What happens when you make a deal with
God, exchanging a promise for a gift?
Early in our marriage, Nancy and I sat in a coffee shop and talked about names for the children we might have. We settled on “Sarah” for a girl because her best friend from childhood had that name. And if we had a boy, we decided we would call him “Samuel,” mainly because we liked the name in all of its forms: Sam, Sammy, Samuel.
We became pregnant quickly and had a girl, Sarah. A couple years later, we were hoping for another child, but like Hannah and Elkanah we discovered that pregnancy did not always come easily. We could understand why Hannah, presenting herself before God in the temple at Shiloh, “was very upset and couldn’t stop crying as she prayed to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:10).
We wanted a baby, as Hannah did, but we didn’t make the promise to God that she did: “Don’t forget your servant! Give her a boy! Then I’ll give him to the Lord for his entire life. No razor will ever touch his head” (verse 11). We didn’t join her in making a deal with God, promising to show gratitude for a pregnancy by giving the child to God.
In both cases, however, a baby was born. Hannah had a son, whom she named Samuel, which means “I asked the Lord for him” (verse 20). She turned him over to Eli the priest and Samuel grew up to become one of the most influential leaders of the people of Israel. In our case, we also had a boy and named him Samuel. He too has been an answer to prayer, and like his biblical forebear “no razor will ever touch his head” (verse 11). Sam has grown up to be a civil engineer, and he likes to wear his hair long.
But what about the deal that Hannah made with God? She had grown tired of waiting for a child, so she asked God to give her a boy so that she could offer him to God. It was a classic quid pro quo, a favor for a favor. Dealing with God is not a transaction, however, like swiping a credit card in a vending machine. The gift of a boy-child does not magically appear when a desperate mother promises to give him to God.
The power of prayer is that it changes the people who pray, making them more peaceful and accepting and connected to God. Not everyone is able to have a child, but childlessness is not a barrier to living a full and faithful life, with deep connections to God and other people. In the end, our prayers are answered when God’s will is done, not when our dreams come true.
When we are dealing with God, the greatest answer to prayer is that we will be aligned with God’s will, linked to God and to each other in harmonious relationships. People who ask for such connections will always be heard by God and answered.
Prayer: Help me, God, with answers to prayer that advance your will and draw me closer to you. Amen.