Two Sundays ago, we began this sermon series by examining one of the prayers of King David. In looking at his prayer, we identified three essential components that should be included in our own prayers. In David’s prayer, we noted his humble approach, his heartfelt praise, and his honourable petition.
One of the ways we determine what is most essential when reading Scripture is we look for things; we look for exhortations; we look for principles that are repeated. As we examine, this morning, a prayer of King Solomon we find that all three of the principles found in David’s prayer are repeated in Solomon’s prayer, albeit in a slightly different order.
But before we examine Solomon’s prayer, we need to note a couple of things. The author of 1Kings makes an important statement in chapter 3, verse 3, when he writes: “Solomon loved the Lord”. This statement comes on the heels of 2Samuel 12:24, where the announcement of Solomon’s birth is followed by the statement, “the Lord loved him”.
The context then, for Solomon’s prayer, is a loving relationship with the Lord. For Solomon, God is not distant; God is not treated merely as a cosmic vending machine that responds robotically to the requests of his creation. Quite the contrary, for Solomon; for the Christian; the God of the universe is a personal, loving, and generous God. But as we will soon see, the generosity of God is most clearly seen in the context of a loving relationship with His children.
Without this relationship, we can have no assurance that God will answer our prayers. Without this relationship, we are like those described by Isaiah: “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear (you)” (Isa. 59:2).
So you see, there are those who pray in vain, and there are those whom the Lord hears. And the determining factor is whether we are in a loving relationship with God. The determining factor is whether it can said of us that we love the Lord Jesus Christ.
One other unique aspect of the context of Solomon’s prayer is that it occurs in the midst of a dream. Appearing to Solomon “in a dream at night”, God said, “Ask for whatever you want Me to give to you” (3:5 NIV).
With this statement, God places no limits or restrictions on what Solomon could have asked for. With such an invitation, we might expect Solomon to launch immediately into a long list of petitions. But he does not do this. Solomon begins his prayer with heartfelt praise. Solomon thanks God for His “great mercy” (KJV) and acknowledges that he is king as a direct consequence of the mercy God extended to his father David (3:6).
Solomon then moves from heartfelt praise to a humble approach. Like his father David, Solomon could have been forgiven if he were to boast a bit. Solomon’s ascension to the throne was met with little opposition, causing the author of 1Kings to comment, “Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established” (1Kings 2:12).
Solomon, like his father, was smart, powerful, and wealthy. He was a young man, likely in his early twenties, and his position on the throne appeared to be even more secure than that of his father’s. Who could have blamed Solomon if were to walk around with a puffed chest, saying, ‘Look at me! I am the mighty king of Israel!’ But he didn’t do that. Instead, he humbly confessed to the Lord, “I am but a child; I do not know how to go out or to come in” (3:7).
Solomon, the most powerful man in the world, prayed from a position of weakness. And he was prudent in doing so. Compared to the One whom he was speaking with, compared to the Lord, he was exceedingly weak.
Beloved, is this our approach in prayer? Do we pray to God confessing that we come to Him from a position of weakness? Or do we come to God with a puffed chest believing that God is somehow obligated to give us whatever we ask for? Clearly, we all need to heed Solomon’s example; we need to come to God with a humble approach and with heartfelt praise.
And thirdly, Solomon comes to God with an honourable petition, he prays, “give Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people to discern between good and evil” (3:9).
God’s response to Solomon’s petition is most favourable; the author of 1Kings writes, “it was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked for this thing” (3:10).
What sweet words those are! How I long to have the heavenly host say of my prayers, ‘it was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Bryn MacPhail had asked for this thing.’ If ever you needed motivation to pray, I cannot imagine a better motivation than this: Honourable petitions bring pleasure to God.
As a parent of a two year-old, I have some understanding of what it means to take pleasure in honourable petitions and, also, what it means to be disappointed by imprudent petitions. Allie and I have been in the habit of asking Anya, each morning, what she wants for breakfast. A few months ago, Anya’s answer would be one of three things: a) Cheerios, b) Rice Krispies, or 3) berries (strawberries or blueberries). In response to Anya’s petition for one of these three things we were always delighted to give her what she asked for.
I am embarrassed to report that her petitions have since changed. Some of the things Anya has recently requested for breakfast include: potato chips, ice cream, and French fries. Needless to say, not once have we granted Anya any of these items for breakfast. Consequently, Allie and I dearly miss Anya’s honourable petitions for nutritious food.
I fear that the Lord may feel the same way about some of our petitions. As we continue to ask for things that are not good for us, the Lord determines to refuse our imprudent requests. But it is not as if the Lord is stingy. No! Scripture attests to the fact that the Lord delights in, and generously responds to, the honourable petitions of His children.
We see this is God’s response to Solomon’s prayer, “Because you have asked for this thing and have not asked for yourself a long life, nor have you asked for riches, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but you have asked for discernment to understand justice, behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you” (3:11, 12).
In response to Solomon’s honourable petition, God gives him exactly what he asks for. I wonder if James had Solomon in mind when he wrote, “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (Jas. 1:5).
What an encouragement it is to learn that if our petition is honourable, The Lord is eager to grant us our request. And, not only does the Lord grant us what we ask for, but His generosity extends beyond our own expectations. God says to Solomon, “I have also given you what you have not asked (for), both riches and honour, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days” (3:13).
Charles Spurgeon calls this pattern, of giving more than what is requested, “the divine habit”, observing from Scripture that “(God) not only redeems His promises, but when He (promises to) meet them in silver, He prefers to pay them in gold.”
Up to this point, everything that the Lord has promised to grant Solomon has been unconditionally promised. In other words, Solomon doesn’t need to do anything to get these things. He simply prays. He asks God to provide without offering anything in return. It is, quite frankly, the position of a beggar.
Admittedly, this approach is a pride-squashing exercise. And, perhaps, this explains why so many Christians struggle with prayer. For many Christians, we are quite comfortable doing, serving, and giving, but we are not very good at asking. For many Christians, we have no difficulty reading our Bible, or attending church services—we may even sign up to serve on a committee. And yet, these same Christians struggle to pray.
Beloved, does this describe you? Are you so busy attempting to endear yourself to God by your good deeds, are you so busy working to earn the favour of God and your Christian peers, that you have neglected the all-important task of bowing humbly before God, in heartfelt praise, offering up to Him honourable petitions?
By worldly standards, Solomon had more reason to be self-sufficient than any of us here. And yet, Solomon abandons any notion self-sufficiency in order to confess before the Lord his desperate need for help. Solomon prays for wisdom and God responds by promising to give him wisdom, riches and honour—no strings attached.
Now, I should say a word about how the Bible describes ‘wisdom’. Biblical ‘wisdom’ should not merely be equated with knowledge. More precisely, biblical wisdom is knowledge rightly applied. Biblical wisdom refers, not only to what a person knows, but it also refers to how a person lives.
With this in mind, we come to the last thing promised by the Lord. In verse 14, the Lord makes a conditional promise to Solomon; He says, “if you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days.”
Why the switch from unconditional promises to a conditional promise? Are we to now understand that some promises from God are to be earned? No. Have a look at the nature of the condition. What is the Lord asking for? “Walk in My ways”, He says, “keep My statutes”—this is the exercise of wisdom; this is knowledge rightly applied. The Lord is simply requiring that Solomon be a good steward of his free gift.
Reviewing this passage as a whole, we learn at least three things. Firstly, from Solomon, we learn how to pray. We are reminded to come before God humbly, with heartfelt praise and with honourable petitions. Secondly, from God’s response to Solomon, we learn something about God’s character. We learn that God is eager to answer honourable petitions. And not only is God eager to answer honourable petitions, but He is most generous in doing so—often giving us more than what we ask for. And thirdly, from God’s response to Solomon, we learn of the necessity of being a good steward of what we receive from God. Whether wisdom, whether intelligence, whether riches, whether influence—we are required to use all that God gives us for His glory.
May God be glorified then, in your prayers, and in your stewardship of answered prayers. Amen.