The Rev. Everett L. Fullam ("Terry") graduated from Gordon College with a degree in Philosophy and did his graduate work at Harvard and Boston Universities. He was ordained in the Episcopal Church and in 1972 became Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Darien, Connecticut. Under Terry's leadership, St. Paul's became one of the most active Episcopal churches in America. Its focus on parish renewal became widely-known and thrust Dr. Fullam into a much broader ministry. He left St. Paul's in 1989 to devote himself full-time to renewal of the wider church. From his base in Deltona, Florida, Terry travels extensively, lecturing and ministering to churches around the world. [Biographical information is correct as of the broadcast date noted.]
A Prayer that God Finds Irresistible
First broadcast January 31, 1993
[Transcribed from tape and edited for clarity.]
St. Paul tells us twice in the New Testament that the things that happen to the people of the Old Testament were written down for our sake that we could learn from their experience. Today I want to look at a strange experience that King Solomon had, an experience that can teach us a lot about prayer and the will of God.
The account is found in I Kings, the 3rd chapter. Here we are introduced to Solomon who has just been declared the new king. He is king by the will of God -- he understands that -- and also by the will of his father. He comes to this post having been prepared for it. He believes that God is behind this move and he comes with a strong sense of divine calling. He is a person who is convinced that he is serving God in what he is doing and that he has been called by God to do it.
The account that I am concerned with takes place shortly after his inauguration as the new king. He has a dream. In the middle of the night, God comes to him and says something very strange. The Lord says, "Solomon, you can ask me for anything you want and I will do it."
Think about that for a moment. "You can ask for anything you want and I will do that." Sounds to me like a blank check. It sounds to me as though God is saying, "You just fill in anything you want and I will do it." I wonder what you would answer. What would you put in that place if you knew that God would do whatever it was you wanted Him to do? What would you put in there?
I suppose a lot of people might ask for a lot of money. They would want success; they would want prosperity. Maybe others, a bit more wise, might ask for good health and a long life. Isn't it perfectly clear to you that anybody who had such a chance -- to have one thing they could ask of God and be guaranteed that He would do -- would certainly not fritter this away on something that is casual and of no consequence? Isn't it clear to you that such a person would want to think carefully about it, wouldn't want to waste this opportunity? Isn't it also clear to you that whatever they finally decided to ask of God would be a kind of x-ray of the soul? It would let you know a lot about what is important to them.
This blank check that God seems to have given to Solomon, "Ask anything you want from me and I'll give it to you," is found elsewhere in the scripture. Jesus is recorded in Mark 11:24 as saying much the same thing. "Anything you ask, if you believe that you will receive it, you will have it."
Again it seems as though it is a blank check and the only contingency is that you believe that you will receive it. You know as well as I that people can talk themselves into believing anything.
I remember a charming little scene in Mill on the Floss. Maggie Tulliver is about to take an examination for which she is ill prepared. Somehow she remembers that passage of scripture from the sermon of the week before in her local parish. She says, "Well, I am going to try it out. I am going to pray, 'Lord, help me to pass this examination and get a good grade.'" She flunks. She says that from then on she has given up prayer. It doesn't work.
Well, that is not the only place that one finds Jesus making this kind of blank check statement.
John 14:13-14 says much the same thing. He says, "Anything you ask, asking in my name, I will give you."
What could be clearer? There are people who have built a whole doctrine of prayer on that one verse, but there is a problem with that. There are countless numbers of people who have tried that and they have found that it has not worked for them all the time.
You see, prayer is not really a matter of formula. It is not a matter of just trying something out, just saying what you want God to do and then expecting Him to do it. It doesn't work that way. You can't base a doctrine of prayer on any one verse of the scripture. You need to take all that it says and put it together and you find that some of these things are corrected and balanced out.
I'm thinking of what John says in I John 5. He makes this statement, "This is the confidence we have in the Lord; that if we ask anything according to His will, we know that He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, we know that we have the answer that we required of Him."
The contingency there is asking according to the will of God. I want to think more about that in terms of this experience with Solomon. Solomon's response is not immediately to answer the Lord with his request. Instead he begins to think about his godly heritage. Solomon answered, "You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart."
He remembered his father, a man with tremendous failings as well as great faith. Impossible that Solomon could have reached adulthood without understanding that his father in a moment of terrible lapse was responsible for adultery and murder. When it was pointed out to David what he had done, in repentance he confessed it to the whole world. Everyone knew what he had done, but he was a man of God and you can see the impact he had on his son.
Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the statutes of his father, David. He showed his love for the Lord by following in the footsteps and the counsel of his father. He not only had his example; he did have his counsel.
We read this in the chapter before: "When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. 'I am about to go the way of all the earth,' he said. 'So be strong, Solomon, show yourself a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in His ways, keep His decrees and commands, His laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go.'"
Solomon had the godly example of his father and his counsel as well. What did he answer? Remember the word of God to him? "Solomon, ask for whatever you want and I will do it."
He says, "Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and I do not know how to carry out my duties."
Isn't that extraordinary? Solomon was not a little child. Solomon was a grown man. Solomon had emerged not as the eldest son, but had emerged as his father's successor. He now was on the throne. But you see, in his own eyes he was a humble man. He said, "I am just as a child. I don't know how to do what you are asking me to do."
Then comes his request of the Lord. Listen to it. "Lord, give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?"
What was it Solomon asked for? He could have had anything or so it seemed. What he actually asked for was the ability to accomplish what God had assigned for him to do. That is a prayer I believe that is irresistible to God. He asked nothing for himself.
What he asked for was the ability to discern, to be a leader who could see into the nature of the things going on around him, who could understand what was happening and know the course of action that was to be taken. He asked for the ability to distinguish between that which is good and that which is evil. I wonder if it was as confused in his day as it seems to be in ours. He wanted the clear ability to discern good from evil so that he might govern the people of the Lord justly.
You see, the prayer that is irresistible to God is whenever we ask Him for the grace, the strength, the wisdom, the insight, the knowledge, the courage, the resources to accomplish what He has assigned us to do. That is a prayer irresistible to God.
Now listen to the Lord's response: "The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, 'Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have you asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. Solomon, I am going to give you the wisdom you need. I am going to give you the discerning mind; I am going to give you the moral sense to distinguish between that which is right and that which is wrong, that which is true, that which is false, that which is good and that which is evil. I am going to do it for you.'"
Then, a little bonus. Listen to this: "I will give you a wise and discerning heart but I will also give you what you have not asked for -- both riches and honor -- so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands, as David your father did, I will give you a long life."
What kind of prayer is it that God finds irresistible? Prayer in harmony with His will. I have to say to you that we don't have to know the will of God in order to choose it. We don't have to understand all things in order to embrace God's purpose for our lives. Our ignorance does not stop His hand, but our willfulness does.
We can choose God's purpose for us this day and tomorrow and the day after. We can say, "Lord, lead us into the good works that you have prepared for us to walk in. Give us discerning minds; give us the ability to distinguish that which is good and that which is bad; give us the power that we do what You want us to do by the grace that You supply. That, I believe, is a prayer irresistible to God. He gave an answer affirmative to Solomon and I believe it will be exactly the same for you and for me.
Father, seal to our hearts this truth, simple as it is and let it challenge us, feed us, correct us, encourage us that in all things you may be glorified through that which we pray, that which we do. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Conversation with Everett Fullam
David Hardin: Terry, this idea of God finding something irresistible is intriguing, but how do we know what He wants?
Everett Fullam: I think it doesn't make any sense to say that God wants us to walk in His will if it becomes impossible to discover it. In a general sense, in the scripture He tells us a lot about what His will is. Part of our problem is we don't know the Bible well enough to be able to discern His will. I think that is an important thing, but I also believe that what God is looking for is a pure heart which means that we don't necessarily understand what God may want us to do at any particular moment but we can embrace it; we can choose it. God created us in His image and I think what that means among other things is that He gave us the ability to choose.
Hardin: You kind of touched on that when you said that ignorance is not a problem for God, but willfulness is.
Fullam: That's right.
Hardin: Expand on that a little.
Fullam: You see, there is one thing our God won't do. He will not force us against our will because He created us in His image and He gave us the ability to choose which, of course, is at the same time the ability to refuse. He lets us refuse. There are consequences to it to be sure, but He lets us genuinely refuse. It takes us a long time to realize that we can cooperate with the Lord. We can say, "I don't know what You want me to do in this but, Lord, I choose it in advance."
Hardin: It gets down to egocentricity, doesn't it? What's right for me is all that counts.
Fullam: I think what we are saying is, Who is Lord? Am I the Lord of my life? Then all of those decisions are mine and it makes no difference what I choose, it's mine.
for changing one's mind. It strikes me that, however important an issue this is, and I think it is an important issue, it is not the all-important issue by any means. There is a hierarchy of values; there are some things for which I would die, but not many. The ordination of women is not one of them.
Hardin: Maybe one of the issues is that we prioritize things that don't deserve it.
Fullam: That's right. We do. We major on minors a lot of the time.
Hardin: As you say, we get locked into it. The church, I think, needs to work on negotiating possibilities.
Fullam: I do, too.
Hardin: It's been great having you with us.
Fullam: Thank you. I have loved it.
Hardin: I have, too.