PRAY LIKE YOU MEAN IT
A sermon on 1 Samuel 1:4-20 and 2:1-10
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
November 18, 2018
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
It’s an advertising campaign that began a few years ago, but it is still going strong. No signs of letting up any time soon. They are ads for Hardee’s restaurants and my guess is that you have seen some of the same commercials that I have. The menu item being sold changes from ad to ad, but the format is roughly the same each time. It goes something like this:
It begins with a famous celebrity or a scantily-clad model holding whatever limited-time menu item that Hardee’s is currently promoting. Half pound Thickburgers with various toppings, grilled fish sandwiches, “double the bacon” cheeseburgers, chicken tenders—they all get basically the same advertising treatment. (One of the ads even features a “Cranberry Walnut Grilled Chicken Salad.” Really! I mean, who goes to Hardee’s for salad?!)
Anyway, as the commercial progresses, there is a voice-over describing in detail the ingredients that make the food distinctive and about how delicious and satisfying this new menu item is. All the while, it is being consumed onscreen with a great deal of sensuous pleasure. And then at the end of the ad, the voice-over recites the slogan for the campaign: “Hardee’s—Eat like you mean it.” (Have y’all seen any of those commercials?)
“Eat like you mean it.” I think that’s a great slogan for a fast-food restaurant, don’t you? Those words encourage customers to eat passionately…to eat intentionally…to eat until they are filled. And the ads certainly do a very good job in encouraging us to do just that.
But way before Hardee’s began using this slogan for an ad campaign, “Eat like you mean it,” they were words to live by at the Dakin household. My mother came from an Austrian-Pennsylvania Dutch background where food and meal times were important matters that were not to be taken lightly. The menu at our house was constantly changing as my mother experimented making new dishes and trying out new ideas. Consequently she spent a lot of time and imagination putting meals together—and it showed. You could always count on two things at supper time: there was always plenty to eat…and it was usually delicious. No one ever left my mother’s dinner table hungry. Except for my paternal grandmother, Mildred Dakin. Mildred was a frail, austere woman who is the only person that I have ever met who did not care to eat.
For the last several years of her life, my grandmother lived in a mobile home about a mile or so from our house. Mom used to invite her over for supper a couple of nights a week. She later told me that she did this just to make sure that Mildred would eat something that day. Even as a grade-school aged kid, I thought Grandma’s behavior at the dinner table was a bit strange. Whenever she came to dinner, Grandma would take whatever was being served and would politely eat a few bites. But mostly, she would spend dinner time pushing the food around on her plate with her fork and then tell us that she was finished when the meal was over. This was true whether it was an ordinary weekday supper or whether it was a magnificent holiday feast like Thanksgiving or Christmas. The woman simply did not care to eat. And even when she did, she did not eat like she meant it…
I want you to hold on to that thought for a few minutes: “She did not eat like she meant it.” We’ll come back to it a little bit later on in the sermon…
The two Old Testament passages that have been read in this service tell the story of a woman named Hannah. Hannah was one of two women married to a man named Elkanah. He was a priest in Israel because he was a member of the tribe of Levi. Elkanah’s other wife had borne him several children, but Hannah was childless—much to her embarrassment and shame. But it is obvious from the text that Hannah was the favored wife and that Elkhana loved her very deeply.
Do not miss the tender emotions expressed by Elkanah in 1 Samuel 1:8. Hannah has become so despondent at her situation that she weeps and refuses to eat. Elkhana is alarmed and tries to comfort her by saying, “Why do you weep? Why won’t you eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” He wants her to know that his love for her is great, despite the fact that she has not been able to give him a son.
It is important to note that this is a really big deal. In those days, it was considered to be a sign of God’s favor for a woman to produce children—especially to produce male children. The inability of a woman to do so was regarded in the community as no less than a judgment from God—it was a sign of God’s displeasure with her. Elkhana lets Hannah know that it really does not matter to him that she has not given him any children. And this is because he loves her so much. It would make a great Hallmark Channel movie moment, don’t you think?…(!)
So Hannah goes to the temple to pray…to weep…and to pour out her heart before the Lord. Her grief-stricken prayers come from the very bottom of the depths of her soul. Meanwhile Eli the priest watches her. It appears to him that she is drunk. After all, she is praying loudly at first and crying out. And then she is praying silently, even though her lips are still moving. Eli concludes that she is acting this way because she has had too much wine to drink…And he scolds her for making a drunken spectacle of herself…
As best as I can tell, there are only two times in the Bible where people are praying and are mistaken for being drunk. This passage from 1 Samuel is the first of those times. The other is in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost. In that passage, as you may recall, the disciples of Jesus gathered together to pray. The power of the Holy Spirit fell upon them and they spilled out into the streets, speaking in many other languages. We are told that some of the people who witnessed this miracle sneered and accused the disciples of being loaded—even though it was only nine o’clock in the morning. But no—they weren’t drunk. They were just praying…
Over the years, I have been around lots of people whom I have heard praying—both individually and in groups. I have heard people offer up prayers in all kinds of settings and in all kinds of situations and using many different kinds of language. And also from time to time, I will tell you that I have found myself in the company of people who were drunk. Honestly, I do not think that I would ever be able to mistake one group for the other.
But here’s a question for us to consider: what was it about Hannah’s prayer that made Eli suspect that she was drunk? Or what was it about the disciples’ prayers at Pentecost that made people think that they had had too much to drink as well? I do not know for sure. The Bible does not tell us. Perhaps it was several things and not just one thing. But at the least, I believe that it was because they were praying to God with a complete lack of inhibitions.
From my observation—and you have probably witnessed the same thing—I have noticed that the personalities of many people change when they begin drinking to excess. Some people become nasty when they have had too much to drink. Others become giddy and even silly. And lots of people fall somewhere in between those two extremes. The point is that a person’s actions and speech often change when they have had too much to drink.
Why is that? Well, it is because people who are drunk tend to lose their inhibitions. Their guard comes down. They are not afraid to say things out loud that they would not dare utter if they were sober. The filter of their brain—and mouth—has been dialed back or sometimes even turned off entirely. And so—for better or for worse—they are more likely to say exactly what is on their minds and hearts. Whether it is angry or foolish, they let it all hang out. They hold little-to-nothing back…
Let me suggest this to you: prayer at its best is also like that. I find that we are too often inhibited in our prayers to God. We are too nice. We are too polite. It is almost as if we are afraid of hurting God’s feelings…or that God will “zap” us if we make him mad by telling him how disappointed we are in him…or how angry we are with how we feel he has been treating us…and for how crummy our life has become. Too many times it seems like we do not really pray like we mean it…because we are not being honest with the Lord…
But here is something to keep in mind: God is big enough to take it. You are not going to hurt God’s feelings when you blast him for the injustices that you are enduring. Take a tip from the Psalms. There are plenty of psalms in the Bible that hold nothing back as they talk to God—anger, resentment, frustration, blame, accusations against God, the full range of human emotions—it’s all there in black and white for all to see…and to read…and to pray right along with the Psalmist.
The truth is this: God wants your uninhibited prayers—not just the nice polite prayers that we so often offer up to him. God wants to hear not only our grateful words of praise and thanksgivings, but he is also interested in our tears…our pain…our grievances…the agony of soul that we are experiencing…all of the ugly stuff that we have in our lives—unfiltered and unvarnished—as intensely expressed to God as it feels to us. You can get loud with God. Laying it all out for God straight from our hearts—this is a part of what it means to pray like you mean it. And Hannah did just that…
Hannah’s prayer begins in 1 Samuel with an anguished cry of the heart…weeping and crying out to God in her pain and agony. When we get to the next chapter, though, her prayer has changed. God heard her prayer and gave her the son that she so earnestly desired. Her sorrowful lament changed to praise, and she glorified God for his goodness and care…for his mighty works…for his justice and mercy. Such exalted language of praise is also a part of what it means to pray like you mean it. It is praying with abandonment. When we pray like we mean it, we are just as enthusiastically giving God our grateful praise as we are when we are in the depths of our souls praying in the nitty-gritty language of our hurt and pain.
Now back to my grandmother…Remember that she would eat just a little bit whenever she would come to the house for supper? Most of the time she merely played with her food. She would move it around on her plate to give the appearance that she was actually eating. But the reality was different. The truth is that she ate very little. She never took meal time seriously.
I think, for a lot of Christians, Grandma’s behavior at the supper table could be a metaphor for their prayer life. O they may pray a little bit from time to time. And certainly they pray whenever they want something from the Lord. But mostly, if they were being honest, they would have to admit that they just play at prayer. For whatever reason, prayer is neither a regular nor an essential part of their daily lives. And the truth is this: this lack of regular, fervent prayer is a hindrance in allowing the Holy Spirit to work in their lives…
Dallas Willard was a long-time professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. He was also a devout Christian who was an ordained Southern Baptist minister. In his best-known book The Spirit of the Disciplines, he wrote these telling lines that sum up a lot of what I have encountered in almost four decades of local church ministry. Willard wrote, “The ‘open secret’ of many ‘Bible believing’ churches is that a vanishingly small percentage of those talking about prayer and Bible reading are actually doing what they are talking about.”
That’s not the way it is supposed to be. Prayer is vital to the life and growth of the follower of Jesus. It may even be the single most important component of the life of the Spirit. To paraphrase a thought from the great 16th Century German reformer Martin Luther, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without [eating].” God has a spiritual feast prepared for us if we will take the time to come to him in prayer on a regular basis. He wants to nourish us with his presence. But too many times I fear we are just moving the food around on our plates…
I wonder…How healthy would all of us be if our dining habits reflected our prayer life? That is, what kind of physical shape would we be in if we ate with the same frequency and intentionality as we prayed on a daily basis? What do you think would happen? I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that we would all probably weigh a whole lot less than we do now. And I am confident that we would not be nearly as healthy nor as vital…
But it doesn’t have to be that way. God wants you to pray and to pray like you mean it. He wants to use those prayers in your life to cultivate a deeper, more passionate, more satisfying relationship with him. God wants to nourish us with his Spirit as he works to change us from the inside out. But there is only one way that that will happen. The first thing that you have to do is to begin to pray like you mean it. Every time. Every day.
May God grant us the grace to pray—and to pray like we mean it.
To God alone be the glory! Amen.
 Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines—Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988), 186.
 www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritaul-life/inspiring-quotes/31-prayer-quotes-be-inspired-and-encouraged.html (Accessed November 14, 2018) Original reads “breathing.”