One night, there were three sailors whose ship took on water and sunk. They made their way in a raft to a small atoll. One was an Englishman, the second was an Italian and the third was German. They had eaten all the coconuts and were slowly starving to death. One evening, a bottle came floating up on the beach. They were almost too weak to go down to get it, but they drew sticks and the Italian had to fetch the bottle. When he brought it back, they pulled the cork out of the bottle, and a genie came out and granted each of them one wish. Naturally they wanted to go home, so they began asking the genie to grant their requests.
The Italian said, “I wish I was back in Rome drinking coffee at a sidewalk cafe on the Via Venato, just watching the people pass by.” Immediately, he was back in Rome drinking his coffee.
The Englishman spoke next. “I wish I were back in London eating fish and chips in Piccadilly Square.” Immediately there he was, back in London.
The third then said, “I am so lonely without my two friends I wish they were back here to keep me company.”
God is not a genie in a bottle
How often in prayer do we treat God like a genie in a bottle? When we get in a desperate situation we grab our “prayer bottle” and pull out the cork, expecting God to come wafting out and say “What’s your wish?” And then we expect Him to grant it. Or when there is something we really want that isn’t possible in our humble means to obtain – we run to the dusty self and grab that “prayer bottle” and eagerly yank the cork out.
If God were to ask you, “What shall I give you?” what would you ask for? Take a moment and think about it. Got your answer? Ok…then keep reading.
What we ask God for is an indicator of our spiritual maturity
What we ask God for shows a lot about where we are spiritually. If you were thinking of things of this world, like big bank accounts, ocean front mansions, and fancy cars, then it reveals that your values are both materialistic and selfish.
However, if your wish was to be more like Jesus, or to have a more consistent prayer life, or to be a better witness for Christ, then your values lie in things that are eternal and enduring.
The problem with treating God like a trapped genie in a bottle is that we make Him our servant rather than us being His.
The simple truth is, our prayers usually are a reflection of where our true values lie. We pray for those things that are most important to us. God doesn’t have to give us anything we ask for. Yet, out of His love for us, He does grant us our requests when they align with His will.
In John 14:13, Jesus said, “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” In John 16:24, He said, “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” However, these verses do not mean we can pray, “God, in the name of Jesus, give me a Lamborghini in bright red,” and POOF! there it is. There are two other important things about prayer that we must consider: 1) praying in the will of God and 2) praying for the wrong kind of things.
Asking in the will of God.
1 John 5:14-15 says, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” If we’re going to pray God’s will, then we have to start with knowing what His will is. That means you’ve already spent time praying, studying God’s Word, and asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to you what God’s will is. Let’s see what the Bible says about God’s will.
God’s will is sovereign.
God chooses and orders all that has and ever will take place.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will. Ephesians 1:11
In Acts 4, we find that by God’s sovereign will Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and even the people of Israel, had Jesus crucified. In verse 28, we read: “to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
God has a moral will.
God has given us His standard for right and wrong based upon his own holy and righteous character.
In Exodus 20:1-17, God gives Moses what we call “The Ten Commandments.” These ten laws are God’s moral standards for what is right and wrong – and they are just as true today as they were the day God wrote them on tablets of stone with His own finger and handed them to Moses. We can’t change God’s laws by amending ours. When we stand before God in the final judgement, God won’t determine how well we lived according to our laws – but by His.
God has a permissive will.
Because sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, God currently allows certain things to take place in this world that he would not allow in a sinless world.
We find in Acts 14:16 that God allowed previous generations to “walk in their own way.” In other words, He allowed them to live the way they wanted. But when we are determined to live our own way there are two things to be aware of:
God eventually will say, “Enough is enough!” We see this in Sodom and Gomorrah, in Noah and the flood, and when He sent Israel and Judah into exile.
We might think we’re living our way, but God will still obtain his ultimate purposes. Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel all thought they were putting Jesus to death and in doing so would stop others from believing in Him. But Jesus going to the cross was exactly what God had planned so that you and I could be saved from our sins. So you can persist in having your own way – and sometimes God will allow it – but God will still achieve His purposes and we can be sure that if our will is not aligned to His will then those things we persisted on having our way will usually end up causing us grief in the long run until we humbly submit ourselves to God and return to His will.
Asking for the Wrong Kinds of Things
James wrote, “You ask and receive not because you are asking for the wrong kind of things. You are asking for things that you might consume on your own lusts” (James 4:3). We have a good Father, who desires to give us good things. In Matthew 7:11, Jesus said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” James wrote: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).
So unless God, in his permissive will, allows us to have things that are not in His will, then we can know that when we pray for things that God does not give us, then we are praying for the wrong kinds of things. I wonder how many times we are asking for things that would only pander to our lusts?
What did Solomon ask for?
Not long after Solomon takes the throne as king of Israel, God appears to Solomon and says: “Ask! What shall I give you?” Solomon didn’t ask for good health, long life, riches, or fame. He didn’t ask God to wipe out his enemies or seek revenge for a wrong done? Solomon could have asked for anything. In fact, his father, David, had recently died. He could have asked God to bring David back to life. However, he asked for nothing from a selfish perspective.
Perhaps now that he sat on the throne, the weight of the responsibility of being king to God’s chosen people weighed on him. Solomon asked for nothing for himself except for God’s wisdom in leading and guiding God’s people. His requests marks a cultural change from a strong military nation to one of peaceful values. Solomon asked God to give him the ability to discern good and evil and to make him a ruler with a wise and obedient heart.
Solomon’s request granted
God was pleased with Solomon’s request and granted what he asked for. Verses 10-12 says, “The speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. Then God said to him: “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked for riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you.”
But God didn’t stop there. In verse 13, God continues and says, “And I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honor, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days.” Still God didn’t stop, but His final gift to Solomon had a condition placed on it. In verse 14, God says, “So if you walk in My ways, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”
God delights in giving us wisdom
We can know that God delights to give us wisdom when we truly seek it. Proverbs 2:6-8 says: “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints.” And in James 1:5 we find, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” So if you are struggling with knowing what you should do, ask God to give you wisdom.
Just how wise was Solomon?
So just how wise was Solomon? 1 Kings 4:29-34 describes Solomon this way: “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all other men, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol, and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005. And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.”
What a parent prays for their children matter
Maybe your thinking, “where did Solomon get the wisdom to ask for wisdom?” If we look back to his father’s charge to Solomon in 1 Chronicles 22, we find David saying in verse 12, “Only the LORD give you wisdom and understanding, and give you charge concerning Israel, that you may keep the law of the LORD your God.” We find a father who’s last recorded prayer for his son was that God would give him wisdom and understanding. As parents, the things we pray over our children matter!
Why was Solomon’s request pleasing to God?
Solomon acknowledged God’s sovereign will. He said, “Lord, you have made me the ruler over your people. Grant me the wisdom and knowledge to do the right thing as I reign over them.” There was no puffed-up pride saying “I put me on this throne.” He knew he was king because God chose him to be king. He recognized that God had made him ruler over His people.
Solomon wasn’t the first born son of David. The first born was killed when he tried to take the throne away from David. Then, at David’s death, we find an older half-brother of Solomon’s tries to set himself up as king. Solomon’s mother, Bathsheeba, has to intervene and remind David that he had promised her Solomon would be the next king. David made this promise because in 1 Chronicles 22:6-10, we find that God told David that He has chosen Solomon to rule after David.
Solomon acknowledged that the task to which God had called him was bigger than he could fulfill. When the task God is calling us to do is bigger than our own capabilities, we need to ask God for His divine help. God-sized tasks require divine assistance. They are not meant for us to handle on our own. Rather, they are designed for God to work in us and through us as we humbly submit to His sovereign will.
What can we learn from Solomon?
Solomon’s request was in line with the purposes of God
Solomon’s request was in total harmony with the purposes of God. A sure way of getting your prayers answered is to discover the will of God and make that your prayer. We know that God’s will is that no one would die lost in their sins. So if you have not yet asked God to forgive your sins, start there.
We also know that God has a purpose for each one us. If you don’t yet know what His purpose is for you, ask Him to reveal it to you. Then, when you know His will for you, ask Him for the necessary ability to accomplish those thing that He wants you to do.
Don’t allow what God accomplishes through you to go to your head
As God works in you and through your to accomplish His will, don’t let it go to your head. Solomon started out well in asking for wisdom. But eventually, we see that through the many wives and concubines he had, they each brought with them their own “gods” and eventually, Solomon began to worship the gods of his wives. Pride begins to set in heart for the wealth and prosperity he had amassed. So be sure that as you accomplish God’s will that all the praise, glory, and honor belongs to God.
We are here to serve God – not so He can serve us
Before you begin asking God for the desires of your heart, remember we are here to serve Him – not so He can serve us. We have the privilege and joy to be an instrument through which He does His work. As God accomplishes His will in our lives, others will see the mighty things He does. We can then either let them believe we did it ourselves, or we can acknowledge that we do all things through Christ who gives us strength. Will you allow the world to think you’re a “self-made” person or will you point them to God who is working in you to accomplish His perfect plan?
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