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When Women Pray: 10 Women of the Bible Who Changed the World Through Prayer
by T.D. Jakes
Learn More | Meet T.D. Jakes
When women pray, God brings about new life.
It had been a long day, and Eli settled gratefully into his chair near the doorway of the tabernacle. He stretched his legs and flexed his toes, working out the aches and pains long familiar from years of work.
Around him, the city of Shiloh buzzed with activity. A large group of travelers had arrived to offer their sacrifices to God. People and cattle milled about the various courts and lawns, each waiting for their turn. The smell of fire and smoke was strong in the air, infused with the tantalizing aroma of roasted meat.
From his chair, Eli could hear the voices of his sons, Hophni and Phinehas, as they performed the sacrifices within the interior of the tabernacle. Proclamations of blessing over families and children. Declarations of forgiveness. Vows and exhortations offered to God along with the necessary meat and salt and bread.
Because of his advanced age, Eli had passed much of the responsibility for these sacrifices down to his sons. But he remained the high priest, which meant there was still much for him to do. Much to accomplish and many people to greet. But for now he lingered in his chair, savoring the rest.
A motion at the corner of his eye caused Eli to glance out across the lawn. He saw a woman walking alone, which was unusual. No, not really walking—more like staggering. She had hugged both of her arms across her chest and was lurching and bouncing between people and horses and cattle as if her eyes were closed. When she turned in his direction, Eli saw her eyes were closed. More than that, her lips were moving rapidly without making any sound. She was mumbling to herself.
The old priest shook his head. He had seen it many times before. Wealthy families who offered large sacrifices shared a large meal together with their portion of the meat—which they often supplemented with more-than-generous portions of wine.What was meant to be a celebration of God’s goodness and the cleansing of sin could quickly slide into debauchery.
“How long are you going to stay drunk?” Eli called out to the woman. He was a little surprised at his own outburst, but he hated to see such corruption so near to God’s own house. “Put away your wine!”
When the woman opened her eyes and looked into his, Eli flinched. He couldn’t help it. The pain he saw in her face told him he had been wrong in his judgment.
Oh, so wrong.
Two Truths about Hannah
Hannah, the woman described above, is the first woman of prayer I want to highlight in these pages. There are several reasons for that choice. For one thing, Hannah’s story is fascinating. It’s also poignant and inspirational. But the main reason I am beginning this book with Hannah is that her story is so approachable. It’s relatable.
I can say with confidence that Hannah’s story will connect with your story in many important ways.
As we begin, there are two truths we need to know about Hannah in order to truly understand the depth of her story. The first is that Hannah lived with an unfulfilled longing.
In 1 Samuel we read that Hannah was married to a wealthy man named Elkanah. We know he was wealthy because he had enough resources to travel with his entire family to God’s tabernacle at Shiloh every year in order to make sacrifices on behalf of his family. Not only that, the sacrifices Elkanah offered were cattle—sheep or goats or bulls. In the Jewish law, the poorer families of Israel were allowed to use bread or grain for their sacrifices, or perhaps a pair of birds. But Elkanah had a ready supply of meat. He was wealthy.
There’s more. Not only was Hannah married to a wealthy man, the Scriptures say “he loved her” (1:5), meaning that she had been blessed with financial stability, a loving spouse, and spiritual vitality within her household.
What then could be wrong? What else could be missing?
The answer was children. Hannah was barren. Instead of carrying a child, she carried an unfulfilled longing. But there’s another layer to Hannah’s longing that is important to lay bare if we want to understand the depth of her situation—the depth of her sorrow.
Way back in the book of Genesis, God made a promise to Eve that one of her descendants would rise up and crush the head of the serpent we know as Satan. The verse is Genesis 3:15, which theologians call the protevangelium—“first gospel.” With the benefit of history, we know that prophecy refers to Jesus, whose death on the cross was the hammer blow that crushed Satan’s plans and power for all eternity.
For the ancient Israelites, however, the promise of Genesis 3:15 was a constant source of hope. No matter how dark the world became, no matter how sinister people behaved, there remained a promise from the Creator that evil would be defeated. As a result, Hebrew women counted themselves blessed through childbearing. Every new life kindled in every womb was an extension of God’s promise to one day make right all that had been made wrong.
Therefore, Hannah’s longing was not only for a child, but for the chance to participate in that blessing. That promise. She wanted a chance to deliver the One who would ultimately deliver everyone. Her barrenness excluded her from that opportunity, which made her unfulfilled longing all the more painful.
My father taught me never to ask a question when I already know the answer, so I won’t ask whether you, too, have an unfulfilled longing. I already know you do.
Maybe you are similar to Hannah in that you have longed for years to feel the soft skin of an infant against your cheek and hear the laughter of children in your home. Maybe you yearn for a spouse to share your life with, or maybe you wish your current spouse would touch you and speak to you with tenderness rather than sharpness. Maybe your longing is for a career that would help you find meaning and purpose. Maybe it’s financial stability. Maybe it’s a house in which you can feel safe. Maybe it’s a deeper knowledge of God and deeper experiences with Him.
Whatever your specific desire may be, we all carry the burden of unfulfilled longings. We all feel the burden and the void of dreams yet to come true.
The second truth we need to know about Hannah is that she had a rival. The Scriptures say Elkanah had two wives: Hannah and Peninnah. And listen to this: “Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none” (1 Sam. 1:2).
Can you feel the pain in that verse? The frustration? The text goes on to say that Peninnah continually “provoked” Hannah about their situation. She would intentionally push Hannah’s buttons and remind her of her barrenness. This happened so frequently and so painfully that Hannah often “wept and would not eat” (1:7). She constantly mourned her lack of children, and she was constantly reminded of that lack because of her rival.
From Provocation to Prayer
How do you respond when you feel provoked? I’m not asking how people are supposed to respond or how you would like to respond. How do you respond?
As an example, how do you respond when someone who looks the way you would like to look first comes into your orbit? Or your husband’s orbit? How do you respond when a coworker lands the promotion you deserve? How do you respond when that mother at the park says something nasty because your kids aren’t behaving as well as hers? How do you respond when you are provoked by a rival?
In my experience, there are two basic choices we can make when we respond to provocation. The first choice is to get jealous. To become envious.
When you see someone living out a blessing you have longed to receive, you get that bitter taste in your mouth. You covet, imagining how sweet life would be if you had what she has and she were stuck with what you’ve been dealing with all these years. She doesn’t even appreciate what she’s got. Why in the world would God be so generous in her life when I’ve been praying and sacrificing and working for so much longer than she has?
You can even reach a point in your envy and your bitterness that you try to tear the other person down to make yourself feel better. You can fool yourself into believing that making your rival feel smaller will somehow increase your own stature.
Or, you might even get cynical toward God Himself. Lord, You know I deserve this blessing more than she does. God, I cannot believe You have ignored me month after month, year after year, and yet You respond instantly to the needs of someone who doesn’t even worship You. It’s not fair!
Speaking frankly, the temptation to walk this path is strong for pastors and preachers. I remember many times during the early decades of my ministry when I would look around at others and feel the pull toward envy. Toward bitterness. Imagine the impact I could make if I had that kind of platform. Imagine what our church could accomplish if we had this church’s budget or that church’s building. Many times I was in danger of drifting into cynicism but for the wise counsel of those God had placed in my life to guide me toward a better way.
Thankfully, there is a better way.
The second choice you can make when you are provoked by a rival is to pray. Specifically, you can recognize that if God chose to birth a blessing in your rival’s life, then He has the power to birth that same blessing—or an even greater blessing—in you. Which means you should turn to Him in prayer and ask for that blessing rather that lay hands on what has already been given to someone else.
Do you realize that God often intentionally brings rivals into your life to provoke you? Not to provoke you to anger or jealousy, but to provoke you toward greatness. To poke you and prod you toward the potential He sees in you. When you encounter those who look better, do better, have better, love better, wear better, drive better—whatever the “better” is—you need to understand there is a real possibility God is using that provocation to point you toward Himself so that He can bless you in the same way.
Hannah chose the path of prayer. After a particularly painful dinner confrontation with Peninnah while the family was in Shiloh, Hannah rose from the table and prayed her way to the tabernacle. God’s house.
When Eli saw her, she was “in deep anguish” and “weeping bitterly.” She appealed to the Lord: “If you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son” (1:11). After the high priest confronted her, Hannah answered by saying, “I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief” (1:15–16).
Let me stop the story for a moment and offer a principle I believe is critical for prayer: whenever you approach the throne of God, be yourself.
Notice that Hannah did not rely on flowery language or ten-dollar words as she prayed. She cried out to God. Even as she wept bitterly, she wove an appeal through her weeping. She prayed with intensity. She prayed with fervency. She prayed with such passion and such desire that Eli believed her to be drunk. May the same be said of us! May the same be true of us when we bow our faces to the ground in front of our Heavenly Father and plead with Him about our deepest needs.
Do you sometimes feel God would grant your request if only you knew the right words to pray? If only you could find that exact turn of phrase? Reject that thought. There are no magic words in prayer. There is only the grace of God.
Do you sometimes believe your prayers would be answered if only someone special would pray for you? Someone anointed? Someone more spiritual than you or more holy than you? Reject that notion. The Bible says, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10). You don’t need any person to make your prayers more effective. You need God’s Holy Spirit to intercede on your behalf.
Do you assume God would pay more attention to your prayers if you were a better person? Or do you try to behave better or act more “godly” on the days you pray because you think God will take you more seriously when you are more spiritual? Stop it. You can’t twist God’s arm and make Him do what you want; you can only kneel at His feet, pour out your heart, and believe He will answer—and that His answer will be for your benefit.
In short, when you come before God in prayer, come as you are. Stop worrying about your image and stop worrying about what you look like or what people might think about you. Fall on your knees before God with passion and fervency, and He will open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing you won’t have room enough to receive!
That’s what Hannah experienced.
Blessings of Life
I love what the Scripture says in 1 Samuel 1:19: “Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her.”
It’s the last phrase in verse 19 that gets me every time: “the Lord remembered her.” Why? Because she prayed.
Now, that doesn’t mean God had forgotten about Hannah prior to that prayer. This was not a situation where God was out washing the car in the driveway and received a heavenly text message that said, “Hannah wants a baby,” then He smacked His forehead and said, “I forgot about her.” No! Our God is all-knowing and all-seeing. He is sovereign at all times, and He is constantly aware of every single moment of our lives.
The word remembered in verse 19 is a way of signaling in the Hebrew language that God made a decision to act. God had heard every one of Hannah’s past prayers throughout all the years of her life. He had answered every previous prayer by saying, “Wait.” “Wait.” “Not yet.” “Still not yet.”
But in this moment, after this specific prayer, God remembered Hannah and changed His answer. Responding to that prayer, He said yes. As a result, “in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son” (1:20).
Let me say something from the depths of my heart that I hope you will hear: God remembers you. I know you may find that difficult to believe, but hear me: He remembers you. He has always remembered you!
All the nights you wondered and worried about the future, God remembered you. All the times you did without, He remembered you. All the times you hugged a pillow and cried yourself to sleep, He saw you and stood by you and remembered you. Yes, sometimes you do things for other people and they forget you, but God doesn’t forget you. I believe the Lord planned from the beginning of time for you to be right here in this moment reading the words on this page because He wants you to know He remembers you.
God has not forgotten you. Just as He did not forget Hannah.
More than that, God has a plan for you, just as He had a plan for Hannah. Specifically, He had a plan to bring a blessing to her body—to give life to her life.
God actively desires to create new life in our world. He actively desires to bring new life into your family. Even when you believe your dream is dead, God is ready and willing to resurrect that dream and breathe life into what you thought was lost.
That’s why I’m so excited to see a new generation of women who pray—because prayer is the key that unlocks God’s blessings!
Look at what Hannah said in verse 20: “She named him Samuel, saying, ‘Because I asked the Lord for him.’ ” She asked. That is the beauty and the simplicity of prayer. We often make prayer more complicated than it needs to be, but at the core prayer is simply talking with God. It’s telling Him about our needs and desires and asking Him to act. It’s also listening to His voice when He answers those requests—because He does answer.
The name Samuel means “heard by God.” Isn’t it wonderful to know that we serve a God who hears us? We don’t serve the idols of old that were deaf and dumb because they were carved by human hands. We serve a God whose hands reach out to touch us, whose eyes watch us with tenderness, and whose ears are always attentive to our prayers.
Take a moment to think about your unfulfilled longings—those dreams and desires you’ve carried for what seems like a lifetime. Are you talking to God about them? Have you asked God to receive them? If so, keep asking. He hears you. He has not forgotten you.
If you have not been asking God to receive those longings, there is no better time than the present. You don’t need fancy words. You don’t need to clean yourself up or find a preacher to pray on your behalf. Simply come to God as you are—and ask.
Because when women pray, God brings about new life.
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