A Prayer of Blessing (1 Kings 8:54-65)

Solomon, by Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

As soon as Solomon finished praying and making these requests to the Lord, he got up from before the Lord’s altar, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out to heaven. He stood up and blessed the whole Israelite assembly in a loud voice: 

“May the Lord be blessed! He has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. He hasn’t neglected any part of the good promise he made through his servant Moses. 

May the Lord our God be with us, just as he was with our ancestors.

May he never leave us or abandon us. 

May he draw our hearts to him to walk in all his ways and observe his commands, his laws, and his judgments that he gave our ancestors. 

And may these words of mine that I have cried out before the Lord remain near to the Lord our God day and night so that he may do right by his servant and his people Israel for each day’s need, and so that all the earth’s peoples may know that the Lord is God.

There is no other God! Now may you be committed to the Lord our God with all your heart by following his laws and observing his commands, just as you are doing right now.”

Then the king and all Israel with him sacrificed to the Lord. Solomon offered well-being sacrifices to the Lord: twenty-two thousand oxen and one hundred twenty thousand sheep when the king and all Israel dedicated the Lord’s temple. 

On that day the king made holy the middle of the courtyard in front of the Lord’s temple. He had to offer the entirely burned offerings, grain offerings, and the fat of well-being sacrifices there, because the bronze altar that was in the Lord’s presence was too small to contain the entirely burned offerings, the grain offerings, and the fat of the well-being sacrifices. 

At that time Solomon, together with all Israel, held a celebration. It was a large assembly from Lebo-hamath to the border of Egypt. They celebrated for seven days and then for another seven days in the presence of the Lord our God: fourteen days in all. (Common English Bible)

Prayer is arguably one of the most significant works a spiritual person could ever do.

Why do I say that?

Because we, as people (especially Americans!) tend to be focused on solutions, fixes, and getting things done. We work hard; and if it doesn’t work out, then we pray.

Yet prayer is a needed activity from the get-go. Prayer is to be infused from the beginning to the end. Prayer is to be our very breath.

Relying solely on our strength, smarts, and stamina – on self – may yield some results; but the human touch cannot provide like the divine touch. Trusting in all else, besides God, shall eventually fail.

Now this I know:
    The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
    with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
    but we rise up and stand firm. (Psalm 20:6-8, NIV)

King Solomon prayed. He prayed before building a temple to the Lord. He prayed during construction. He offered prayers after its erection and provided prayers of dedication to it.

And, in today’s Old Testament lesson, Solomon was faithful to pray and bless the people who participated in the building, as well as all the people who would worship at the temple.

Biblical prayers are solid theological models for us in our own prayers. They give us some needed form and function, directing us in how to pray and what the content of those prayers ought to be.

So, I offer this prayer of blessing for you, based in Solomon’s to the people:

Blessed be the Lord our God, who has given peace to people, just as he said he’d do. Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Not a one of all those good and wonderful promises that God spoke has failed.

May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our very own God, continue to be with us just as he was with all of our spiritual ancestors.

May God never give up and walk out on us.

May God keep us Christo-centric, revolving our entire lives around him, devoted to him, following the life path he has cleared, being attentive to the words and ways of Jesus, walking at the pace and the rhythms he laid down for us to follow and observe.

May these words that I pray in the presence of God be always before the divine throne, day and night, so that the Lord will do what is right, just, and fair for us and for all people everywhere.

May mercy and justice reign day after day after day. Then all the people on earth will know God is the true God; there is no other God.

And may your lives be totally obedient to God, following the path of righteousness the Lord has cleared, alert and attentive to avoid the path of temptation, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Companions (1 Kings 19:19-21)

Depiction of Elijah anointing Elisha as a prophet, Aylesford Priory, Maidstone, UK

Elijah left and found Elisha plowing with a team of oxen; there were eleven teams ahead of him, and he was plowing with the last one. Elijah took off his cloak and put it on Elisha. Elisha then left his oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will go with you.”

Elijah answered, “All right, go back. I’m not stopping you!”

Then Elisha went to his team of oxen, killed them, and cooked the meat, using the yoke as fuel for the fire. He gave the meat to the people, and they ate it. Then he went and followed Elijah as his helper. (Good News Translation)

Some background…

Elijah was a prophet during a very hard time in Israel’s history. Ahab, a terribly unjust and wicked king, had led the nation away from the worship of Yahweh and toward the worship of Baal. Things were bad – both religiously and meteorologically; there was a drought of rain and a drought of God’s words.

The prophet Elijah stepped out and took on the powerful king and his diabolical wife, Jezebel. As a result, he had to go into hiding and bide his time. For about three years, Elijah was mostly on his own, moving around, trying to avoid Ahab’s wrath, just trying to stay alive during the drought.

Although Elijah’s physical needs were cared for by the Lord, the years of aloneness took their toll.

Finally, things came to a head. There was a showdown between the hundreds of Baal prophets and the lone prophet of Yahweh, Elijah. It was a dramatic encounter marked by a huge victory of the Lord through Elijah’s faith and courage.

Yet, when it was all over, and spiritual revival was transforming the land, Elijah was physically and emotionally exhausted. In fact, the darkness of depression enveloped him.

So, Elijah had a “come-to-Yahweh-meeting” which was both gracious and much needed. The prophet took the time to sleep, eat, and experience the Lord.

But, going forward, things would be different. No more going alone for Elijah. He needed a companion.

So, God instructed Elijah to specifically go to Elisha and anoint him as the next prophet of Yahweh. Which is exactly what Elijah did.

Some help…

The prophet Elijah flat-out needed help; and God knew it.

Elijah had been in his own personal slimy pit experience of exhaustion and depression. The Lord helped him get out of it. God knows better than any of us that people need one another for encouragement, companionship, giving and receiving love, and being both a mentor and a mentee.

Sheer independence isn’t even what God does, so why in the world do any of us believe we need to be that way?

Christians serve a triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit. God is One, and God is also Community. As people created in the image and likeness of God, we were formed for unity and community with others. Therefore, it is necessary for us to have healthy dynamics of relational interactions. Elijah needed his inner balance restored through working with Elisha.

Some insight….

Not only does Elijah’s story enlighten our need for relational ministry, but Elisha’s experience also provides some insightful perspective on what it means to connect with others.

I can imagine what Elisha’s life must have been like before being anointed a prophet of the Lord. Having grown up on a midwestern American farm, I know the kind of work it takes. Elisha was out there every day. On one particular day, just like many of the other days of farm labor, he’s at the end of the work train – in the back slowly moving along with his animals, trying to get a field plowed.

Then, in the mundane dirty work of plowing, the prophet Elijah comes strolling along and puts his cloak on Elisha, thereby clearly communicating to him that he is being called to become a prophet himself.

Elisha immediately responds and goes all in with following Elijah. And with a demonstrative act of setting out on a new life, Elisha takes his means of making a living, the oxen, and kills them, cooks them over a fire made from the wooden plow and yoke, and feeds a bunch of people. He then walks away, for good.

Maybe Elisha was in his own slimy pit of depression, feeling like his life was going nowhere. We don’t really know. Yet, God chose Elisha, just like he chose Elijah, to be a prophet. Perhaps the Lord knew Elisha needed this as much as Elijah did.

Some reflection….

What, or who, do you need today?

I have found that it’s a common misunderstanding with many Christians that as long as they read their Bible, pray, and rely on the Holy Spirit, that everything will go peachy dandy. And when it doesn’t, they castigate themselves for being down or depressed or in dire straits.

It just could be that you’re trying to go it alone without the help of other people. It also could be that you have a history in which the folks you believe needed to help you, didn’t; and now you’re determined to do life alone without anyone hurting you again.

It might be that the Lord wants to use someone else besides the people you think ought to help. And it also could be that you’ve put limits on how God can work. But, really, who are you or I to tell God whom he can love us through?

Let yourself be open to the ministry of others. Be a companion.

Bless us with Love, O Merciful God;
That we may Love as you Love,
That we may show patience, tolerance,
Kindness, caring and love to all!
O Compassionate One, grant compassion to us;
That we may help all fellow souls in need.
Bless us with your Love, O God,
Bless us with your Love. Amen.

1 Kings 3:5-14 – A Prayer for Discernment

Stained glass window of King Solomon in Saint-Joseph Des Fins Church, France

The Lord appeared to Solomon at Gibeon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you.”

Solomon responded, “You showed so much kindness to your servant my father David when he walked before you in truth, righteousness, and with a heart true to you. You’ve kept this great loyalty and kindness for him and have now given him a son to sit on his throne. And now, Lord my God, you have made me, your servant, king in my father David’s place. But I’m young and inexperienced. I know next to nothing. But I’m here, your servant, in the middle of the people you have chosen, a large population that can’t be numbered or counted due to its vast size. Please give your servant a discerning mind in order to govern your people and to distinguish good from evil, because no one is able to govern this important people of yours without your help.”

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had made this request. God said to him, “Because you have asked for this instead of requesting long life, wealth, or victory over your enemies—asking for discernment so as to acquire good judgment— I will now do just what you said. Look, I hereby give you a wise and understanding mind. There has been no one like you before now, nor will there be anyone like you afterward. I now also give you what you didn’t ask for: wealth and fame. There won’t be a king like you as long as you live. And if you walk in my ways and obey my laws and commands, just as your father David did, then I will give you a very long life.” (Common English Bible)

You will recognize today’s Old Testament lesson as being the same as yesterday – just in a different book of the Bible. The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles are a restatement and edited version of 1 and 2 Kings. That’s because each was written in a different time for a particular context. Kings was compiled at the time of the Jewish exile when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem. Chronicles was put together for the exiles returning to Jerusalem.

Both accounts were meant to be lessons in how to live rightly as God’s people. For the people going into exile, the Kings narrative was to serve as a remembrance of how far the people had strayed from their roots in basic life wisdom.

“It is said that wisdom lies not in seeing things, but seeing through things.”

Manly P. Hall

Solomon was a very wise king. And today’s lesson makes it clear why. At the outset of his reign, Solomon could have asked for anything from God. A typical request might be for power in subduing enemies, popularity for appealing to the masses, or perks for maintaining political stability. 

Instead, Solomon asked for understanding and wisdom to govern God’s people so that he could discern between good and evil. It was the kind of asking which the Lord was pleased to hear and to give. All these millennia later, Solomon still has the reputation of being the wisest king that ever lived.

Solomon’s prayer resonates with me. As a church pastor, rather than focusing prayers on a bigger budget, more people reached, or adding programs, I can make the choice to pray for wisdom so that I will have my ministerial ladder on the right wall. 

As a hospital chaplain, instead of praying for greater visibility of the spiritual in healthcare, increased impact within the system, or more healing of patients, I can pray for understanding so that I will be able to make sound ethical, practical, and ministerial decisions in each context and case I encounter.

Solomon’s request was borne of a clear realization of who God is (the One who shows steadfast love) and who he himself is (like a little child with a big responsibility). God’s greatness and Solomon’s humility collided in a wonderful prayer for discernment to carry out God’s will on earth and to bless God’s people.

In this time of year, in which it is vogue to make New Year’s resolutions based upon the individual’s willpower, let’s take a different approach. Let’s pray and invite God to do the kind of deep change needed in our lives so that we can accomplish the will of God on this earth for this time. 

May we pray for discernment to serve well, ask for wisdom to be good stewards of our callings, and seek understanding from the God who delights in answering altruistic requests from humble people.

May you walk in the way of wisdom so that you will make good decisions and act in all good understanding.

Lord God, give me a mind and heart of wisdom so that I might rightly discern good and evil, right and wrong, and the best decisions to made in every situation. I choose to seek your ways and follow the narrow way of Jesus Christ through the enablement of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 Kings 1:1-30 – Facing Death

King David was now an old man, and he always felt cold, even under a lot of blankets. His officials said, “Your Majesty, we will look for a young woman to take care of you. She can lie down beside you and keep you warm.” They looked everywhere in Israel until they found a beautiful young woman named Abishag, who lived in the town of Shunem. They brought her to David, and she took care of him. But David did not have sex with her.

Adonijah was the son of David and Haggith. He was Absalom’s younger brother and was very handsome. One day, Adonijah started bragging, “I’m going to make myself king!” So, he got some chariots and horses, and he hired fifty men as bodyguards. David did not want to hurt his feelings, so he never asked Adonijah why he was doing these things.

Adonijah met with Joab the son of Zeruiah and Abiathar the priest and asked them if they would help him become king. Both of them agreed to help. But Zadok the priest, Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, Nathan the prophet, Shimei, Rei, and David’s bodyguards all refused.

Adonijah invited his brothers and David’s officials from Judah to go with him to Crawling Rock near Rogel Spring, where he sacrificed some sheep, cattle, and fat calves. But he did not invite Nathan, Benaiah, David’s bodyguards, or his own brother Solomon.

When Nathan heard what had happened, he asked Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother:

Have you heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has made himself king? But David doesn’t know a thing about it. You and your son Solomon will be killed, unless you do what I tell you. Go say to David, “You promised me that Solomon would be the next king. So why is Adonijah now king?”

While you are still talking to David, I’ll come in and tell him that everything you said is true.

Meanwhile, David was in his bedroom where Abishag was taking care of him because he was so old. Bathsheba went in and bowed down.

“What can I do for you?” David asked.

Bathsheba answered:

Your Majesty, you promised me in the name of the Lord your God that my son Solomon would be the next king.But Adonijah has already been made king, and you didn’t know anything about it.He sacrificed a lot of cattle, calves, and sheep. And he invited Abiathar the priest, Joab your army commander, and all your sons to be there, except Solomon, your loyal servant.

Your Majesty, everyone in Israel is waiting for you to announce who will be the next king. If you don’t, they will say that Solomon and I have rebelled. They will treat us like criminals and kill us as soon as you die.

Just then, Nathan the prophet arrived. Someone told David that he was there, and Nathan came in. He bowed with his face to the ground and said:

Your Majesty, did you say that Adonijah would be king? Earlier today, he sacrificed a lot of cattle, calves, and sheep. He invited the army commanders, Abiathar, and all your sons to be there. Right now, they are eating and drinking and shouting, “Long live King Adonijah!” But he didn’t invite me or Zadok the priest or Benaiah or Solomon. Did you say they could do this without telling the rest of us who would be the next king?

David said, “Tell Bathsheba to come here.” She came and stood in front of him. Then he said, “The living Lord God of Israel has kept me safe. And so today, I will keep the promise I made to you in his name: Solomon will be the next king!” (Contemporary English Version)

Death isn’t exactly a popular subject. You might think, since all of us will eventually experience it personally, and most of us have seen it up close through dying loved ones, we would talk it up as something to face and deal with squarely…. Yet, we don’t.

Death ought to teach us how to live, how to face our limitations, and how to accept hardship and the inevitable.  Through today’s Old Testament lesson, I want us to observe four differing responses to the impending death of King David:

King David’s Servants

The servants of David treated his downward health as a problem to be solved. They were essentially sidestepping the whole death situation. The servants knew the David who was vigorous and took on enemies and problems. They wanted him to act like a king, so they looked for the miracle cure of a virgin who would be some sort of fix for David. In the ancient world, a king’s vitality was always linked to his sexual vigor. The servants thought if they could arouse David, he would be back to his old kingly self. In other words, the servants were trying to avoid death. And, of course, it didn’t work.

King David’s Son, Adonijah

Whereas the servants were scheming a way to get the old David back in the saddle, Adonijah was impatient to see his father David in the grave. He wanted his dad, the king, out of the way so he could pursue his own kingship. So, Adonijah simply proclaimed himself king, maybe hoping to hasten David’s death. Adonijah was just looking for his own opportunity and ended up losing his own life for it. Adonijah never understood the true dynamics of life and death – that life is complicated, and death should be honored, not used for personal gain.

King David’s Wife, Bathsheba

Bathsheba wanted to make sure her son Solomon became king. Reading today’s narrative, you might wonder why King David needed a virgin – where in the world was his wife!?  Bathsheba shows up to see David, not because she wanted to keep him warm and comfort him, but because she was concerned for her son. For Bathsheba, David simply became a means to an end – someone who could help her negotiate a difficult situation.

King David’s Caregiver, Abishag

Throughout this story, we have no recorded words from Abishag. Everyone else had plenty to say. In contrast to all of the other people, Abishag is simply a witness to David’s deteriorating health, and eventual death. She is like a hospice worker, who exists to ease the person’s pain in the end of life. In this, we can perhaps learn more from Abishag than from anyone else – to be present, to listen, to serve.

Unfortunately, death brings out the worst in some people. But if we will face death and not view it as a problem to be solved, an opportunity to be seized, or a difficulty to be negotiated, I believe we will find the grace of God when we become sacred witnesses to death.

The Lord Jesus faced death. Christ didn’t try to avoid death. He wasn’t impatient to get it over with. And it was not a difficulty to stoically endure. Our Lord’s death is our life – and it has brought meaning to both our lives and to our own eventual deaths.

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend all your servants staring death in the face today. We, your people, humbly ask that you acknowledge these sheep of your own fold, these lambs of your own flock, and these sinners of your own redeeming. Receive them into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.