When you pray, how do you expect God to respond to your prayer?
Once upon a time, when the Israelites completed the temple in Jerusalem, King Solomon offered a prayer of dedication. This prayer is recorded in two different Old Testament books (1 Kings 8:22-53 and 2 Chronicles 6:12-42). Solomon’s prayer reflects his desire for God to keep the nation strong for many years to come. Yet it contains clues about how the ancient Israelites thought about prayer – clues which can influence how we pray today.
In our experience, how do we approach prayer? Many times we think of God as a “cosmic vending machine”: we ask for healing, and God provides healing; we ask for money, and God provides money. Sometimes we think of God as a “cosmic road map”: we ask for direction, and God shows the way; we ask for guidance, and God provides wisdom. Sometimes we simply think of God as a “cosmic buddy”: we ask God to be present with us or with others, and God obliges to show up; we ask God for traveling mercies, and invisible fluffy-white angels hover around the wheels of our cars as we hurtle down the road at 75 miles an hour.
When Solomon gave his prayer of dedication, he asked many things of God, which are summarized beautifully by his words in 2 Chronicles 6:21 (NIV):
“May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive.”
All of Solomon’s requests boil down to two actions he wants God to take: to hear and to forgive.
It strikes me that these two requests are relational in nature. Solomon doesn’t ask God for riches, long life, or strong military forces. He doesn’t ask God for worldly, material things that will make his life more enjoyable. Instead, he asks God for two basic relational needs: being acknowledged and being restored.
O God, Hear. How often do we take it for granted that God hears us when we pray? It is a remarkable gift that the immeasurable Lord of all creation is able and willing to give audience to us. Can you think of a time when another person really took the time to hear you? How did you feel? Validated, respected, honored, loved? When true communication takes place – speaking and hearing – then the relationship between speaker and listener is strengthened.
O God, Forgive. How often do we take it for granted that God forgives our sins when we ask? He is not obligated to forgive; instead, God chooses to forgive us again and again. Can you remember when you were truly forgiven by another person – or, perhaps, when you honestly forgave someone who wronged you? Real forgiveness is an act of restoring relationship.
What if we prayed for relational things instead of material things? What if we believed that having relationship with God is more important than health or guidance or traveling mercies? How would this different approach to prayer affect our relationship with God? How would it shape our interactions with other people?
Friends, remember these two amazing relational truths: God chooses to hear us, and God chooses to forgive us. And pray accordingly.