READ – 2 Chronicles 6:12-21
Scholars of Chronicles all agree – chapters 6 and 7 is the highlight of the whole book. In fact, you could say that these chapters are the highlight of the entire Old Testament story. It was a time of peace and an era of great prosperity for Israel. But more important than any of those things, it was a time when God was present with His people and to the world in a way He had never been before in the temple. The implication of this is if you miss the point of the temple, you’ll miss the point of this whole book and you’ll miss the central place where renewal is found - in prayer. Prayer is the point of the temple. 2 Chronicles 6 – the high point of the whole Old Testament – is a prayer for the renewal of our prayers.
SUMMARY: One of the main sources of our frustration with and neglect of prayer is that we are too focused on what we are supposed to do and say in prayer and not focused enough on what God wants to say to us in prayer.
The temple was God’s way of telling Israel and all of humanity “I’m here.” There is a great tension in the bible when it comes to God’s presence. Does God dwell in a mysterious thick darkness far off and separate from humanity (6:1)? Or does he dwell close to us, so near that He’s always there when we need Him? That we know where to find Him? (6:2) Theologians call this the tension between God’s transcendence and God’s immanence. In Solomon’s prayer we learn that the temple was God’s way of resolving this tension – to show he had not and will not give up on his purpose, goal and mission for this world – to dwell with us (see Revelation 21:1-5).
The symbolism and language describing God’s presence in the temple points beyond the OT to its greater reality fulfilled in Jesus. In John 1:14 we read, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In Jesus, God tells us “I’m here” in the most personal, complete way possible. In Christianity we find the only belief system that offers us a God to whom we pray that can say to us, in all genuineness, no matter what we are facing, “I’ve been there and I’m here for you.”
Related to our struggles with the absence of God is another difficult question about prayer. When we do pray, is God listening? Does it make any difference? How do I know God hears my prayers? Solomon gives God a reason why God must listen in 6:19-20. He prays that God would “regard our prayers” because we pray “toward the place you have promised to set your name.” God’s name is a rich concept throughout Scripture. Like any name, God’s name represents who He is and what He does - His actions & attributes. Praying in God’s name is how God’s actions and attributes are made accessible to me/my situation. God’s name is about divine accessibility.
What we see from the larger biblical story is that the temple’s purpose as a place of prayer in God’s name is fulfilled and intensified in Jesus. He is the greater temple, the “place” where God’s name is fully known, the way to complete and full divine access. Instead of praying toward the temple, Jesus said we are to pray in his name. “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:14) When we pray in the name of Jesus, we are trusting our prayers are accepted and have access to God not because of how much we pray, what we say in prayer or the faith we bring to our prayers BUT only because of Jesus’ perfect life and saving work. Praying in Jesus’ names means we can have the confidence that God’s actions and attributes are made accessible to us and our specific situation when we pray in Jesus’ name.
Solomon concludes his prayer by asking God not only to hear, but to forgive when his people pray toward the temple in his name. Hearing God say, “I forgive” is meant to bring an experience of liberation, release and freedom every time we hear it. It should never grow old. Shallow forgiveness is one of the most common reasons why we don’t regularly experience renewal in our relationship with God.
There are 2 ways we remain on the surface of forgiveness’ renewing power: 1) We reduce our need for forgiveness - If we are honest, most of think, “Forgiveness – of course, it’s God job to forgive me. Nobody’s perfect!” Forgiveness is taken for granted, assumed and emptied of all its power. Only when we own the depth and seriousness of our sin can the words “I forgive” set us free. 2) We refuse to forgive ourselves – Paradoxically, we can also magnify our sin in such a way that we refuse to receive forgiveness from God. We hold onto our failures, mistakes, shortcomings. The reason we can't forgive ourselves for falling short is that we are looking to ourselves and our goodness, performance and success to save us. What they say about us is more important than what God says about us. God longs for us to hear him say, “I forgive both your badness and your attempts at being good enough. Be free!”
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?
2. How would you describe your greatest difficulty or challenge when it comes to prayer? How does it help to change the focus from what we do and say to what God wants to say to us?
3. Where do you most need to hear God say to you, “I’m here”? How does knowing that Jesus entered into human experience, suffering and temptation help you with what you are facing?
4. It was said in the sermon that, “We struggle with prayer because we think our access to be heard and be listened to is based on our name (our own actions and our attributes). We wonder if are we good enough, praying enough, consistent enough, saying the right things, with enough passion to get God’s attention to hear us and answer our prayers.” Do you struggle with this? How does praying “in Jesus’ name” set us free from being so focused on our prayers?
5. When we pray in Jesus’ name we can pray knowing the Father never says no to the Son. This means Jesus will take our imperfect prayers and perfect them for us. Read the quote below. If we really believed this, how might it change our prayer life?
This is our comfort because God answers every prayer, for either he gives us what we pray for or something far better.
6. In what ways do you take God’s forgiveness for granted? In what ways do you refuse to forgive yourself (see the chart below for help.) How does the gospel show us both the seriousness of our sin and the inadequacies of our goodness? How does the gospel show us that we are truly and fully forgiven?
How could hearing God say to us (again and again), “I forgive” bring about a renewal of liberation, freedom and joy in our lives?
How We Refuse to Forgive Ourselves
- I can’t let it go. How could I do that?
- I should be better, should do better. I’m holding this against myself.
- I see myself primarily through the lens of my failures, shortcomings and sins.
- I keep replaying it in my mind. I dwell on my failures, shortcomings and ongoing struggles.
What God Says When He Says “I Forgive”
- I've let it go.
- I don’t hold this against you.
- I don’t see you through the lens of your sin, failure and weakness.
- I won’t bring this up against you ever again.
Prayers are instantly noticed in heaven...Here is comfort for the distressed, but praying soul. Oftentimes a poor broken-hearted one bends his knee, but can only utter his wailing in the language of sighs and tears; yet that groan has made all the harps of heaven thrill with music; that tear has been caught by God and treasured in the lachrymatory of heaven...Our God not only hears prayer but also loves to hear it.