1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been talking a lot about prayer and I want to continue that theme today. It’s very important, because this is something that we can do. It’s something that is in our power to do to grow closer to God. It’s something that we can do every day. So it’s very important. Prayer is very important and I’m going to focus on it again because it bears that. I’ve said, over the last couple of weeks, important things you can do: pray and read Scripture. But today, I want to talk more just about prayer.
What do we pray for? We pray for what God intends for us. Last week I said, we ask for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to do that. That’s what we pray for.
Why do we do that? Well, the Gospel message today tells us why we do that. This is in Matthew, chapter 13. Jesus is talking to the disciples about the kingdom of heaven. He likens it to a treasure buried in a field. He likens it to a pearl of great price. He’s saying this is what you value above all else. So how do we obtain that? How do we obtain the kingdom of heaven? We get it through growing closer to God. We enter the kingdom of heaven through growing closer to God. We do that through prayer. What is the kingdom of heaven? Let me start with that and I’ll return to prayer in a moment.
What is the kingdom of heaven? Well, there are 2 ways we can understand this. One is in terms of the future. As Christians, we do believe that we have immortal souls and the kingdom of heaven in the future for us is to be in the eternal presence of God. We believe that after we die, at the appointed time, the Christian faithful who have passed away will be resurrected in glorified bodies. And it’s a physical resurrection, it’s not just an idea. It’s something that will happen. Our bodies will be resurrected. There’s an old song, kind of a country gospel song, but I sing it to myself often. Even though it’s not very grammatical, it’s very powerful: “Ain’t no grave gonna hold my body down.” And that’s what the resurrection is. Our bodies will be resurrected in a glorified state and we will spend eternity in the presence of God.
So there is that, but there’s also the kingdom of heaven that we can access now. Jesus refers to it when He tells a group of people that the kingdom of heaven is among you. The presence of Christ in the church on earth is the kingdom of heaven among us now. The kingdom of heaven is here with us now. We can access the being of God among us now. That is the kingdom of heaven, too.
So the kingdom of heaven refers in part to a future state that we will experience as Christian faithful, but it also represents a now, a present, something that is here among us today. Jesus was telling them the kingdom of heaven is among you – He was among them. The kingdom of heaven is among us, because we as the church are the manifest body of Christ on earth, and Christ is present among us. Remember, He said, “when two or three are gathered together in my name, there I will be in the midst of them.” We have that right here. Christ is present among us right now, and that’s the kingdom of heaven among us.
Now let me turn again to the parable of the hidden treasure. This is what Jesus tells the disciples about in today’s Gospel. “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again and out of joy goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.” He discovered this hidden treasure and he gave up everything else in favor of that. It is so valuable that you give away everything you have in order to obtain it. And He continues the thought with the parable of the pearl of great price. That, too, is so valuable that you’ll give everything you have for it. He says, “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” So the kingdom of heaven is more valuable than anything else. You would give away everything you’ve got to obtain the kingdom of heaven.
Turning again to prayer. When we pray, we invite God into our life. We are giving something away, but it’s nothing, it’s a little time. A little time and a little attention that we devote to prayer – and what we get for it is the presence of God in our life. When we pray, we are asking God to be there in our lives. We ask God to dwell within us. We ask to live with God. If we make prayer a habit, God will guide us. Earlier this week a parishioner asked me, how do I know what God’s will for me is. I explained that’s called discernment. It’s not an easy thing. It’s something that we can never be 100% sure. If we had, like Solomon, God telling us exactly what, or we had Moses and the burning bush, God right in front of us telling us something, well then we could be sure. Because most of us don’t have that kind of experience, there’s always some uncertainty. But what I have found is, when you when you discover God’s will for you, you have a certain quiet confidence about it. A certain comfort level with it. You just know it’s right. But that’s not something that’s a hunch, the ability to have that kind of discernment is something that we have to develop. If you want to be in better shape, you have to exercise. You have to exercise your body to strengthen your body, right? To strengthen your relationship with God, you pray. You read Scripture and you pray. These things I’ve been talking about. When we make these a habit, we strengthen that relationship with God. We are more attuned to understanding what God intends for us, and it’s this that makes discernment possible for us. It’s not just our hunch, it’s not just us telling ourselves that what we want is what God wants. That’s not discernment. Discernment is when we have that quiet certainty and confidence that we know what God intends for us. This comes from making prayer a habit and reading God’s word. If we do those things, God will offer us that guidance. God will do that for us.
The Old Testament reading today is from 1 Kings and it’s about Solomon as a young man, and of course we all know that Solomon became the wisest of men. How did this happen? We see in 1 Kings, chapter 3, Solomon has a dream. There’s God speaking to him and he says to God, you know I’m just a young man and I’m going to become the king. What do I do? How do I know what to do? How do I know the right thing? He says, “give your servant an understanding heart to judge the people and to distinguish right from wrong.” He’s asking God for knowledge of His will. He’s asking God, tell me what’s right, so that I can do that. God is pleased with him and He says, “because you asked for this, it will be granted to you”. Of course, we know Solomon was famous for being so incredibly wise. This was a gift that God gave him, because Solomon demonstrated that’s what he really wanted. He just wanted to do the right thing. He wanted to do God’s will and he wanted to know what that was, so that he could do it. So God gave him that. Look at what God tells him. He says, “because you have asked for this, not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding, so that you may know what is right, I do as you requested.” Solomon didn’t pray for himself. He didn’t pray that he was going to be rich, he didn’t pray that he was going to live a long time, he didn’t pray that his enemies would be defeated. He didn’t pray for any of those things. He didn’t pray for Solomon. He prayed for knowledge of God’s will and the ability to do it. That is what he asked for and God granted that prayer.
One prayer we say often is the Lord’s prayer. We say it as part of our liturgy each week and, of course, it’s a prayer you can say anytime. It’s the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. And it’s a model of prayer. It’s a prayer we can repeat the way Jesus taught us to. It’s also a model of prayer that shows us what to ask for when we pray.
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” It begins with praise. We begin by praising God. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” We pray that God’s will be done. “Give us this day our daily bread.” We do ask God to cover our needs, our bare necessities. “And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” We ask God for forgiveness for our sins. We ask for those basic things. We ask for God’s forgiveness, we ask that our basic needs be fulfilled, so that we can do God’s will. And we recognize, at the end of the Lord’s prayer, that this world is God’s. “Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.” So be it. So when we pray, those are the things we’re doing: we’re invoking the power of God by praising Him, by asking for His will to be done, for our basic needs, for forgiveness of our sins, and that we do the right thing and forgive other people their sins against us. So when we pray, that’s how we pray.
We read Scripture to help understand, too, what God intends for us as human beings. Reading Scripture is something we should do in connection with prayer. It’s a good idea to read Scripture when you pray. It’s a good idea to read from Scripture and then pray. Reading Scripture teaches us God’s expectations for us and puts us in the right frame of mind for prayer. Do those things together. If you do those things every day, you’re giving up a little bit of your time. You’re setting aside a little bit of your time each day to spend with God, and when you do that, you will reap a tremendous reward. Much, much greater than the time you devote to it. You will find that pearl of great price. You will find that hidden treasure – the kingdom of God. When you pray, pray for what God intends for you and the ability to do that. And if you do that, you can’t go wrong.