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.

1 Kings 8:22-30 – Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands to heaven. He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive. (New Revised Standard Version)

I grew up in rural Iowa, a place with lots of gravel roads. In the seasons of Spring and Fall, the thawing and re-freezing lead to some impressive ruts in those roads. It’s difficult to avoid them since they nearly dominate the driving space. 

With our prayers, there are seasons of life where we can slip into ruts – times where focused wrestling in prayer is set aside by just going along with the rut of prayer with the same lifeless words and phrases. There are Christians who pray wonderful prayers… over and over again with almost no thought to it, continually saying the same things anytime they pray.

In today’s Old Testament lesson, we have a prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the Lord’s temple. The two aspects of this prayer that jump out to me are: 

  1. Solomon reminded God of divine promises to the covenant people.
  2. Solomon reminded God of who God is. 

Solomon, as the wisest person to ever live, did not believe that somehow God forgot about promises made or had some sort of divine dementia about theology proper. Instead, Solomon prayed with the kind of prayer that God delights to hear. 

“Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.”

Søren Kierkegaard 

God enjoys hearing us pray. The Lord likes it when we pray according to the promises given us. God adores when we pray with a focused understanding of whom we are praying to.

So, then, in our prayers, it is good to emulate the example of King Solomon. Know the promises of God contained in Holy Scripture and pray they will be confirmed in our lives, families, churches, and world. 

Also, pray with the intention of declaring God’s inherent nature, attributes, and character. Acknowledge the basic trait of God’s steadfast love. Believers serve a big God whose hugeness is continually above all things, and whose work is always continuing according to divine decrees and words. 

One way of moving our prayers out of the ruts of familiar language and thoughts is to journal them. Writing our prayers can become for us an act of worship as we slow down enough to craft a response to God that is thoughtful and connects us with him beyond the rote and routine.

In its simplest definition prayer is a conversation between the one who is praying and the one to whom those prayers is directed. So, whenever we craft a written or spoken prayer, it’s good to get out of a rut by:

  • Using language and words that are meaningful to you.
  • Making your intentions clear by stating exactly what you need or want.
  • Taking your time and not rushing.
  • Lighting candles, burning incense, or creating a special sacred space for prayer. 

Thank you Lord God for the opportunity of prayer and worship. Thank you that I can put aside uncertainties of this world and rest and rely upon the certainties of your good promises. Thank you that we can bring to your feet all the hurts and fears that trouble us and leave them there knowing that your strength and assurance are all that we require. May all your people find peace, healing, wholeness, and joy in your presence, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit exist as one God, now and forever. Amen.