” Can a pattern really trump this?

Elkanah faithfully showed his gentleness and love to Hannah even through her years of mourning. He allowed her her emotions. And what of us? It is time we allow each other our emotions, especially when they are shown to God in prayer.

Jeff Hopper
January 12, 2015
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