Do you remember anything about your college commencement address? Stop for a moment and try. Do you remember what it was about? Any profound words of wisdom? Any helpful tips about the way life works? Any life-changing truths?
Most people who went to college don’t remember their commencement speaker, much less what he or she said. There’s a certain irony to this, since a commencement address is supposed to sum up a philosophy of life and lay out what someone believes are the most essential principles for living. It’s supposed to be one of the most memorable and profound speeches a person gives.
Your commencement address might be lost somewhere in the cobwebs of your memory, but there’s a more important commencement address preserved for us in the pages of Scripture. In 1 Kings 8, King Solomon gives the people of Israel a “commencement address” in the form of a prayer offered at the dedication of the Temple he had built. And it’s one worth listening to.
Solomon, whom God had made the wisest man on earth, explained that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10 CSB). This prayer is the embodiment of Solomon’s knowledge of God, which forms the foundation of his wisdom.
A.W. Tozer said in The Knowledge of the Holy,
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us .… We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. The most [determining] fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.
Our knowledge of God is the core, shaping influence on our lives. Here are the things Solomon knew about God that transformed the way he prayed. If you grasp them, they can transform the way you pray, too.
1. God is a mysterious-yet-accessible God (1 Kings 8:12-13).
God is incomprehensible (dwelling in total darkness) but approachable (through the Temple he has built).
Depending on our experience, most of us have a hard time accepting both of these truths. For many, the idea of God coming near is unbelievable. But as a human race, our most chronic shortfall is that we constantly minimize God and downplay his glory. We want him to be approachable, but we don’t like him being mysterious.
But God isn’t just a slightly bigger, slightly smarter version of us. He exists without beginning or end. He stands outside of a universe at least 12 trillion light years across, having spoken it into existence with a word.
God isn’t just a slightly bigger, slightly smarter version of us. Believe that, and it’ll transform the way you pray.
It is not wise for someone with capacities as limited as ours to expect to comprehend everything about God or grasp how he exists eternally, how he is a Trinity, or how all things are working for his good purposes.
2. God is a narrowly-accessible God (1 Kings 8:27-29).
If God really does dwell in darkness but has revealed himself in a specific place and specific way, it follows that the only way to really know him is to seek him at the place he has designated.
The place that God has put his name and the continued power of his Spirit in is his church. That means if you are going to experience the blessing of God, you have to be committed to the church. You can’t have a casual relationship to the church and rich access to the blessing of God.
3. God is a promise-keeping God (1 Kings 8:15, 56).
Solomon first utters a phrase in verse 15 that he repeats over and over throughout his prayer: “[God] has fulfilled the promise by his power.” Solomon ordered his life around the assumption that the promises of God were true.
Wisdom means aligning your life around the promises of God—not becoming more moral or filling your head with more Bible knowledge. It means living in a way that if the promises of God aren’t true, you would be a fool.
4. God is a grace-extending God (1 Kings 8:46-50).
The biggest chunk of Solomon’s prayer is all about God’s willingness to forgive and restore after we sin. The whole prayer is built on the assumption that we are desperate sinners who need God’s help after we mess things up—which we’ll do pretty often.
The ceremony to dedicate the temple, in fact, was so closely linked to our need for forgiveness that it was literally bathed in blood. Verse 5 tells us that before the prayer, King Solomon offered hundreds of thousands of animals as sacrifices to atone for the people’s sins, so the ground he was standing on would have been saturated with blood. That grosses us out, and it should: It represents the heinousness of our sin.
All this blood pointed to the blood of the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus, who would one day be slain for the forgiveness of our sin. When we walk into the presence of God, we stand on ground soaked in the blood of Jesus. And when we pray in the power of this new sacrifice, we can rebound from defeat (vv. 33-34), regain lost blessings (vv. 35-36), request personal healing (vv. 37-39), regroup for spiritual victory (vv. 44-45), and repent and be restored (vv. 46-49).
5. God is a justice-conscious God (1 Kings 8:32).
Solomon says, “May you judge your servants, condemning the wicked man by bringing what he has done on his own head and providing justice for the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness” (1 Kings 8:32).
Solomon knows that there will be times when you feel like you were deprived of justice. You’ve tried confrontation, maybe even taking things to the authorities … and you still can’t get justice. When that happens, Solomon says, you have two options: Either let that injustice fester until you are forced to take vengeance yourself, or lay it at God’s feet, knowing that one day he will restore justice to you. The first option will only lead to bitterness and despair, even if you get the vengeance you’re after. Only entrusting justice to God can renew your life and lift your weary heart.
6. God is an outward-focused God (1 Kings 8:41-43).
At every point in Israel’s history, God had the outsider in mind. He saved Israel to make them a blessing to others. The Temple was built with the salvation of the nations in mind. And the church is built with the salvation of the nations in mind. Because he cares about outsiders, God is furious when we treat the church as if it is all about us.
If you’ve been saved by God’s great generosity toward you, then you become scandalously generous with what you have. How could you help it? You were an outsider when God brought you in. Shouldn’t you focus your life on helping to bring others in?