Prayer as the Language of Dependence
Petition, in which we seek blessings that we need, and thanksgiving, in which we are grateful for blessings received, together constitute the language of dependence, a constant reminder to us that in God “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Petitionary prayer is based on the scriptural declaration that nothing in the lives of God’s children is too trivial or unimportant that we should hesitate to bring it to the throne of grace. If the plummet earthward of a tiny sparrow is of concern to our heavenly Father (Matt. 10:29-31), how much more the plight of his children for whom he has sacrificed his own dear Son! This thought is reassuring for those who feel deeply the reality of their sin, for when one reflects on the holiness of God and the unworthiness of man, petitionary prayer strikes us as impertinent. That a fallen creature should request anything of the exalted Creator is quite remarkable. But to think that God beckons us to make request of him, and has gone so far as to sacrifice his Son in order to make it possible, is beyond the scope of human imagination.
Nevertheless, as strange and seemingly out of place as petitionary prayer may seem, it is God’s will for his children. He yearns to hear of our needs, and to meet them. Nowhere in Scripture are we told to come hesitantly to the throne of grace, fearful that God might snap at us for interrupting him. It is with boldness, confidence, and courage that we are to pray. If we do not have what we need, it is not because God frowns upon petitionary prayer. Rather, it is because we do not ask.
But of course there is a healthy spiritual balance we must maintain. We must be careful lest all prayer be reduced to a self-centered repetition of “give me, give me.” There is much to learn from Solomon on this point. My guess is that all of us would love for God to appear in a dream and say, “Ask what I shall give you” (1 Kings 3:5)! An invitation like that would, I suspect, immediately strip away the façade of my heart to reveal where my true treasure lies. Our values, priorities, and goals in life are all laid bare when we pur ourselves in Solomon’s sandals and answer the question posed by God. Consider his answer:
“And Solomon said, ‘You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?’” (1 Kings 3:6-9).
That Solomon’s response was pleasing to God is evident from what comes next:
“And God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days’” (1 Kings 3:11-14).
“Let us then with confidence [boldness, devoid of hesitation, joyfully, knowing that God loves it when we approach him with our needs] draw near to the throne of grace [not of law or merit or reward, but grace] that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).