Summary: We tend to pray in a panic, when we could have prayed in preparation. Our prayer must also be responsible, accepting our own measure of responsibility.
Takoma Park Baptist Church, Washington, DC, September 21, 1986
One young friend of mine, taking the Scripture quite seriously and quite literally, where it says, "Ask anything in my name, and I will do it" – taking that verse to the nth degree, reports that he is still waiting for the Lord to supply his request for a new Vette. That's a super sports car, for those who are not initiated to this kind of talk. A new Vette, and Lord, I need a sunroof, and racing stripes, and those snazzy wheels too. You talk about praying for things, when some people get down to it, they really do it up in a big way, don't they?
Now my young friend is really only half serious about this powerful petition of his; he does know that the Lord is not bound to answer self-indulgence. He is aware that God does not provide us with expensive toys just to help us along with the sin of pride. After all, most of us don't need any help with that at all. And my young friend is also quite clear that there are other dimensions of that Scripture verse – that in fact it says "whatever you ask in my name I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” And thus that his request, his prayer is not up to par because there isn't much if any room for the Father to get the glory. The glory is all going to the car and its driver. My friend is Christian enough to know all these things.
And yet he also recognizes that deep down inside there is a powerful urge to have this dream machine. He could scarcely want anything more than to have this four on the floor in his driveway. There are, after all, in the best of us, in the most Christian of us, some selfish urges. There are some things we want to have and some things we want to do, no matter what. That may not be spiritual, but it is real, it is the way we are. And so when it comes down to what we pray for and what the desires of our hearts really are, there is quite a mixture, isn't there? I want everybody in the world to have enough food, but, to tell the truth, I want all my dollars too and am reluctant to give them away. I want everybody to be saved and to be a Christian, but then I also want my privacy and I want to live and let live and I find witnessing hard. So there are conflicts. I pray for these things, I pray for those things – and they don't always go together, do they? And some of the things I might pray for, I might want, perhaps I really shouldn't have. So what do I pray for? What should I pray for? What are the right things to pray for?
Some 30 centuries ago a young man was facing that kind of choice. He sat facing a whole candy store full of possibilities; it really could have been, it might have been, that he reach out and gobble up all the goodies you could imagine. Wealth in tremendous quantities. Power beyond what most of us can even dream of. Recognition, respect, adulation: he could have had it all. And in fact it seemed, if you looked at one side of the ledger, that he was well on his way. Heir to the family fortune, named by his father as his successor, backed by some of the finest families of the nation, shoved ahead by an ambitious mother: about all he lacked, I guess was a degree from the Jerusalem School of Business and the endorsement of the Central Committee of the Israel Chamber of Commerce!
But that's only if you look at one side of the ledger, I say. There were also some problems, some serious problems coming his way. For all the glamour, all the good looks, all the right connections and the powerful families, there were serious flies in the ointment for Solomon. There was, for example, a half brother out there drumming up rebellion against him. There were old wounds left unhealed from his father's days, for David had not yet settled all the scores or finished all the battles. More than that, there were the defiant, the disobedient, the disenchanted. How was Solomon going to reign and reign effectively with all these elements swirling around his head? Life was not altogether a bowl of cherries for the young king, you see.
All the goodies in the world, right there for the taking. But at the same time, serious problems of management, of loyalty, of governing. Where to go and what to do? What to pray for? What do you ask for at a time like that? What do you say to the Lord? Is it, "Let's go for the Vette," or is it something like, "Destroy my enemies, put down those who are against me?" Or is it something else?