Abraham’s intercession on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah is just one of many Old Testament passages that emphasize the importance of our prayers in bringing to pass the sovereign will of God. The Old Testament actually has a lot to say about prayer, but one thing we might miss is its emphasis on the need for individual prayers to be concerned for the covenant community.
First Samuel 1:1–2:12 tells the story of Hannah in what is one of the most moving sections in Scripture. We know the story well. Hannah was a godly woman married to Elkanah the Ephraimite. For several years of her marriage she was unable to conceive any children. Each year she would go up to Shiloh with her family, and on one of those occasions, Hannah prayed fervently for a son and pledged to dedicate him to the Lord should she bear one. God had mercy on her and gave her the child she requested (1:1–20).
Today’s passage records the prayer Hannah offered in gratitude for the Lord’s answer to her. Some scholars believe there may have been a prayer that was part of the liturgy of the tabernacle that Hannah used as a framework for her own prayer. Whether or not that was the case, it is incredible that this prayer is focused not only on God’s goodness in the specific instance of giving Samuel to her but also looks to the mercies of the Lord on the entire nation of Israel. The prayer celebrates the sovereignty of our Creator in making Hannah’s barren womb fruitful (2:5b), and it looks for God to give strength to the king who is not yet on the throne of the nation (v. 10b). Hannah saw in the answer to her prayer a sign of the Lord’s grace on the entire community and thanked Him accordingly.
We should have a similar focus in our prayers. It is very easy to get so focused on our needs that we ignore the needs of the church. When God blesses us, it is appropriate to thank Him and to look for how that blessing might be shared with the Lord’s people as well. Hannah asked for Samuel with an eye toward giving him over to serve God and prepare the way for Israel’s king (see also 1 Sam. 9; 16), and we too should intercede with an eye as to how the answer might be used to extend His kingdom. Our prayer is truly to be selfless — prayer that takes into account the needs of God’s people.