Early in my ministry, I thought of prayer as something mostly personal and disconnected from the practical work of ministry. Later, I came to believe that prayer was important preparation for the work of ministry. Over time, I’ve come to more deeply believe that prayer is the organic engine of fruitful ministry.
A passage in which I see this reality in action is David’s prayer related to his plans for his son, Solomon, to build a temple. What strikes me is that this is a prayer that is just as foundational as the stones that would be laid as temple construction actually began.
I’m including the extended prayer and highlighting the phrases in which I see God’s grace at work. They show how David envisioned this temple as a work that was impossible apart from the guiding and empowering presence of God with him and Solomon in it. Listen to the wisdom of David’s prayer, and notice especially the phrases I’ve bolded:
10David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,
“Praise be to you, Lord,
the God of our father Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
11Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
12Wealth and honor come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
13Now, our God, we give you thanks,
and praise your glorious name.
14“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. 15We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. 16Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. 17I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. 18Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. 19And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided.”
1 Chronicles 29:10-19 NIV
Here’s what I find helpful and encouraging here:
My work really is more about stewardship than it is about ownership. David reminds himself that everything in heaven and on earth belongs to God. This isn’t a “should” but an “is.” Wealth comes from God. Honor comes from God. Authority comes from God. Strength and power come from God. They are not our own, but entrusted to us as we enter our work as collaborators with God.
Maybe this sounds humbling, but humbling is actually freeing. Imagining myself as owner actually becomes a more worrisome burden than remembering myself to be a steward of what Another owns.
Generosity is a gift to the giver even as it is a gift to the receiver. David prays, “Who am I (and who are we) that we should be able to give as generously as we’re able to do?” This is again about stewardship. I am being generous with someone else’s resources. Everything I generously give is only giving to another what we’ve first been given by our Father in heaven. This is an important perspective to guard within us.
Again, David reminds himself in prayer that all of the abundance that is coming together as they prepare to build a temple in God’s name came from God in the first place. In our own work, all of the creativity, the wisdom, the vision, the energy, and the strength with which we do our work came not from ourselves but from our God.
What makes generosity most joyful is when it is the expression of a willing heart. Generosity doesn’t work as forced labor. Generosity is born in the soil of freedom and willingness. Generosity is a freedom we desperately need in a culture that defines us mostly by possessing things rather than sharing things. Lord, have mercy. And our work can be an expression of that kind of generosity. We don’t work because we have to. Work is actually a gift in itself.