Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Desperate Prayer

"God does not really live on the earth! Look, if the sky and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this temple I have built! But respond favorably to Your servant's prayer and his request for help, O Lord my God. Answer the desperate prayer Your servant is presenting to You today. Night and day may You watch over this temple, the place where You promised You would live. May You answer Your servant's prayer for this place." 
- 1 Kings 8:27-29, NET

Solomon brought a lot of petitions before God in 1 Kings 8, as he prayed over and dedicated the temple he had spent 20 years building. Each prayer is theologically significant and holds many lessons for us in our own prayer lives. But this one - this one is special. One request was worthy of being called a "desperate prayer". The context is clear: Solomon was praying desperately that the God who cannot be contained in all the heavens would make His presence known in the temple Solomon was dedicating that day.

He knew it would be nothing without the presence of the Lord.

Solomon knew that without the Shekinah glory of God that had filled the tabernacle, the temple he built would be a worthless monument, reduced one day to nothing but rubble. There was nothing special about the carefully constructed building, its contents, its ornamentations. Oh, it was a wonder, a beauty to behold. It was the absolutely finest effort a human could make. Solomon spared no expense and cut no corners. It was The Best.

But it would be nothing without the presence of the Lord.

Gifted men built the temple. Solomon intentionally sought out those known for skill in certain areas. They absolutely did their very best and did not in any way shirk their responsibilities in the construction. But their gifts didn't define the temple.

It would be nothing without the presence of the Lord.

So Solomon prayed this beautiful, heartfelt prayer of 1 Kings 8. The chapter gives the sense that although he was in front of the congregation of Israel, he was alone with God. Scripture is clear that this portion of the prayer was the heart of the matter - Solomon was desperate for God's presence in the temple. His heartcry reminds me of  Moses when, in a dialogue with God, he laid out how desperate he was for God's Presence - so desperate he would stay put without it:
Exodus 33:14-16 The LORD replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." Then Moses said to him, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?"
Moses and Solomon knew the secret to life, to work, to ministry: the Presence of the Lord. It's something that I've come to desire more deeply every year of my walk with Him. Tonight, Solomon's prayer jumped out at me as God urged me to pray it for myself as His temple. He's promised me His presence, given me His Holy Spirit, and now I feel compelled to pray again for a fresh filling, a fresh anointing in this "place", this temple that is now His. 

Many years ago, God let me know that one of the gifts He's given me is teaching. Very quickly He let me understand the enormous responsibility that comes with that gift, and gradually unfolded for me "my part" in faithful study, preparation, and prayer. He also made sure I stayed humble by giving me a word through Beth Moore's statement that God called her to teach because she had so much to learn. Me too, Beth. He never lets me forget that. 

These days I'm in the process of preparing a new study that God is blessing me to lead starting in January. This one is huge - a survey of the names of Jesus. As with other studies I've written this isn't something that is new to me - it's a topic I've studied before and one God has birthed in my heart to teach for some time now. For me teaching is a process - first God teaches it to me, then plants a seed that there is something there that He wants to turn into material for others. Once that is confirmed, usually through me being asked to lead a small group for a season, the process of formulating a structural framework for the study begins. I've been in that stage and now I'm moving into the heart of preparation - actually beginning to write the study. 

And that's when things move from exciting mountaintop ("Wow, God is actually going to do something with that study that's been on my heart for a while") to desperate face-down prayer in the riverbed. Because there is nothing like a blank Word document on my computer screen to make me realize that in a very short time, women's faces are going to be staring at me, and behind those faces are souls that are hungry for His Word. My words will do absolutely nothing for them, but His Word can heal and encourage and edify and strengthen them. So that blank Word document pushes me, like nothing else in the process of teaching, to get on my knees and beg God not for wise words, or unique insights, or profound thoughts -- but for His divine Presence to fill me and for His words to flow through me onto the page. 

Please join me in praying for His presence during this writing season. Like Solomon, it's a desperate cry. No matter how much effort I bring to this study, it's nothing without the Presence of the Lord.

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