“Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard…” 1 Samuel 1:13
I have a confession to make. When I’m in a service where prayer requests are being taken and someone voices an “unspoken” one, I always feel somewhat confounded or even apprehensive, wondering if the request is a simple desire or a matter of life and death. Don’t get me wrong; I believe there are definite “unspoken prayers”; I’m just wondering if they shouldn’t be just that: unspoken.
The desire of Hannah’s heart was a son. To her husband, who of course could not guarantee her one, her inconsolable longing seemed to be unreasonable, even disloyal (v.8). And Eli, the temple priest, questioned the sincerity of her petition to God, mainly because she refused to voice it openly. To him, her moving, but voiceless lips were a sign of drunkenness (v. 14); while, on the contrary, she had not consumed anything, but rather, was pouring out her soul to the Lord (v. 15). As far as she was concerned, this was between God and her; and to attempt to communicate it to others was unnecessary and perhaps unproductive.
For you and I to pray for one another, we must have some idea of what is needed. Sometimes, it’s obvious. Other times, we must share our requests in order to “pray with understanding” (1 Cor. 14:15). But I have come to believe that the prayers closest to the heart of God are the ones that begin with Him and are articulated back to Him through our Interpreter, the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8: 26-27). This process may involve words on our part, or merely unutterable longings, “groanings which cannot be uttered.” I don’t know about you, but the more I try to articulate my requests to God effectively, the more they disintegrate into a procedure and not a plea. Instead, I’m finding that those people and things that lie heaviest on my heart make up part of my ongoing fellowship with the Father, inaudible prayers without fanfare, but with fervency (James 5:16).
I’m rereading a book by a missionary in Communist China during the Second World War, called, Born For Battle. The author, Arthur Matthews, expresses, I think, exactly what I’ve been saying. Trying to show the difference between “my praying,” and “my prayer,” he says:
“My praying” is my attempt to clothe heart content with suitable words, words that will conform to forms set by groups in which I do my praying. It is praying from within the bounds set by certain cultural patterns. Moreover, it is susceptible to physical conditions — the hour, the nature of the occasion, and the audience. In my praying I find it hard not to be self-conscious and crowd-conscious. These factors do intrude and, depending on my temperament, dilute the flow of the inner spiritual longing.
“My prayer,” on the other hand, is heart content, separate from word content. It is neither bound by word forms nor inhibited by the listening audience. It is the overflow of a heart that the Holy Spirit has rendered sensitive to spiritual issues in earthly situations. It is poured out in a steady, uninhibited stream of undiluted longing… I conceive of “my prayer” as that spiritual purpose God has laid on my willing, yielded heart. It is sometimes voiced back to him and sometimes just choked in unutterable groanings.
The Bible says that after her “unspoken” prayer to God, Hannah “went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad” (v.18). I used to sing a wonderful song that said, “Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.” That’s the whole idea of prayer. When it has originated in heaven, our prayer will embrace the will of God above all things, and find confidence in the goodness of His heart. “And this is the confidence we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us.” 1 Jno. 5:14
“When thou prayest, rather let thy heart be without words, than thy words without heart.” – John Bunyon