Prayer From the Heart
Updated: Oct 3, 2019
As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. (1 Samuel 1:12–15, ESV)
“I came today to the spring and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you are prospering the way that I go, behold, I am standing by the spring of water. Let the virgin who comes out to draw water, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also,” let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’ “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her water jar on her shoulder, and she went down to the spring and drew water. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ (Genesis 24:42–45, ESV)
Susannah Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley, had 19 children to raise. And yet this woman, of whom the term “busy” would seem woefully insufficient, was a model of prayer. Amongst all the noise and all the needs, when it was time to pray Susanna Wesley would pull her apron over her head, signaling to the children that she was in silent conversation with God and should be left alone.
Why do we pray so often in silence? My kids have asked me this. It’s a good question. I suppose at least part of it is that we don’t want to disturb those around us. Some of us might feel embarrassed having others hear us pray out loud. But another reason is that we are praying from our hearts and, at least for some of us, it seems easier to pour our hearts out to God in silence than with audible words. Indeed sometimes words are inadequate.
Silent prayer means we can cry out to God from our hearts anywhere, and at any time. Abraham’s servant was “speaking in his heart” asking God to bless his master’s son with the right woman to be his wife. Sometimes we desperately need to cry out to God about a seriously private matter in the checkout line at the grocery store, on a sold-out flight, or in a crowded ER waiting room. What a grace and blessing from the Lord that even in these moments we can pull the apron over our heads, so to speak, and have a deeply intimate and personal time with God. While most of us need to let more Christian brothers and sisters into our heart struggles, there are times when I am thankful the stranger next to me doesn’t know my deepest, darkest secrets.
Consider the example of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1. Hannah was praying silently but mouthing the words. Eli thought she was drunk or mad. But instead, she tells him, she was pouring out her soul before the Lord. There could hardly be a more fitting description of prayer than that. In prayer we pour out our souls before God. Yes, God knows the depths of our hearts even better than we do. He doesn’t need us to tell him what we are feeling. But oh, how he longs for it! Like the mom of a troubled teen who knows the pain and confusion her daughter is feeling. The young girl is putting up a mask of strength. But to her mother, who knows her so well, the inner turmoil is obvious. Oh, how she longs for her daughter to drop the facade, to let the tears and the words flow, and to make that emotional connection.
Hannah’s silent pouring out of her soul alerts us to a common theme in regards to prayer: it is not for God’s benefit but ours. God delights in our prayers, but he doesn’t need them. He knows the depths of my soul in perfect detail. It is not as though we are giving him new information. Yet pouring out our soul before the Lord is, in a sense, the epitome of prayer. Why? Because we need this. We find comfort and consolation in the very act of pouring out our soul to the one who already knows us intimately. Jesus prayed the same prayer three separate times in the Garden of Gethsemane, and it wasn’t because God did not hear him the first time. He was pouring out his soul, which was in agony to the point of death! (Matthew 26:36-46)