A few days ago I was chatting with a friend and something brought us to talking about the lottery. And after a couple “can’t win if you don’t play” jokes, we deliberated for a minute or two about what it would be like to win one of those huge jackpots ($350-600mil). We joked about how much a private Caribbean island might run and commented about how permanent retirement at 36 might get a little boring even with hundreds of millions of dollars, and so on. Finally one of us said something like, “You know, if that ever happened I wouldn’t even know what to do with that kind of money…I’d have to find someone capable to help me think it through and use it well.” If it happened that you won the lottery, you’d want somebody savvy to help you take care of it all.
In 1 Kings 3, if you will, we have a big win at the divine lottery for young, King Solomon. Here God invites him ask for anything from the one who can give anything. Now this is a unique moment in history. God doesn’t make this same invitation to us – name whatever I should give you. But we are like Solomon. We have been invited by our Savior Jesus to pray – to ask God for what we need, to boldly seek his blessings, to bring him our burdens. The “giving God” wants his people to depend on his generosity. So this morning, let’s consider things this way: in the face of the extravagant generosity and unlimited capability of God, maybe we can take a cue from wise Solomon. Let’s analyze the one who prayed in the face of God’s generosity himself and apply it to our prayer life with the “giving God”. This morning let’s consider how we can pray like a king.
This king prays from God’s mercy. God invites Solomon this way, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Without a doubt, a list of things barreled through Solomon’s brain like a midnight freight train – he was human – but notice the first word out of Solomon’s mouth. It’s “You [Lord]…” First Solomon prayed about what God had done. He said, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David…You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.”
This is the mercy from which Solomon’s prayer arose:
- God’s kindness to David, his father: God raised David up from shepherd to national ninja-warrior. He preserved David from crazy King Saul, through calamity, to kingship. And, in 2 Samuel 7, he’d promised that David’s own son would sit on the throne. God had been “kind” in that he had been faithful to the promises he’d made to David.
- But more, it’s God’s kindness as “mercy” because of David’s “faithfulness”. If you took a quick trip back through Kings and Samuel, you could measure David’s “faithfulness”. We have only to mention names like Absalom, Amnon & Tamar, Joab, Bathsheba & Uriah – and your Bible story library begins to reference those gritty accounts. Add in those concepts like rape, murder, apathy, or that Solomon was an illegitimate love-child, and the stories are vivid and telling. We have a good sense of how “faithful” David had been. God’s “kindness” to David really was God’s undeserved love continually applied to David the sinner in forgiveness. So that only by faith in God’s mercy could Solomon call his father “faithful” and “upright”. He was someone who repentantly received forgiveness and peace and continued to trust in God’s grace and mercy.
God’s mercy was everything for David and Solomon. And it is everything for us too – the basis from which our prayers also flow. Or, they should…but it’s tempting for us to pray in other ways first. We might pray more during those weeks we think are better than some other weeks – as though we’re more worthy of God’s attention, and that he’ll listen and answer more because we’re more righteous. It could just be that we simply request or demand from God what we want or what we need and we forget why we can ask.
Truly, we pray for the same reason Solomon did: because of God’s mercy to David. It was God’s promise in 2 Samuel 7 to put a son on David’s throne that brought us a Savior from the line of David. God, in his mercy, brought not just Solomon but the king who would sit on David’s throne “forever” – the perfect King, Jesus. And it’s him that allows us to pray to God like Solomon. It’s Jesus whose righteousness covers over our “faithfulness” so that before God it is not sin but is actually beauty. From this King, Jesus, we have everything we need – as St. Paul said it: we are God’s “called” or chosen people, “justified” and not guilty of sins before him, “glorified” by his work right now and waiting for the glory that is more than we can ask or imagine. And “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
That’s exactly it, isn’t it? We pray, like Solomon, reflecting on all the things in which God’s worked for us: remembering all the blessings we can each list in our lives, considering all the ones we’ll never see, knowing they’re all from his mercy – that mercy we know most and best in Christ through whom we’re saved and able to pray. And then like Solomon we do pray, but according to God’s purpose.
This morning Solomon helps us to think about God’s purpose. He could have asked for anything, but consider how the king prays for wisdom with God’s people. Solomon felt a little “green” for the job of ruling God’s people, so he asked, “[G]ive your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” Literally, Solomon asked for a “hearing heart…to discern between good and evil.” How would that happen? Where would he turn his ear? Hymn 282 says it well, “Lord, open now my heart to hear, And through your Word to me draw near. Let me your Word e’er pure retain; Let me your child and heir remain.”
This morning we responsively spoke just a bit of that longest Psalm 119. Near the beginning of it the psalmist wrote: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Paraphrase: “I’ve put your Word, Scripture, deep into who I am, so that I know right from wrong and do it.” With Solomon, we who know God’s mercy – his undeserved love revealed in his holy Word – have every reason to pray for wisdom to know this Word and to live according to it. Because it’s just as Jesus pictured it in the Gospel:
- In God’s Word we have a treasure worth every penny we have in order to keep it – his Words are eternal life, the only way.
- In God’s Word we have a storeroom to which we can go back again and again for treasure after treasure that will actually enrich life. Here we learn what life truly is. Here we learn that riches come not from arrogance or wealth or personal safety but from “doing good, being rich in good deeds, being generous and willing to share,” so Paul, to Timothy the young pastor. Or as St. Paul more than once prayed, for his beloved people scattered around the Mediterranean – it wasn’t for riches, not so often for health, but most often that they would grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, that they know God and their relationship to him better, and so be able to glorify him more and more. Through his Word he gives this discernment, this wisdom.
It is good and God-pleasing for us to pray for many things, but especially for an understanding of his Word and a wise ability to use it for God’s glory. And for one other thing… You could say that Solomon was concerned for God’s people – for their spiritual welfare, their lives, their connection to God – so he prayed for whatever would help him help them.
It makes me think a little bit about the “buy local” efforts you see. That nice emphasis that there are real people with real, working businesses right next to you – and they need your business, they’re part of your community – and in your shopping you serve each other. There are certainly things around the world for which to pray, but for this morning can we “buy local” in a sense in our prayer lives – pray that our discernment help God’s people here in knowing what God loves? What about the elders of this, your church? Pray that you know and love his Word so that you can support and encourage them and they “govern” with wisdom. What about the mothers and fathers who are young? Pray that they parent in a godly way – and that you who know Jesus’ love from his Word encourage them with your smile or your help. What about your pastors? Pray that they be faithful and know God’s Word and be a help to God’s people – and help them do it by honoring and encouraging and supporting them as you already do. What about the life of this body of believers here? Pray that we’re able to do beautiful things with our talents in worship or picnics or buildings, and that all of it be for God’s glory and a great witness to our community. And there are others you might add – and that’s the beauty of God’s wise and caring people who know his Word. Use your wisdom and discernment to pray for what God loves, for what God’s people need, and to do it right along with them.
And, my friends, that we have asked for this discernment and love for his Word and will – and not only for ourselves or for things – with that God will be greatly pleased. May God daily remind us of his mercy and love in Jesus that allows us and moves us to so beautifully, royally live and pray. Amen.