1 Kings 3:5-14 – A Prayer for Discernment

Stained glass window of King Solomon in Saint-Joseph Des Fins Church, France

The Lord appeared to Solomon at Gibeon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you.”

Solomon responded, “You showed so much kindness to your servant my father David when he walked before you in truth, righteousness, and with a heart true to you. You’ve kept this great loyalty and kindness for him and have now given him a son to sit on his throne. And now, Lord my God, you have made me, your servant, king in my father David’s place. But I’m young and inexperienced. I know next to nothing. But I’m here, your servant, in the middle of the people you have chosen, a large population that can’t be numbered or counted due to its vast size. 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.”

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had made this request. God said to him, “Because you have asked for this instead of requesting long life, wealth, or victory over your enemies—asking for discernment so as to acquire good judgment— I will now do just what you said. Look, I hereby give you a wise and understanding mind. There has been no one like you before now, nor will there be anyone like you afterward. I now also give you what you didn’t ask for: wealth and fame. There won’t be a king like you as long as you live. And if you walk in my ways and obey my laws and commands, just as your father David did, then I will give you a very long life.” (Common English Bible)

You will recognize today’s Old Testament lesson as being the same as yesterday – just in a different book of the Bible. The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles are a restatement and edited version of 1 and 2 Kings. That’s because each was written in a different time for a particular context. Kings was compiled at the time of the Jewish exile when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem. Chronicles was put together for the exiles returning to Jerusalem.

Both accounts were meant to be lessons in how to live rightly as God’s people. For the people going into exile, the Kings narrative was to serve as a remembrance of how far the people had strayed from their roots in basic life wisdom.

“It is said that wisdom lies not in seeing things, but seeing through things.”

Manly P. Hall

Solomon was a very wise king. And today’s lesson makes it clear why. At the outset of his reign, Solomon could have asked for anything from God. A typical request might be for power in subduing enemies, popularity for appealing to the masses, or perks for maintaining political stability. 

Instead, Solomon asked for understanding and wisdom to govern God’s people so that he could discern between good and evil. It was the kind of asking which the Lord was pleased to hear and to give. All these millennia later, Solomon still has the reputation of being the wisest king that ever lived.

Solomon’s prayer resonates with me. As a church pastor, rather than focusing prayers on a bigger budget, more people reached, or adding programs, I can make the choice to pray for wisdom so that I will have my ministerial ladder on the right wall. 

As a hospital chaplain, instead of praying for greater visibility of the spiritual in healthcare, increased impact within the system, or more healing of patients, I can pray for understanding so that I will be able to make sound ethical, practical, and ministerial decisions in each context and case I encounter.

Solomon’s request was borne of a clear realization of who God is (the One who shows steadfast love) and who he himself is (like a little child with a big responsibility). God’s greatness and Solomon’s humility collided in a wonderful prayer for discernment to carry out God’s will on earth and to bless God’s people.

In this time of year, in which it is vogue to make New Year’s resolutions based upon the individual’s willpower, let’s take a different approach. Let’s pray and invite God to do the kind of deep change needed in our lives so that we can accomplish the will of God on this earth for this time. 

May we pray for discernment to serve well, ask for wisdom to be good stewards of our callings, and seek understanding from the God who delights in answering altruistic requests from humble people.

May you walk in the way of wisdom so that you will make good decisions and act in all good understanding.

Lord God, give me a mind and heart of wisdom so that I might rightly discern good and evil, right and wrong, and the best decisions to made in every situation. I choose to seek your ways and follow the narrow way of Jesus Christ through the enablement of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

2 Chronicles 1:7-13 – Ask for Wisdom

“Dream of Solomon” by Luca Giordano, 1693

God appeared to Solomon that night in a dream and said, “Solomon, ask for anything you want, and I will give it to you.”

Solomon answered:

Lord God, you were always loyal to my father David, and now you have made me king of Israel. I am supposed to rule these people, but there are as many of them as there are specks of dust on the ground. So, keep the promise you made to my father and make me wise. Give me the knowledge I’ll need to be the king of this great nation of yours.

God replied:

Solomon, you could have asked me to make you rich or famous or to let you live a long time. Or you could have asked for your enemies to be destroyed. Instead, you asked for wisdom and knowledge to rule my people. So, I will make you wise and intelligent. But I will also make you richer and more famous than any king before or after you.

Solomon then left Gibeon and returned to Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel. (Contemporary English Version)

Maybe it’s just me but I don’t often hear the word “wisdom” used in normal conversation.

I certainly don’t hear wisdom mentioned in talking about politicians, corporate executives, or even church leaders. “Oh, the Congressman is so wise!” “Isn’t that CEO a wonderfully sage person?” “My Pastor is full of wisdom!” You might even be laughing at this point because those kinds of statements just aren’t part of our daily interactions with others. 

We are more likely to say that somebody is full of something else other than wisdom. Yet, all the aforementioned statements could be said about King Solomon. The guy was wise, in fact, the wisest person that ever lived.

“Wise men talk because they have something to say; Fools , because they have to say something.”

Plato (424-348 B.C.E.)

Wisdom is the ability to put truth into practice. It is to see everything and everyone from God’s perspective. Wisdom is to have a solid base of knowledge, along with the skill set to use it for godly and constructive purposes. 

Solomon had a load of it. The really important thing to note from today’s Old Testament lesson is how Solomon obtained such wisdom. It came from God. Solomon asked for it, and he got it.

Anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask. (James 1:5, CEB)

Maybe the reason why so many people today are not characterized as wise is because they rely on their own ingenuity and hard work. Asking for wisdom may not even on their mind. Their radical independence prevents them from obtaining the wisdom needed.

In a world of dire straits, where significant problems often overshadow effective solutions, wisdom is needed more than ever. So, like Solomon of old, ask for wisdom and knowledge from God. 

We all are in some position of governing or overseeing others, whether it is being a parent, a faith community leader, or in charge of something at work. Everyone needs wisdom. 

Just ask. Be free to seek. Go ahead and knock on the door. Jesus said:

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8, NLT)

For all people everywhere, and in every circumstance, ask God for the ability to know the truth and put it into practice. Wisdom isn’t optional; it’s absolutely necessary to living a good life.

Get wisdom, get understanding;
    do not forget my words or turn away from them.
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
    love her, and she will watch over you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
    Though it cost all you have, get understanding. (Proverbs 4:5-7, NIV)

Wise God, you know all things and how everything works. Give me wisdom and knowledge so that your purposes and plans might be accomplished in and through me for every situation to the glory of Jesus Christ in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Matthew 7:7-11 – Ask. Seek. Knock.

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So, if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. (New Living Translation)

In the dog days of summer, and the long season of Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, it is good to be reminded of what it is we need to keep doing without giving up.

At the conclusion of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus issued a warning about the pitfall of failing to persist in a trusting relationship with God. We are to have an ongoing dynamic of asking, seeking, and knocking.

We might too often neglect to ask, seek, and knock because we rely on our own determination, abilities, education, or observations. The action of the three action words is a reference to prayer. The idea is that it is difficult to live a virtuous life, so we must continually ask, seek, and knock to receive an answer.

The demands of Christian discipleship are significant. Throughout Christ’s Sermon, he not only dealt with the outward actions of a follower but also the inward state of the heart.

Humility, meekness, mercy, purity, and peace characterize the inner person who walks in the way of Christ. Not only is murder wrong, but the bitter anger which it produces is to be dealt with. Adultery is also a violation of God’s law, along with the impure thoughts and intents of the heart which bring it about. Love for enemies, giving from the heart, praying with appropriate motives, fasting in secret, and building treasure in heaven are all expectations of the devout Christian believer.

These are inner attitudes and outward behaviors which require a constant stream of asking, seeking, and knocking on the door of heaven. They are more than natural abilities; what Jesus is looking for is to live a supernatural life. This, then, requires supernatural resources.

“I am the door, and the person who enters through me will be saved and will be able to come in and go out and find pasture.”

Jesus (John 10:9, NCV)

No one enters God’s realm because of sheer determination. God’s kingdom is only accessed through humble prayer. God is the One with the supernatural resources to help us live the Christian life.

And God is pleased to provide what we need to live that life. The Lord answers in love and not begrudgingly. Out of the infinite storehouse of grace, God delights in hearing our asking’s, responding to our seeking’s, and answering our knocking’s. With God, there is no daydreaming while we ask, no avoiding us when we seek, and no pulling the shades as the door is being knocked.

In love, God looks forward to our asking, seeking, and knocking.

The key takeaway from today’s Gospel lesson is repetition – not vain repetition which believes that the more prayer is repeated, the greater possibility of the answer we want – but a routine lifestyle of persistently and consistently praying.

Ask

You want things, but you don’t get them. So, you kill and are jealous of others. But you still cannot get what you want. So, you argue and fight. You don’t get what you want because you don’t ask God. Or when you ask, you don’t receive anything, because the reason you ask is wrong. You only want to use it for your own pleasure. (James 4:2-3, ERV)

James, learning from his brother, Jesus, gets behind the asking to the heart of why we ask and why we do not ask. This, in no way, is to discourage us from asking or to be doubtful whether God cares about our asking, or not. James also said:

But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask. Whoever asks shouldn’t hesitate. They should ask in faith, without doubting. Whoever doubts is like the surf of the sea, tossed and turned by the wind. People like that should never imagine that they will receive anything from the Lord. They are double-minded, unstable in all their ways. (James 1:5-8, CEB)

Seek

If you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:29, NIV)

Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. (Isaiah 55:6, NRSV)

Prayer is much like a wrestling match. It requires a great deal of effort. In fact, every good thing in life demands blood, sweat, and tears. We are to keep on seeking, to continue searching and looking for God amid our life circumstances. The Lord will be found.

Knock

God has said, “When you pray, I will answer you. When you call to me, I will respond.” (Isaiah 58:9, GNT)

The balance to the continual searching and diligently seeking is the immediate answer to our knocking on heaven’s door.

And God has also said, “I will answer their prayers before they finish praying.” (Isaiah 65:24, CEV)

It is to God’s glory whether our prayers are answered quickly, or not. It is to our glory that we exercise our own ability to enter God’s throne room and ask, seek, and knock. We have the assurance that whatever the answer is from God, it will always be a merciful response.

For God mercifully gives us what we ask for, and also mercifully does not give us what we ask for.

We do not know what tomorrow may hold for us. All we know for certain is that we are known by a God who hears when we ask, is worth seeking, and answers when we knock.

O God, you are my God, early and often I will seek you. New are your mercies every morning, O Lord; and great is your faithfulness. Pour out on all who desire it the spirit of grace. Deliver us, when we draw near to you, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with steadfast thoughts and affections we may worship you in spirit and in truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.