You meet up with a friend from church for coffee and they tell you about the tough time they're having trying to pray. They describe how they sit down on the side of their bed, struggling to stay awake and struggling even more to find the words to pray – words that that just seem to disappear into the ether. They wonder if it's just time to give up and stay in bed. What encouragement would you have for them? It's not going to surprise you that I say that we can learn a lot about prayer in general from today's passage, particularly what we should prioritise in our prayers, but I also think that through this passage we can learn something that may well change the way we think about prayer itself and that would bring real encouragement to you and your friend.
We're looking at 1 Kings chapter 8, so please turn there since we'll be working through this prayer chunk by chunk. This passage fits really quite nicely after King David's prayer we looked at last week. That prayer was about the giving for the temple that his son, Solomon, was going to build. And here in this passage we find Solomon praying at the opening ceremony of that temple. And quite the opening it was, as God himself crashes the well planned event by filling the temple with his glory such that the people had to evacuate. God's presence had been firmly established in God's place, the land of Israel. This was a huge moment for God's people, and all of this prompts Solomon to respond in prayer.
I have 3 points and my first is that we learn from Solomon how to pray big prayers for God's people.
1. How to pray big prayers for God's people
Solomon teaches us something about how to pray with God's agenda. He prays from the perspective of a godly leader caring for his people. So we're bound to learn important things – from what and how to pray here in church, at the HTG prayer meeting, in home groups or on our own or meeting with someone we bump into on the street.
There's five things he does, and five things to notice, and the first thing to notice is that he makes praising God the first thing.
a) Praising God is the first thing in prayer (v22-24)
Read with me from v22
22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands towards heaven
23 and said:
O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below— you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.
24 You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it— as it is today.
Solomon makes the praise of God the first thing. There's no God like you in heaven above or on earth below. Solomon praises God because he's a promise keeping God, and one promise is particularly on Solomon's mind. Did you notice Solomon is driven to praise God here because God is a God who has kept his promises to King David. What was that promise? Back in 1 Chronicles, God told David:
"Solomon your son is the one who will build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father"
God promised David that Solomon would have the privilege of building his temple, and now on the day of its opening, Solomon remembers that promise that had been passed down to him by his father, he remembers and rejoices and praises God.
And that's the key to praising God isn't it? To see and remember what God is doing and has done, to ascribe it to his name, and to praise him for it. At the completion of this massive building project, Solomon doesn't thank the builders and give them a reference on LinkedIn. He doesn't say "isn't this building wonderful, really a beautiful place we've made, must take a photo and post it on facebook". He says God – this building is here, and I am here on this day, simply and only because you promised it.
It's a lesson to us that we shouldn't rob God of the glory when he does amazing things in our lives, in the lives of people around us, or in the wider world. We shouldn't be too quick to give the credit to the NHS alone for our recovery. We shouldn't be too quick to give credit to the job agency, or the financial adviser, or even the preacher or small group leader or music leader. We should look at the amazing things God has done, recognise his promise to be faithful to his people and praise him. We should remember his promises – like when Jesus says he will never leave us or forsake us. That is a promise. He says whenever we gather together, there he is. He promises to build his church and not allow the gates of Hell to prevail as the church storms it. And so when we see his church being built, when we see the risen Jesus at work, we should praise God for the promises he has kept toward us.
Praising God is the first thing in prayer. The next thing Solomon does is an extension of the first – he asks God to continue to keep his promises.
b) Ask that God would continue to keep his promises (v25-26)
So let's read on from v25, where he prays
25 Now LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, 'You shall never fail to have a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons are careful in all they do to walk before me as you have done.'
26 And now, O God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true.
Solomon asks God to keep his promises. But doesn't this show a lack of faith in God? Why doesn't Solomon just trust God to keep his promises – is he uncertain about God's faithfulness or is he afraid that God's actually a little forgetful? Well, no. He's just finished praising God for his faithfulness and remembering him. Instead, this prayer reveals that Solomon knows himself as well as knowing God. He knows all too well that the "if only your sons are careful in all they do to walk before me" is something he cannot keep on his own. He knows that the human heart is the most deceitful of all things and desperately wicked and his prayer here is that God would keep him faithful. Keep him from straying, keep him close to God.
And that's a good thing for us to pray about ourselves and those around us isn't it? When was the last time you asked God to make and keep your spouse, children or those in your small group faithful to God? More so, of course, is a plea that he would keep you and your heart which is so prone to sin, close to him and faithful to him all of your days.
The third thing Solomon prays about is justice in v31.
c) Bring justice (v31-32)
Have a look with me there
31 When a man wrongs his neighbour and is required to take an oath and he comes and swears the oath before your altar in this temple,
32 then hear from heaven and act. Judge between your servants, condemning the guilty and bringing down on his own head what he has done. Declare the innocent not guilty, and so establish his innocence.
Solomon prays for justice. The follower of God should always be interested in justice being done, because God is a just God. Solomon wants justice to be done here on Earth – he wants that part of God's kingdom to be realised here as well as in heaven. And justice is something that we need to pray for, for just governments, just law and just law enforcement. But it's the church overseas that we should most desperately pray for in this area, isn't it? We've prayed in the past for Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani on death row for apostasy plus a bunch of false accusations. Then there are the millions of Christians who are discriminated against just because they are Christian. We need to pray for those lies to be exposed and for justice to be done. Many of you get news of the persecuted church from Barnabas Fund or similar, and the rest of you should do. If you don't, then write down Barnabas Fund on your service sheet and google it when you get home and sign up for their prayer diary or email bulletin, and then use it, so that you can join with Solomon in praying that God would bring justice to this earth.
The next thing Solomon prays for is that God would forgive the sins of his people. Read from v33:
d) Forgive sins (v33-36a)
33 When your people Israel have been defeated by an enemy because they have sinned against you, and when they turn back to you and confess your name, praying and making supplication to you in this temple,
34 then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them back to the land you gave to their fathers.
35 When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray towards this place and confess your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them,
36 then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel.
Solomon prays that God would forgive his people. Any time one of us comes before the holy God, we, like Solomon, should be reminded that we have sin on our hands. If you pray often but confess your sins little, then you probably have a faulty view of yourself. If the only time you confess your sins is here on a Sunday morning, then this is something you need to put into action. Today, when you sin, and you will, join with Solomon by asking that God would forgive your sins – and the sins of the church, ask him to help you and us turn from them, and rejoice in knowing that he will.
The final thing Solomon prays about – at least that we'll look at today - flows directly on from that – he prays that God would teach his people the right way to live.
e) Teach his people the right way to live (v36b)
Look with me at the end of v36
36b: Teach them the right way to live…
God doesn't just leave us forgiven but knowing no better how to live. He wants to give us something to replace sin with. He doesn't just say flee sin, he says pursue righteousness. He doesn't just say don't worry, but instructs us to think about noble and good things. He doesn't just say don't look at pornography, he says get your thinking right about sex. God wants us to learn how to live life to the full, not return to sin like a dog does to vomit. And that's a good thing to pray for isn't it? Teach me, teach my family, teach my children, teach us your church, Lord, how to live to please you! Don't just let us keep sinning and repeating the same things, but rescue us from that and teach us to live lives that please you. He wants to teach his people the right way to live.
Solomon goes on to pray more, and you could read the rest at home over lunch, but those are the key things he prays for. He teaches us what to prioritise in prayer. What's also interesting is that he gives two reasons for God to answer those prayers. And that's my second point: God will hear our prayers because of who God is and what he's done.
2. God will hear our prayers because of who God is and what he's done
God will hear our prayers because of who God is and what he's done. The key thing God has done is God had chosen this people as his own.
a) Because God had chosen this people as his own (v52-53)
Read with me from v52
52 May your eyes be open to your servant's plea and to the plea of your people Israel, and may you listen to them whenever they cry out to you.
53For you singled them out from all the nations of the world to be your own inheritance, just as you declared through your servant Moses when you, O Sovereign LORD, brought our fathers out of Egypt.
Solomon expects God to answer his prayer because he's praying for God people – the people who God called out from amongst all the nations of the earth to be his own inheritance. These are the people he rescued from Egypt. These are the people he's been faithful to, sending the prophets who they killed, one after another. God is going to answer those prayers because God has been and will be committed to those people. And so in the same way, God will answer our prayers because he has called us out from among the nations. He has shared the good news of Jesus with us gentiles; he demonstrated his commitment to us by sending not prophets but his son. He will answer our prayers because that Son died for us and reigns in heaven as a mediator between us and him, until the time when he will send Jesus to collect us as his eternal inheritance. That is the first reason why you can know God will hear your prayer.[pause]
The second reason Solomon gave for God to answer his prayers was so that all people on Earth will know the LORD.
b) So all people on Earth will know the LORD (v59-60)
Look with me from v59
59 And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day's need,
60so that [what does it say] all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.
God is the ultimate evangelist and Solomon knows that. God doesn't want to keep himself a secret. He wants all people everywhere to know who he is. He wants all people everywhere to hear the gospel of Jesus. He wants all the peoples of earth to know that the LORD is God and that any other God – whether that be Allah or Krishna or comfort – all of those gods are false and empty because the only true God is the LORD – the God who chooses a people, reveals himself to his people and makes an eternal covenant in the blood of his Son that cannot be broken. And because he wants all people everywhere to know he is the only true God, he will answer the prayers of his people, he will keep his promises to us, he would bring justice and forgive sins and teach us how to live. God will answer our prayers because God has chosen us as his people and he will answer our prayers so that all people on Earth would hear how wonderful he is and turn to him as well. [pause]
It's an impressive prayer isn't it? It's big, it's bold. It's setting is amazing. It has a place in history. The glory of God filling his temple, the people amassed at the completion of this glorious building after being promised for so long. A sense of permanence in the land God had promised them. What an occasion. Wouldn't it be amazing to be able to experience something like that and pray like Solomon did?
Well, if you're thinking that, as is easy to do, then there's an important shock today. And the shock is that rather than you envying Solomon's prayer life, he would have envied yours because there is something lacking in his prayer life that we have. In fact the truth of the matter is that Solomon would have crawled over hot coals to get the opportunity and privilege you have as you sit down to pray on the edge of your bed. My final very brief point is why Solomon would have envied your prayer life.
3. Why Solomon would have envied your prayer life
Two reasons. The first is that we have more confidence – total confidence – that God hears us when we pray
a) We have total confidence that God hears
One of the striking things about this prayer is the number of times Solomon asks God to "hear his prayer". Look with me back at v28.
28 Yet give attention to your servant's prayer and his plea for mercy, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day.
29 May your eyes be open towards this temple night and day, this place of which you said, 'My Name shall be there,' so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays towards this place.
30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray towards this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling-place, and when you hear, forgive.
The Israelites did not know if today was a day of grace or a day of judgement. Would today be a day that God overlooked their sins, or sent drought?
But for those of us in Christ Jesus, we have promises like 1 John 1:7
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness
People sometimes pray in church "in your mercy, hear our prayer". I don't know what people mean by that, but if they mean, "God, we're not totally sure if you will hear our prayer, but we ask that you do", then they've traded in a certain promise of God that he would hear our prayers for poor impression of the real thing. Those of us in Christ, have something better in prayer than Solomon.
The second reason why Solomon would have envied your prayer life is that we have the Spirit of God living within us.
b) We have the Spirit of God living within us
Look with me at v10-11
10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD.
11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple.
Solomon rejoiced at the building of the temple, but he had to leave when God's glory entered it. The cloud filled the temple and drove them out. But at Pentecost, we got something infinitely better - the Spirit of God took residence in the life of each and every believer and made their bodies temples of the Holy Spirit. We don't sit on the outside longing for God's presence. He guarantees it to all who put their trust in him. Those of us in Christ, have something better than a temple made of stone, we have the Spirit of Christ living within us. And the Spirit cries out in prayer "Abba, Father".
Solomon would have crawled over hot coals to have what we have in prayer, because we have Christ.
How would you encourage your friend struggling in prayer? Let them know that the God of the universe guarantees to hear their prayer, his Spirit helps us to pray even when we don't know the words, because he's chosen us, and he's committed to showing the world how great he is.