It was a day everyone in Israel would talk about for centuries to come. Solomon had built God’s temple, and during their very first worship service, God’s presence had come so near that the priests themselves couldn’t even set foot in God’s house.
What do you think you would have done? If you saw God face to face, in all his majesty, how would you respond? I find it pretty informative what Solomon did: he prayed.
Solomon’s prayer (1 Kings 8) is chock full of wisdom, but there’s one point I think most of us tend to overlook. As Solomon says, “They shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm, when he comes and prays toward this house” (1 Kings 8:42). In other words, the foreigner was supposed to hear about this prayer-answering God and come to the temple and experience a prayer-answering God.
That’s the reputation we are supposed to have, in Jesus’ name, in our community. Throughout Scripture, God presents answered prayer as a critical part of his people’s witness. When Moses described to Israel what would distinguish them from every other nation on earth, he said that answered prayer would be the distinguishing mark: “For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7)
Answered prayer. Not great music or great preaching or even great giving, but answered prayer.
When Elijah wanted to demonstrate to Israel which God was the true God, what was the test? “Let’s see which one is a prayer-answering God,” he said. Only one God answered.
Solomon’s temple, you see, was only ever meant to be a shadow of a truer temple to come—not a building filled with God’s presence, but a Person. In Jesus, we see all of the power of God’s glory packed into a single human being. What God did for Israel through the temple—cleansing sins through the sacrifice of lambs—he would do for the world through Jesus, the true and better temple. And now we, as Christians, are called by his name. We are Jesus’ temple, called to intercede for the world as Jesus did, to testify to the same prayer-answering God that Solomon and Moses and Elijah knew.
There’s a story from the early church where the apostles were taking care of the needs of widows, but it was taking up their entire day. They asked for volunteers from the church to help them (who became the first deacons), so that they could devote themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). Pastors point to this story and make a lot of “the ministry of the Word” – as well they should. But what about prayer? We usually think of prayer as part of the preparation for ministering the Word. But it’s not written that way. Prayer doesn’t just fuel the ministry; prayer is the ministry.
What if we saw the prayer times at the end of our services not just as a “if you’ve really been moved, here’s a relief valve,” but as one of the primary ministries of our church? What if prayer was the most important part of any worship experience?
Jesus said, “My house shall be called a ‘house of prayer for all nations,’” not a house of preaching. Is that how someone would describe our church? How about yours? We put a ton of energy into the Word in most of our churches. Do we put the same energy into our prayer ministry?
Are we known as a praying people? Do people hear about our answers to prayer, like Solomon promised they would?
We can’t force God to answer our prayers. But I can guarantee this: he’s not going to answer your prayers if you aren’t praying them. Are we out praying for people—for our unbelieving neighbors, for our family, for our co-workers, for our baristas and servers? People may be resistant to hearing the gospel, but they are far more receptive to having you pray for them. So ask how you can pray for them, listen to what they say, and then … do it.
At no point in Jesus’ ministry was he more furious than when Israel had obscured the prayer ministry that was supposed to reach the Gentiles (Luke 19:46; Mark 11:17). Have we obscured that in our churches? If we have, we don’t have to wait on a cloud to descend from heaven. We can join with Solomon today, right now: “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath…” (1 Sam 8:22)