From the First Book of Kings:
[Solomon prayed:] Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – 1 Kings 3:9 (NRSV) – December 31, 2013.)
You’ve got to hand it to Solomon; he really knows how to wrap God around his little finger. God has appeared to him in a dream and said to him, “Ask what I should give you.” (1 Kings 3:5) This is Solomon’s reply. It just tickles God’s fancy! Because Solomon hasn’t asked for riches or long life, God replies, “I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.” (v. 12)
God wants the rulers of his people to be wise; Solomon prays for “an understanding mind.” Solomon gets what he prays for, big time! So here’s what I get from this: ask in your prayers what accords with God’s will . . . you get it! In spades!
I was taught years and years ago by my paternal grandfather, a life-long Methodist Sunday School teacher, that that is, in fact, the purpose of prayer: not to convince God to do something God wasn’t going to do anyway, not to call to God’s attention something that had escaped God’s attention, not to give God advice on how to run the cosmos – the purpose of prayer is to conform our wills to God. Prayer is about changing us, not changing God or God’s mind.
This is why, I think, Jesus teaches the importance of persistence in prayer. He offers the people two parables lauding characters who are pests: the widow who pesters the unjust judge (Lk 18:1-8) and the neighbor who bangs on the door in the nighttime (Lk 11:5-10). The parables suggest that the judge and the neighbor who is in bed are ones who change, but I think that’s just artful misdirection; to take the parables teaching that we can change God through persistent prayer is to extend the metaphor of persistence beyond its usefulness.
I think also of Jeremiah’s prophetic metaphor of the clay being reworked by the potter until the potter has the exact sort of vessel he wants (Jer. 18:2-6). Our time in prayer is as if the clay were able to put itself into the potter’s hands, able to climb onto the potter’s wheel, able to say “Here I am. Form me.”
God’s invitation to Solomon is God’s invitation to us all: “Ask what I should give you.” So pray clay! Be wise and pray persistently! The potter invites it. (And, today, it seems a good resolution for New Year: resolve to be persistent in prayer.)
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.