So many breakthrough stories begin with a hopeless situation. A widow facing the impending death of her son followed shortly by her own, a city under siege where the people are starving to death and considering eating their children, or a nation incapable of constantly following God and keeping to his laws. So often the odds stacked against a good outcome seem insurmountable. In times like these our prayers are no longer the impassive, let’s-wait-and-see, type of prayers which can be offered from the armchair; they become desperate, impassioned and personal.

There is another desire. This is borne out of an encounter with God; a desire for more; to experience that overwhelming sense of his perfect presence again. And again. The poet/king David wrote, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” (Psalm 42:1) The exhausted animal fleeing from the hunter longs to pause for a second to gulp from a cool mountain stream, to slake her parched throat, to find refreshed stamina and make good her escape. This desire is strong enough to evoke the rash kind of promises a lover makes to their beloved in the intensity of romantic love. When love has been truly awakened no price seems too high, no obstacle too daunting that the lover will not take the challenge to overcome—or die in the attempt. It is the same awakened love which compelled the passionate Peter to boldly assert that he would die for Jesus. History records that Peter and many millions of others have gone on to do precisely that.

Desire is often the motivating force that urges a couple to attempt to create a new life together. In those cases where their efforts to conceive a child by the natural process fail, this desire can become almost unbearable. Mothers and fathers living in the days when the pages of the bible were being penned had none of the array of options offered by modern technology, but they did feel,every bit the intensity of longing experienced by childless couples today. The stories of Abraham and Sarah, Hannah and Elkanah and Elizabeth and Zechariah are the stories of real people, not distilled archetypal fables. If we zoom in and take a look in 1 Samuel 1, we read the account of Hannah and Elkanah. He was married to two women, in the day when polygamy was prevalent. (The bible gives accounts of, not permission for this practice.) Hannah was childless, whilst Peninnah had two children. The story describes the brokenhearted prayers that this woman uttered to God on their yearly trip to make sacrifices at Shiloh. She was unable to speak because of her grief; incoherent groans were all she could muster. Eli the ageing priest, known more for compromise than cutting edge discernment, presumes Hannah to be drunk and rebukes her for her apparent irreverence.

The poor broken woman is mortified that her desperate cries to God should be interpreted in this way, prompting the priest to hurriedly bless her. But in the depths of her longing she promised God that if he would just give her the joy of bearing a son, she would give him to God, just as soon as she had stopped breastfeeding him. Samuel was just a little boy when his mother brought him to the very place where she had prayed for him and left him with the priest. This whole story is so far away from a Western 21st Century way of thinking. Our minds boggle at the safeguarding issues raised by a little boy sleeping in whatever building housed the Ark of the Covenant and the golden lamp stand in those days. But as the story unfolds we see a young person growing up in the presence of God. He learned to hear the voice of God even in a culture of spiritual apathy and moral decline. He became a deliverer for the whole nation of Israel, re-establishing them as a nation governed by God. He was such an outstanding prophet, that God ensured that every word spoken by Samuel, he himself authenticated and made sure it happened. Wow!

So, what’s my point? God wants our prayers in order to release his breakthrough. Breakthrough for the nation of Israel sometimes looked like a baby for a childless couple, sometimes like an edict from a pagan king—always it came as a result of a heart cry to God. At the time of the birth of Jesus there appear a number of characters who had been praying and crying out to God for the Messiah for decades. An old man named Simeon—God had promised him he would not die until he saw the Messiah—and an old widow named Anna (same name at Hannah, incidentally). All Anna did with her adult life was pray. God spoke to her that morning that her breakthrough had come. Her breakthrough? His breakthrough. She arrived at the temple only to see Mary, Joseph and the tiny baby appear.

When it gets personal; when our prayers come from the deepest place of desire; when we find ourselves groaning as if in labour, we can expect breakthrough. When God’s prayers are our prayers, our breakthrough is his breakthrough.