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Worship and Service

Prayer

Those of an older generation will remember a time when worship included the "great prayer." A long, formal prayer in which the mercies of God were beseeched. This has passed out of fashion in our congregation, which is a pity. By our example of prayer we teach others to pray; some will never hear prayer aloud except as they hear it in church. What, then, does public prayer teach us about private prayer? To understand that we need to go back to one of the great public prayers of the Old Testament - given by Solomon as he dedicated the Temple.

(1 Ki 8:22-53 NIV) Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward 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. {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. {27} "But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! {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 toward 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 toward this place. {30} Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive. {31} "When a man wrongs his neighbor 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. {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 toward 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. Teach them the right way to live, and send rain on the land you gave your people for an inheritance. {37} "When famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when an enemy besieges them in any of their cities, whatever disaster or disease may come, {38} and when a prayer or plea is made by any of your people Israel--each one aware of the afflictions of his own heart, and spreading out his hands toward this temple-- {39} then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act; deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of all men), {40} so that they will fear you all the time they live in the land you gave our fathers. {41} "As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name-- {42} for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm--when he comes and prays toward this temple, {43} then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name. {44} "When your people go to war against their enemies, wherever you send them, and when they pray to the LORD toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name, {45} then hear from heaven their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. {46} "When they sin against you--for there is no one who does not sin--and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to his own land, far away or near; {47} and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their conquerors and say, 'We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly'; {48} and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to you toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name; {49} then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. {50} And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offenses they have committed against you, and cause their conquerors to show them mercy; {51} for they are your people and your inheritance, whom you brought out of Egypt, out of that iron-smelting furnace. {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. {53} For 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."

Public Prayer

This is formal prayer. It has a definite structure to it. It is not, I suppose, so necessary in private prayer to have such a structure - but it is instructive. We can learn from the things which Solomon said and apply them to our own prayers.

Praise and Honor to God

·         Past. Solomon praises God that he has kept his promises, both in general and specifically. We should remember what God has promised and delivered to us.

·         Present. Solomon praises God, for there is no one like Him

·         Future. Having said this, Solomon now claims the promises of God for future delivery - in this instance, concerning his royal house.

This is a good model for us: praise God for what he has done for us; for who He is now and forever; and claim the promises he has made to us for the future.

The Weakness of man

The contrast could not be more complete when we compare God to man. Solomon makes this in four points:

·         First, in spite of the fact that he is standing in front of this magnificent Temple building, with its golden walls, he acknowledges that such a building could never contain God. The best that man can do is insignificant to God.

·         Solomon, the king, the richest and wisest of kings, begins with the right relationship to God: "your servant."

·         Not only does he proclaim himself a servant (a man who had so many such) but begins by asking for mercy. If the greatest in the kingdom must ask for mercy, how much should the rest of us?

·         So that there will be no mistake, Solomon does not take God for granted. He does not assume that God will hear, he asks him to hear.

Taken together, these ideas point up the weakness of man when dealing with God. It is a high point in the prayer. So too we should acknowledge our weakness.

Confession and Forgiveness

Solomon now begins a section of four sets of confession and forgiveness. In each he describes a particular calamity - and the step in forgiveness which must be emphasized for it.

Trouble Step in Repentance
Crime; one man has committed an injustice against another. Conviction - that God will declare the guilty and uphold the innocent.
Defeat: when we go to war (in any sense) and lose because of our sins. Repentance - that we will turn back to God.
Famine and Drought: the physical or spiritual dryness of the land Teaching Righteousness - that we will understand God's ways clearly
Plague: the final warning from God before wrath and punishment Heart change: the awareness of our afflictions in our hearts, and asking God to deal with our hearts.
Interlude: the foreigner

Solomon now turns his attention to the stranger, the alien, the foreigner. This is one who is not a Jew (in today's terms, not a Christian) who turns to God. How is that such a one would turn to God in prayer?

·         First, because he has heard God's name praised. Do we praise the name of God in the presence of others?

·         Next, because he has seen the great deeds of God. Do we tell others of the great things God has done for us?

·         Finally, because of his "outstretched" arm - which certainly could be taken to mean the welcome into the kingdom we should always be willing to offer.

Solomon asks that God grant the prayer of such a seeker after Him. Why should God do this for someone who is not in a covenant relationship with Him? Solomon gives two reasons:

·         That God might be glorified in that all will know Him.

·         That the name of God will be feared.

We might add, that all might come to salvation.

Worst case scenario: destruction

When it gets so bad that God has gone from discipline to punishment - when he abandons us to our sins, and allows their consequences to come home to us - there is still hope. If we will have the change of heart he will still listen.

One great note of encouragement is here. "Wherever they cry" is the watchword. There is no sin so deep, no trouble so great that you cannot turn to God and cry to him - and he will hear.

Parallel: Private Prayer (the Lord's Prayer)

It is instructive to see that there are some things left out in Solomon's prayer. This is entirely fitting, for this is a public prayer. But there are many similiarities:

·         Both begin with honor and glory to God, for what he has done, who he is and what he has promised.

·         Both emphasize the weakness of man and our need for forgiveness and mercy.

·         Both give us the same route back: confession and forgiveness. One large difference is in the forgiveness we give our brothers. Solomon does not mention this because this is a private and personal activity. It's done one to one.

·         And, of course, there is "lead us not…" Each of us faces our own set of temptations, and this is a matter we need to discuss with God in private as well.

Learning from Public Prayer

So what, then, can we learn from this public prayer?

  • Begin your prayers with praise and honor to God.
    • It is the first principle of any personal relationship that you must know - and acknowledge - who the other person truly is.
    • We need to acknowledge his blessings to us, recognize his ever-present and unchanging character and depend upon his certain fulfillment of his promises.
  • As we acknowledge his greatness, we must not neglect our weakness.
    • Begin by proclaiming your status as a servant - not one who is entitled to God's goodies.
    • Follow this by asking for mercy - do not bargain with God.
    • Then proclaim your dependence upon his care.
  • As you do, go through the steps of forgiveness shown by Solomon:
    • Be convicted by his Holy Spirit of the sin in your life.
    • Repent of that sin - turn around from it and go the other way
    • Ask for God's teaching in your life. Don't just abandon sin, ask him to replace it with His way.
    • Deal with these issues from the heart, not just from outward appearance. He sees the heart - even though no one else does.
  • Pray for others, bringing their needs and requests to the Almighty.
    • Make no issue of their status, Christian or not. You are asking for them to receive the same blessings you have.
    • Base your requests not on your merit, or their merit, but upon the goodness of God.
    • Remember the purpose of your request: it is not just their well-being, but that everyone may know God and become his child.
  • In the worst of times, remember these things:
    • "Wherever they cry out…" No matter your place, no matter your circumstances, no matter what you have done - God wants to hear from you.
    • Acknowledge the justice of his punishment, and acknowledge that he has brought you low - so that you might return to him.
    • Remember - the door is open, the light is on. Repentant sinners are always welcomed in at the door to the Inn of Grace.

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