TODAY’S READING: 2 Chronicles 6–7; Psalm 136
Solomon’s dedicatory prayer of the temple is the highpoint of the Old Testament. There was peace on every border. There was prosperity for every home. There was right relationship nationally with the Lord God of Israel—Jehovah Elohim Israel. Never was it better for the people of God. They stood at the mountain peak after long, difficult struggles. And it would be downhill from here. But in this precious moment, the people returned to their homes “joyful and glad of heart for the good that the Lord had done for David, for Solomon, and for His people Israel” (2 Chr. 7:10). It is at this zenith that God reminds us that if we humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways, then He will hear, forgive, and heal, and now His ears will be attentive to the prayers prayed in this place (vv. 14–15).
If Solomon’s prayer is inextricably tied to the high point of God’s people and His mercy toward them historically (Psalm 136, 2 Chr. 7:3), if God says “now, I will hear that prayer,” then the content and form of that prayer is instructional for us.
Moreover, concerning a foreigner, who is not of Your people Israel, but has come from a far country for the sake of Your great name and Your mighty hand and Your outstretched arm, when they come and pray in this temple; then hear from heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, that all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You. (2 Chr. 6:32–33)
The zenith of the prayer at the zenith point of Israel’s history reveals the missionary heart of God: That all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You. This is the purpose of the temple. This is the purpose of Israel. This is the purpose of the Church. This is the purpose of you and me. This is the plan of God—that all peoples of the earth may know Jehovah Elohim of Israel and fear Him. And houses of worship are simply houses of prayer so that “whatever prayer, whatever supplication is made by anyone, or by all…when each one knows his own burden and his own grief” (v. 29) is heard by the God whose mercy is indeed forever, whose mercy intervenes in real histories of real people in desperate times. As I write this, I am sobered by two prayer requests sent to me this morning: A lady in Saudi Arabia confessed Jesus as Lord and had her mouth and one eye sewn shut. A believer in Libya has gone missing after being tortured, his feet burned. This precious sister and this precious brother with their own burdens and griefs—the temple was built for them.
The form of Solomon’s prayer is also instructive, also missionary if we note it’s four postures: Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord, he spread out his hands, he knelt down on his knees, and then bowed his face to the ground on the pavement in worship and praise with the people (6:12–13; 7:3). What is striking about these forms of prayer is that we rarely pray that way and that Muslims pray exactly that way. Ritual Islamic prayers are copies of Byzantine Christian forms of prayer (combination of standing respectfully, lifting hands to heaven, kneeling, and prostrating with forehead pressed to the floor), which are in turn taken right from the Scriptures.
Our favorite posture of prayer is sitting. We do our abiding time in our favorite chair with a cup of tea or coffee in our hand. Alternatively, there might be some church leader standing and leading us in prayer, but for the most part the congregation sits with eyes closed. Or we sit around the table and take about fifteen seconds to thank God for the food. Whatever the setting, today we largely sit to pray. Nowhere in Solomon’s prayer did he sit, and very infrequently is sitting mentioned as a posture of prayer in the Bible. Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to sit and pray; I’m just saying we miss something if we don’t also stand, lift our hands to heaven, kneel, and prostrate before the presence of the God of all nations. I’m saying it’s ironic that Muslims yet pray as Solomon did—somehow more reverent than we are, even if more misguided. A missionary reading of Solomon’s dedicatory prayer at the temple can help bring back reverence in our own “any and all” praying. Today, may someone stand, lift holy hands, kneel, and prostrate before Jehovah for the salvation of the Tamil. Today, may the fire fall in Singapore, and may newly holy hands be lifted to the God of all nations.