1 Kings 3:5-15
This morning is our last Prayer Dare in our July sermon series. As we will be worshiping outdoors next Sunday, we will not have a time to have a written report-in, but I challenge you to focus this week on praying for wisdom. I don’t mean smarts, intelligence, knowledge. I mean wisdom which is defined in the Old Testament as “a discerning mind which can tell good from evil.” I think about people like Judge Barry Williams and State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. People entrusted with exercising wisdom after listening to the facts and interpreting the law. Neither one of them can stop at simply knowing the law. They have to make decisions on what is good, or right, or just.
I think about people like Trump and Clinton, running against one another for the highest elected office in our country. To be a good president it is not enough to have experience, or money, or fame. It is not enough to have a skilled team of supporters behind you. Wisdom is crucial in the leading of a nation, in being responsible for the lives of those who reside within our borders, for the well being of communities, for interacting with the rest of the world. Leaders need a wise and understanding heart, one that enables them to discern between good and evil, or perhaps it is better to say, to discern the correct path for a very conflicted, confused and often cantankerous nation of people.
Brand new King of Israel, Solomon asked for wisdom. Not for a long life. Not for lots of wealth. Not for people to like him. He asks for wisdom. Even at a young age, he seems to have enough wisdom to know that he doesn’t have enough to do his job. What a stellar example of humility. He starts out from the very beginning with the knowledge that he does not have what it takes on his own. That he can’t do it by himself. We could use more leaders with that kind of understanding. Young Solomon knows that he needs God’s help, God’s gift of wisdom. We admire him, and apparently God is pleased with him as well, for recognizing his need for wisdom. More often than not, when we are young, we think we know it all. We have the up to date knowledge on our areas of expertise, we look at the older folks as relics from the past, behind the times, old-fashioned. Perhaps you can identify with the description which was shared some years ago by Ann Landers about a how a child’s perception of a parent changes over time:
at 4 years: My daddy can do anything.
at 7 years: My dad knows a lot, a whole lot.
at 14 years: Dad? Hopelessly old-fashioned.
at 21 years: Oh, that man is out-of-date. What did you expect?
at 25 years: He knows a little bit about it, but not much.
at 30 years: Maybe we ought to find out what Dad thinks.
at 35 years: Let’s get Dad’s assessment before we do anything.
at 60 years: My dad knew absolutely everything!
-adapted from an essay printed in Ann Landers’ column in 1999.
Our perception of wisdom changes as we become wiser ourselves. Solomon knew that following in the footsteps of his dad, King David, was what he wanted to do. He just did not know how to do it. His father died before he could pass it along. And he inherited the throne through the back door. His older brother Adonijah should have rightfully been king, and actually had started to act as king while David was in hospice care. Bathsheba, Solomon’s mom, and the prophet Nathan maneuvered very cleverly to get David to identify Solomon as the next king. He gave Solomon guiding words before he died: “Guard what is owed to the Lord your God, walking in his ways and observing his laws, his commands, his judgments, and his testimonies… in this way you will succeed in whatever you do and wherever you go.” When King Solomon went up to one of the shrines to offer an extremely excessive number of sacrifices, he had a dream. He is in the only type of holy place around, as there is no temple built yet. On a sacred site, he dreams he is talking with God.
God says: “Ask what you wish, and I will give it to you. Tell me what you want.”
Solomon does not appear to be the type to give a direct answer. He has to offer a little commentary and explanation before he names his desire. Solomon says: “You showed kindness to my father David. You have continued your kindness for David and have allowed me to sit on his throne. You have made me, your servant, king in my father David’s place.”
He goes on to describe his current status: “I am young. I am inexperienced. I know next to nothing. I am here, in the middle of your chosen people, a large, uncountable population.” Maybe he should have gone on to say: “I don’t know what to do, how to govern, what kind of decisions to make. I am not sure I am really ready for this. I wish my dad were still around.”
God is a patient listener, of course. Finally we get to his request. “Please give your servant a discerning mind in order to govern your people and to distinguish good from evil, because no one is able to govern this important people of yours without your help.” Likely Solomon knows the words from Moses which warned kings to not accumulate horses, wives or silver and gold.
God is pleased: “Asking for discernment so as to acquire good judgement and NOT asking for long life, wealth, or victory over enemies means I will give you what you asked for- a wise and discerning mind. PLUS I will give you wealth, fame and a long life. There will be no one like you—not in the past, not in the future. There won’t be a king like you as long as you live. I will give you a long life if you follow your father’s pattern of walking in my ways, obeying my laws and commands. ”
Why is God so pleased with this request? It looks like Solomon is at least starting off on the right foot here. He recognizes his need for God’s help. He is humble and ready to serve. God likes that attitude. Surely God still likes that attitude. When we come before God in prayer we are often coming with our laundry list of concerns for ourselves or for the needs of others. I dare you this week to intentionally seek God’s gift of a wise and discerning mind. Instead of asking God to fix your problem, ask God to give you the wisdom you need to face the issue at hand. In that way you are admitting that you can’t do it alone, but that you know you can do it with God’s help.
What if God said to you…. what do you want? Where would you start? It would not be unusual at all to say: A new job. Improved health. A chance to rest. Safety for my children. All of those things are worthwhile requests. How about starting with a prayer for wisdom first? A prayer that admits we know less than we think we know. A prayer that admits our need for God in our day to day decision making. You don’t have to be a king or a president to have decisions to make! We are in need of wise and discerning minds as we decide who to vote for, how to respond to a child’s tantrum, where to put our energy and time, when to speak and when to be silent, what to hold on to and what to release. So often we breeze right through our day and only stop to chat with God as an afterthought, or we only go to God for help to clean up the mess left because we made an unwise decision.
Praying for wisdom requires us to be aware of our own shortfall in the wisdom bank from the get-go. It requires us to recognize that we can’t do it alone. It requires humility. That can be the hardest part for us. That is our prayer dare for this week. To ask for wisdom we don’t have. To ask for a discerning mind so that we can tell good from evil. Some people are so sure of themselves and assume they already know it all. But so many of our decisions in life are not clear cut. It is not always obvious which is the good way. Sometimes our choices are between the lesser of two evils. Sometimes our choices are between two very good things. Sometimes we decide not to decide. But choices we must make– whether it is for a president, a course of study, a spouse, or a way to relate to God. Decisions we must face on a regular basis. Let’s make a commitment this week to ask for wisdom first. What difference might that make in your decision-making, your discernment? Acknowledging his need for wisdom from God made Solomon a wise king. Let’s start with that as our prayer this week: God, I don’t know it all. And then, Give me a wise and understanding mind, O Lord. How about repeating that every day? Or multiple times each day? Amen.