I was 16. When the sermon was over, I knew what I needed to do. No, this isn’t the story of my baptism, nor of a time I chose to go forward at the invitation. It was a time when the sermon moved me so much that I left the assembly immediately after the closing prayer and hid in the bathroom to pray. I prayed for forgiveness. I prayed for strength. And I texted a friend, asking them to help me overcome my sin.
I’m not sure why I needed to hide to pray, but I did, and I still do. There is something about being in crowds that makes me feel like I cannot stop and pray. Maybe I feel rude ignoring the people around me, or maybe I’m afraid of people knowing I have urgent sin in my life, but I rarely pray when people are around.
Hannah didn’t have that fear.
“She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, ‘O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.’
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. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.’ Then Eli answered, ‘Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.’ And she said, ‘Let your servant find favor in your eyes.’ Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.” (1 Samuel 1:10-18)
Hannah was so deeply moved with the need to pray that there was no time to find a quiet place and no care what anyone seeing her would think. Eli, in fact, thinks she is drunk, but she simply corrects him. Hannah is not alone in this bold kind of worship. David raises Michal’s ire for the way he worships God (2 Samuel 6:16). But David doesn’t let this dampen his spirit because his worship is not about her. Hannah’s prayer is not about Eli. When we sing or pray, or dance to God, it is not about what other people will think. It is about you and God.
In fairness, Paul does command us to have care for others’ understanding and edification in public worship (1 Corinthians 14), but when you are privately praying in the pews or singing a hymn in your bedroom, it’s not about what other people will think. We don’t need to be embarrassed about our love and dependence on God. Let’s strive to be more like Hannah. Let’s worship boldly without fear of what others might think. This is true worship.