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.

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.

Against Empire

urban meyer
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer

“The king must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, ‘You are not to go back that way again.’  He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.  When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests.  It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.” (Deuteronomy 17:14-20, NIV)

King Solomon was wildly successful.  He expanded the kingdom of Israel in every way: more land; more gold; more buildings; more wealth; more wisdom; big temple; big family; more and big of everything.  We do not have an account that anyone called out Solomon on his big expansive government and lifestyle.

Methinks the reason for letting King Solomon go unchecked was that he was surrounded by people who enjoyed and participated in his success.  Even though he was often operating well outside of the Deuteronomic law which was right there in black and white, Solomon’s subjects only saw that he established peace, security, and a high standard of living for the nation.  Solomon acquired a massive amount of horses, wives, gold, and everything the law warned against.

Solomon was very humble and wise at the beginning of his reign.  He did everything his father David asked of him, and more.  But his wild success as king gradually brought Solomon to acquire more stuff, more wives, and to fudge on the responsibilities and requirements of the king.  Solomon established an Empire and denied himself nothing when it came to the perks of power.

There is always a dark underbelly to the outward display of power, success, and wealth.  As time goes on, the Empire becomes a god and people begin supporting the system instead of the Deity who makes it all possible to begin with.  Pride replaces humility.  Foolish ignoring of evidence becomes the norm.  Optics arises as supreme.  Solomon basically enslaved a large swath of Israel’s population to get things done in the Empire.  His success was on the backs of a lower class of people.  But, hey, who cares, as-long-as there is no war, the borders are secure, and the nation’s coffers are getting filled beyond anybody’s wildest expectations?

When the Empire becomes supreme and brings in the money, no one questions the leader.  Yes, I understand all of this happened thousands of years ago.  However, even though times change, people don’t.

It doesn’t matter the context of the Empire’s power; if it exists, it operates eerily the same.  Whether it’s Bill Hybels as the leader of a wildly successful megachurch; Urban Meyer as the leader of a crazy successful football program at Ohio State; or, any government leader overseeing immense wealth; the same ignoring of evidence among constituents, congregants, citizens, and fans exists.  In other words, people tend to look the other way when things are going well.  Whereas the leader may have once started out as wise and humble, the eventual wild success changes them.

bill hybels
Willow Creek Church founding Pastor, Bill Hybels

But things are never really going that well.  The dark underbelly hides realities of sexual abuse, domestic abuse, and all kinds of other abuses all in the name of maintaining the success, that is, the Empire.

Show me a wildly successful leader of an Empire, no matter what that Empire is, and I’ll show you an entire coterie of sycophants who continually look to cash-in on that success through recognition, power, and money.  In the case of Hybel’s context, Willowcreek Community Church, the elder board (eventually) did the right thing in resigning – once they got clear-headed enough to see that they were complicit.  Ohio State still seems to have their collective heads in the sand – not seeing the situation for what it is.  Meanwhile, abuse is not squarely dealt with because the system of Empire churns along with impunity.  Unquestioning support of a human leader, whether it is in sports, in church, in government, or in a business corporation because the Empire has such incredible success is a recipe for disaster.  People will get hurt and abused; and, the victims will have no one to believe them on the inside.  Too many other folks are benefiting from the Empire.  They don’t want to see the dark underbelly.

Personally, I always come back to Jesus.  He is the ultimate example.  The Lord Jesus was humble, meek, gentle, loving, and always used his emotions and abilities toward the ends of healing others, not hurting them.  Jesus did not build an Empire.  Yes, I understand an argument could be made that the Church is an Empire (and it did exist as one in Medieval Europe).  Yet, Jesus Christ purposely and deliberately eschewed Empire.  He often told people to keep quiet about his good deeds of healing so that the seeds of Empire could not even germinate.

What’s more, Jesus did not surround himself with sycophants.  He chose the most motley crew of people one could imagine.  Christ’s original twelve disciples were such an unknown and diverse bunch of rag-tag Jewish men that nobody could mistake them as Empire building guys.  They were about a movement, not an Empire.  They were concerned for the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of their own making.

The people we surround ourselves with, no matter whether we’re high mucky-muck leaders or lower-class invisible persons, or anyone in-between, is vitally important.  We all need loving persons around us who will tell us what we need to hear in a spirit of love and grace.  Speaking the truth in love is not optional equipment for any of us.  None of us do well with success unless we have humble and wise persons close to us who have the gumption and the grace to speak into our lives to help us, not hurt us.  When we don’t have that, things go sideways in a hurry.

If a guy like King Solomon, who was the wisest person who ever lived, can ignore his own nation’s God and Holy Scripture to get whatever he wanted, then how much more do we, who have less wisdom, need the grace of loving people speaking truth to our hearts?

Exposing the dark underbelly of Empire will always be fraught with the risk of people not believing and, worse, not caring.  That’s why the Christian New Testament liberally uses the word “light” to describe what kind of people we are to be.  Just as Jesus is the Light of the World, shining himself into all the dark and shadowy places of our lives and the systems of this world, so his followers are to be his flashlights, shining in such a way that is righteously persistent and gracious.

It isn’t our job to build a great Christian Empire to ensure prayer in public schools, the Ten Commandments in every courthouse, and manger scenes everywhere at Christmas.  Rather, it is our responsibility and privilege to fully embrace the status of poverty of spirit; grief, lament, and mournfulness over the sin of the world’s Empires; meekness toward others; hunger for right relationships; mercy for all; pure relations with everyone; and, peacemakers who shepherd people to the green pastures of forgiveness and harmony with God and humanity.

Today we all have the opportunity to build something greater than ourselves – a legacy which invites accountability, openness, and vulnerability which blesses the world and doesn’t seek its accolades.  It’s not always how you start; its often what motivates you and how you end that matters most.  Just ask Citizen Kane.

So, may you know the grace of caring relationships; the mercy of hearing hard things; the joy of being above board in everything you say and do; and, the humility to admit when you’ve gone off the rails.