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Persistent Prayers

Hannah prayed for years as she walked through a disappointing situation. Hear more about this with Pastor Jesse as we look at how to not give up in your prayer life. Be dedicated, pray with your whole heart, and watch God in his faithfulness. In the story of Hannah, the change of a nation was linked to the private prayers of a mother. Be encouraged and don’t give up!

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Jesse Bradley:

Welcome to The Bonfire. We’re in season five and we’re focusing on prayer, and I chose prayer for a couple of reasons. First of all, we all want to grow in prayer, need to grow in prayer. Prayer is vital. Prayer is like breathing oxygen during the day for our physical bodies. We want to continually be in prayer. And not only that, but this has been an area where God’s really worked in my life and there’s been a lot of changes. And from that, I know prayer is more than just an intellectual. Prayer is more than just the right theology. Prayer is more than just the right doctrine.

Prayer is from the heart and from the soul, and prayer is immersive in that way. It’s how we abide with Jesus, listening, confessing, thanking God, praising God, asking God, would bring our request to God, our burdens. All of this happens in prayer, and prayer is not just a formula. Prayer is not something on our checklist. One passage that’s encouraged me over the years is 1 Samuel chapter 1. It’s Hannah’s story and I think you’re going to experience a lot of freedom as you consider Hannah, and then also as you seek God intentionally and she models for us so many positive attributes in prayer. This is a chapter I think you could read several times. 1 Samuel chapter 1, is very relevant, it’s very relatable, and let’s take a look at Hannah’s story.

Now first, there’s a situation, and in this situation we read, Hannah has no children. She desires, this has been a lifelong desire, yet she’s barren. And we don’t know all the reasons, but yes, God’s involved in this and she can’t have children. Now she’s married and her husband, Elk, he has two wives, the other wife, lots of kids, but Hannah, no children. Now have you had a desire for something for most of your life or for five years, 10 years, an extended period of time? What are you doing with that desire? Have you identified that desire, something that hasn’t happened yet, something you’ve longed for? Hannah, not having a child that was devastating on many levels. She wanted to be a mother and that connection, she wanted to glorify God, she wanted to build up the family, and it played a big part in many aspects of her lives and that culture, having a child was important as you grew older in many levels, there’s just so much.

She wanted to pass on her faith. It was her longing and we have deep longings. All of us do. We desire things that haven’t come to fruition and Hannah was in that position for many years. It’s difficult. If someone desires to have a child and is not able to have a child, there is a sense of disappointment that’s extremely deep. I know for Laurie and I, our story included miscarriages and that was something we needed to grieve and mourn and work through. There’s no guarantee that you’re going to have a child. Having a child is a great blessing. Every child is a gift from God, and yet we can’t control that and we can’t even choose whether the child’s a boy or a girl or the color of the eyes and the personality. It’s God who gives birth and God who gives life and knits the child together in the mother’s womb.

And ultimately, God is the author, the source of all life. Hannah’s going to the one in the middle of her solution who is powerful, is good, benevolent who hears prayers and she makes that decision. She responds with persistent prayer. And I’m going to encourage you today to identify the area where you have deep desire and make a decision to intentionally pray and not give up, to keep asking, to keep seeking, to keep knocking. I remember the first time I prayed, it was in college and there was a man on my dormitory floor. He led me to Jesus. His name was Mike. And then he said, “Jesse, I think it’d be good if you learn how to pray and we can pray together.” So I didn’t know how to do that. I had listened to him pray several times, but I still remember the first time I prayed out loud and prayed with someone and it was Mike in his dorm room and I thought, I just talked to my maker.

I just talked to God. I just talked to my creator. That was a conversation that was real. God is real. And now we have a relationship. There’s a sense of wonder and awe when we pray. And sometimes we have doubts like, are my prayers really getting through to heaven? When we don’t see the results we want, we wonder, is God really listening? Does God care? Is God powerful? Is God good? A delay doesn’t mean a denial, and God wants us to continue to pray. Prayer humbles us. Prayer changes us. Prayer shows our reliance on God. Prayer shows that we’re not self-sufficient and prayer ultimately is going to give God glory because we know God’s answered prayer. It wasn’t something in our control. We needed God’s help. God is our refuge strength and ever present help in trouble, and we lift up our eyes to the hills.

We know where our help comes from, the maker of heaven and earth. That’s the one who we talk to when we pray. That’s the one who we listen to when we pray. And Hannah had burdens. Burdens lead to passionate prayer. Deep desires lead to passionate prayer. If you thank God for the food before you eat it, that might be sincere. There might be gratitude there, but that’s not going to be your deepest prayer. Now, if you’re starving and God provides some food and saves your life, that’s going to be a deeper prayer than if you have a refrigerator that’s always full, supermarkets, restaurants, you might be inclined to take food for granted. But food is a blessing, we thank God for food, but you have deeper desires in your life than just food. They are relational. They’re tied to your purpose. They’re tied to making an impact in this world.

They’re tied to family. They’re tied to some very deep things, and those deep desires lead to deep prayers. Don’t just talk to God about the small size things, the medium-sized things and not open your heart to the deepest things. What burdens you carry, you want to share those with God and that happens through prayer. Because if you try to carry all your burdens, you’re going to be stressed out and worn out. But when you give them to God in prayer, there is a lightness, there’s a hope, there’s a freedom, and you know that God is strong to carry those burdens. The burdens are important. The burdens are even good. You might have a burden for people who don’t know Jesus, don’t have water, don’t have food. You might have a burden for people who have cancer. You might have a burden for widows, people who have been through divorce.

Deep, big, massive burdens lead to deep, big, massive prayer. And I want to make it real clear that link between our desires and our burdens and how that leads us to a prayer life that’s bold, that’s thriving, frequently coming to God, that’s healthy in our walk with God. Hannah makes that decision. See, a situation is difficult and out of that difficult situation, she makes a decision, I’m going to go to God and I’m going to go to prayer. And I’m going to keep praying and I’m not going to give up and I’m not going to stop. I’m going to keep seeking God. There’s incredible wisdom. It’s inspiring that Hannah responds that way. You’re responding right now to a lack, to avoid, to a disappointment, to a burden, to a desire. How are you responding? Would you shift today and make a decision and say, “I’m going to pray more about that? I’m going to pour up my heart to God. I’m going to cry out to God. I’m going to go for it. I’m going to persistently knock. I’m going to keep knocking.”

Just like the Bible tells us, Jesus exhorts us to keep asking, seeking and knocking, that verb tense. Keep going, keep going. He tells the disciples, “Don’t quit. Keep praying. Don’t fall asleep. Keep praying.” The spirit is willing. The flesh is weak. We have so many distractions in our culture right now, and one of the ways that the enemy wants to pull you away from God is that you stop praying. Don’t wait until there’s a crisis before you pray. Start to cultivate that habit in daily scripture and daily prayer, daily scripture and daily prayer. During the day, prayer. Doesn’t always have to be out loud, but sometimes it is out loud. Doesn’t always have to be with people, but sometimes it is with people.

Just pray. Prayer’s, not performance. Don’t be self-conscious. There’s no perfection with prayer. I’m thrilled when my kids come and talk to me. They don’t have to have a perfectly crafted speech. I’m not looking for them to try to impress me. I’m not grading them. No, this is a relationship with my kids and when my kids start to talk, they might not even know what to say or where it’s exactly going, but they open up their heart, they open up their lives. They want me to be included. They want me to enter in. It’s the same with God. We open up our lives, we talk with him. He comes in. It’s awesome. There’s communion, there’s closeness, and we need God. There’s a sense of fulfillment when we pray. Like this is good, this is right. God hears, God is with me. Trust God. Whether the answer is yes, no or later, trust God. Prayer is about trusting God and Hannah makes a decision to pray.

That’s the first aspect I want to highlight from Hannah’s story. She makes a clear, intentional decision that she’s going to keep praying and that could be a great place to start for you today. It could be a certain time of the day, a certain amount of time, a certain topic, but you make a decision to go to Lord in prayer. As you make that decision, I would love to tell you that everything’s going to get better, that things are going to change in your circumstances. Here’s what happened to Hannah. It got worse before it got better. Now, as you consider the people in her life, this is where the trials came. And Hannah had three people that were close to her and what we read in 1 Samuel chapter 1, is that Elkanah is her husband and let’s just call him Big Elk. It’s kind of a fun nickname, but Big Elk just doesn’t get it, and Big Elk tells Hannah, “Why are you so downcast? You don’t have a child? You shouldn’t be sad. I am worth more to you than 10 sons.”

Now, that’s not what to do, if you’re a husband with a wife who’s disappointed, you don’t say, “Why are you so down? Kids shouldn’t mean that much to you. I am so great. Look at me over here. I’m worth more than all those other things you want. Just enjoy me and make it about me.” That’s not good advice. Now, he might be well-intentioned, but that’s not going to help Hannah as she’s grieving and mourning and longing for what God could do. That’s her husband. And then she has Peninnah. Peninnah is Elk’s other wife. That was another thing. Bad decision, Elk, two wives. No, I know that happens in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. It’s descriptive, it’s not prescriptive. One man, one wife, that’s a marriage.

The wife will have enough with one husband. The husband will have enough with one wife. Multiple, no. This is a setup for failure. Hannah’s in a tough spot. The other wife, Peninnah, she has children. She’s having more children, and not only does she have children, she provokes, she taunts. Have you ever had someone that kind of kicks you when you’re down? You know you don’t have something and they highlight that or you fail, you mess up and they keep shoving your face in it. This just makes it worse. And again, the people around her that she spends the most time with, they just don’t understand. They’re not compassionate. They’re not saying and doing the right things. So where does Hannah go? She goes into the temple and there’s one more person and it’s Eli. Eli observed her. She’s praying. She’s pouring out her heart to God.

She’s praying sometimes without words. Have you ever prayed and you don’t even have the words to express what you’re feeling on the inside? Hannah was pouring out her soul and yes, her mouth was moving, but there were no words. And sometimes when I’m praying deeply with God, I don’t have words. It’s just in silence and I’m crying out to God. Hannah was doing that. Eli observed it. He saw her mouth moving. There were no sounds. There was no voice. There were no words expressed in this prayer, and Eli thought, Hannah must be drunk. He did not assume the best. He assumes the worst. It’s in the land of assumptions. Sometimes people who are around you and love you will assume things about you. They’ll assume your motives. They’ll assume how you’re really doing and your attitude and your feelings, and they misread you and it’s frustrating because they will land it somewhere that doesn’t represent you.

It’s not true of you, but they will make conclusions and now Hannah has to deal with a priest who’s supposed to understand spiritual things, understand God, understand people, help people connect with God, and what is this priest doing? What is Eli doing? He’s criticizing her and accusing her of being drunk. She has to explain to Eli, “I’m not drunk. I’m pouring out my soul to God.” Eli, this is what’s really happening. Three people in her life. It gets worse before it gets better. When you decide to fast and pray, it might get worse before it gets better, whether it’s the people around you and their reactions, whether it’s your own personal repentance and some blind spots become very visible and you start to see some things in your own life, God convicts you. Or it could be a situation even in a nation that’s out of control. It could be a situation where it’s not going to change right away, but keep praying.

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Hannah can’t change the hearts of these three people, but she can keep praying and she decides to keep praying with determination and she makes a dedication. At this point, realizing that these people close to her are not going to understand. She knows God does understand and she makes a dedication. She says, “God, if you give me a child, I will dedicate this child unto you. This child will serve you all the days of his life.” And that’s what happens. Samuel’s born and Samuel serves God. Hannah made a decision to first intentionally pray and not give up.

Then there’s a lot of disappointment, but she makes a dedication. Worship is a dedication. “God, I offer myself to you.” That’s real worship. Real worship’s not about the instruments, the singing, the song selection, the lights. It’s not about the room. Real worship is your response to the greatness of God. Hannah’s response is that, “God, here, I want to dedicate my child to you. I know a child would be a gift from you and I dedicate it to you.” Worship is when you dedicate yourself, your time, your talents, your treasure. You dedicate all that you have, all that God’s given to you. You say, here am I God, send me, use me for your glory. Have your way, God. I want to trust you.”

This is a special dedication, Samuel is going to serve God. It’s interesting as you continue to read, Eli’s sons go wayward, even though dad walks with God. God is going to use Samuel in mighty ways in the nation. You’re going to see his voice, his prayers. Prophet Samuel is a key person in the spiritual health of the nation. Listen to God, praying, interceding. He’s someone who’s respected. It’s linked back to this dedication. If you want to represent God, dedicate yourself to God, dedicate yourself, your character when no one’s looking. Your own walk with God, that depth with God. Out of that, everything else will flow. The ministry flows out of that. Yes, God might gift you, but make sure that the foundation is strong and then use your gifts for the glory of God. Samuel stands out in a generation that is all over the map.

Samuel is like that star shining bright for God, and it’s linked to this prayer, literally birthed in prayer. And as you think through, again Hannah’s decision, then dedication, and there’s a third piece that’s a declaration, when this child is born, his name is Samuel. And Samuel’s name means heard of God, because I asked of God. What Hannah’s doing is making a declaration. She’s sharing her story and she’s saying, “Now I have this son, Samuel, because God has heard, God answered prayers. I asked God.” God is a faithful God, a kind God. He is a God that’s gracious. He is a God that provides children. Children are a gift. The story of Hannah and Samuel is a story of the grace of God and answered prayer. As she names him, Samuel, she’s encouraging others to pray. “Look what God did here. Look what God did for me. Pray to God.”

Hannah’s story reminds us that God is able. I remember when I was serving as an intern in Oakland, California, we had a prayer time. There’s a woman, 92 years old named Pearl Bennett and she would make her way. Physically, it was not easy, but she would make her way down to the church and just start to pray, just start to cry out to God. I would listen to Pearl and I would really have a check in my own walk with God, that my prayers sometimes we’re far more intellectual and I don’t know how much they really involved my heart, my soul. I didn’t feel the freedom to pour up my heart to God like she did, and I wanted to really grow in that area. God used pain in my life. When I had a tragedy in Africa, my professional soccer career ended.

I was fighting for my life for a year, took 10 years to fully recover. That’s when I started to pour out my heart to God. Psalm 62 verse 8, “Pour out your heart to God. Trust in him at all times, though people, he’s our savior.” And I encourage you today to be more vulnerable, be more transparent, to pray not only with your mind, but with your soul and your heart. As you think through Hannah’s story, you’ve got some situations. Make a decision to pray. And then dedicate yourself, dedicate all you have. Even if the situation gets worse, stay devoted. Stay dedicated. Don’t give in to the lies, the patterns of the culture, and then when God answers prayer, tell that story. Declare it like Hannah does right here. And Samuel’s a gift from God. “Because I’ve asked of God, I know that this came from God.”

There’s going to be times in your life where you know that it was an answer to prayer. I didn’t have any money going to seminary and again, didn’t have the provision. What happened? I graduated with no debt. Every single day, I prayed that I would graduate with no debt. I mentioned Laurie and I had miscarriage, prayed and nine months later we had our first child. It was a verse right out of Genesis, and I just sensed the Lord saying, pray this right now, and God provided. And in that prayer, that answer to prayer, there’s been so many crossroads of my life where I haven’t known what to do and I prayed and then God gave direction. I knew where to go to seminary even though a lot of people said no. I knew we needed to adopt a son through prayer even though there were a lot of people that didn’t think that was a good idea.

When the doctors all told me to keep taking a prescription, even though it caused all the problems, even though I had toxic levels in my system, we didn’t know that at the time, I prayed and God showed me it was the cause. And because I refuse to take it for another month, I’m still alive today. There’s been so many times where I poured up my heart to God and God moved and I look back at that and say, “Okay, God answers prayer.” If he answers it for me, he’ll answer it for you. And to persistently pray, we prayed for the campus University of Iowa with 20 students and God took over and there’s over 800 students and people coming to the Lord every week, but it was just crying out to God. That was a heartbeat of our ministry. We just cry out to God.

You might be in a place right now where you’re looking around and you’re feeling kind of hopeless, and I hope that you’re encouraged and inspired by Hannah’s story. Because as difficult as her situation was, as out of control as her situation was, she knew what to do and that’s to keep praying and to devote herself to prayer. And when God answers prayer, declare it, give the testimony, give glory to God. God says, “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways, he will hear from heaven. He will forgive their sin and he will heal their land.” This is a time to pray in America right now. It’s not the election or a president that’s going to make all the difference. It’s not going to be laws of land that make all the difference. It’s not just going to be like one song or a couple people.

It’s not going to be that. What we need today in America is God, and there’s no greater way, in terms of calling on God, to experience his presence than through prayer. The church was praying, continue to pray. Wait on the Lord, pray. God sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. I believe that God fills us with the Holy Spirit, when we pray, we confess our sins. We turn from those sins, we yield ourselves to God, we surrender to God, and then there’s no limits to what God will do as we invite his presence. God says he wants the church to be a place of prayer, a house of prayer for all nations. It’s sometimes hard to find much prayer in church or who wants to come to the prayer meetings. What about home? How much prayer is there in your home? Now, Jesus talks about a prayer closet, that doesn’t have to be a literal prayer closet.

Now, I know there’s been movies where there’s a prayer closet and some people have a prayer closet. That’s wonderful. You can have any place you designate it, but start to pray there. Be intentional around prayer, as Hannah was intentional. She poured out her heart to God. You say, “How do you do that?” I think you’ve got to value feelings, identify feelings and share your feelings with God, and he will enter in. When the people grieved and mourned at a funeral, Jesus wept. Jesus entered in with them. Listen, we’re emotional. God wants to enter in to what we’re feeling. He already knows it. We’re not going to surprise God. We’ve got to bring our thoughts to God. What we’re thinking about during the day. We’ve got to bring our dreams to God, the vision, our purpose. Why are you here on Earth? What’s the difference God’s called you to make?

You bring that to God, your fears. You bring those to God, so he can bring peace. Your burdens, you bring those to God, so he can carry those burdens for you. Start bringing these different things to God. What I’m describing is a prayer life that’s full, robust, rich, holistic, and also prayer that’s focused, determined, passionate. Jacob wrestles. Jacob wrestles and holds on to the angel of God, “I’m not going to let you go until you bless me.” I think Hannah has some of that, “I’m not going to stop praying God until there’s a blessing. Lord, I know you can do it, and I’m going to keep asking and trusting.” Trust God, even if the result’s not there yet, continue to trust God. So here we have Samuel. The legacy will continue. Samuel is going to help lead the nation, help them in returning to God.

Not everyone will, but Samuel’s going to be faithful. Prayer leads to action. Prayer leads to faithfulness. In what happens privately in prayer, there’s a public fruit, there’s a public display, there’s a public declaration. Hannah had prayed for years in private. No one knew, and yet God knew. God heard, and as God provided, prayer is linked to provision. Then with that provision, Hannah gives God all the glory. And what happens? It begins in prayer. Prayer is like the seed that leads to the tree. Prayer is the beginning point, and as you pray and pray and pray, what’s going to happen? God’s going to hear that prayer. God’s going to move, whether it’s an individual like Hannah, whether it’s the Israelites in slavery, and God raises up Moses, God will raise up someone. God will line things up and you will look back and you will say, “Because I asked, his name is Samuel.”

The Lord hears prayer. I want to encourage you as we wrap up today, that God hears your prayers. They’re not wasted. They’re not in vain. They don’t just hit the ceiling and come back down. They rise up to heaven like incense rising up, and our God is faithful to answer prayer. Prayer itself doesn’t get the glory. God gets the glory. But just as seeing Samuel every day will inspire not only Hannah, but an entire nation to continue to pray. Let this story encourage you to go deeper in prayer, to pour out your heart in prayer. Pour out your soul in prayer. Find other people who will pray and not give up and continue to seek God because the nation, it’s changed through individual people who pray, who cry out to God, who value prayer, prioritize prayer and guard prayer. I’m preaching to myself right now because I know I need to do that with a full schedule.

I know I need to do that. I make a little three by five card and I highlight what to focus on in prayer every day, but I need this reminder. I love spending time in 1 Samuel chapter 1 and just reading it through. Reading it through. I’ve read it through a few times, taking notes, writing it down. Hannah makes a decision. She then brings dedication, and when God answers prayer, there’s a declaration, a testimonial story so that all will know, our God is good. Prayer doesn’t get the glory God does. Samuel doesn’t get the glory, God does. Hannah doesn’t get the glory, God does.

But how does God move? Through prayers, when God’s people, we pour out our heart to God. So persistently pray this week, encourage other people to read this chapter, share this right now, this episode. Share it with someone who needs some encouragement to keep praying, and then don’t just pray for people, pray with people. Take a risk. “How can I pray for you?” Ask people that during the week and find a prayer group that’ll really seek God together. It’s not wasted time. It’s rich because our God answers prayer.

This is The Bonfire. Thanks so much for joining us. Let’s keep growing deeper in our relationship with God, and let’s not be embers that are isolated, but let’s come together. God is love. God is light. God is a consuming fire, and he wants us to fan the flame, and together, we’ll abide with Jesus.

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