Praying for Wisdom
Last week, elder Kelly reminded us during the moment for young disciples about King David, and how the “sin o’ meter” went beeping right off the charts when David made sure that Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, was killed in battle so that David could force her to become his wife. David is Solomon’s father. Just like his father—and quite frankly, like all of us!—Solomon is a human figure, capable of deeds great and terrible.
We meet Solomon in today’s text at a point when he has already become king, and it has been no easy road for him—or for his siblings-- up to this moment. While we could spend a day and then some discussing the intricacies, atrocities, and general dysfunction of this particular family system, today we’re just going to focus on Solomon’s story of embracing and living into this kingship appointment.
His father, David, appoints Solomon to the throne even though he’s not the eldest, and so Solomon becomes king as a young adult-- knowing full well that others of his kin no doubt believe themselves to be more qualified and more deserving.
In chapter 3 of 1 Kings, verses 4-15, listen now for how Solomon talks with God in a dream. (Take just a moment and remember that throughout scripture, conversations with God or angels often take place in dreams.) Even in his subconscious sleep state, Solomon seems to recognize that he is not fully equipped for this kingship to which he has been appointed.
How could he possibly live up to the image that he has of his father? How could he do better, be better, for the sake of God’s people, now charged in his care?
Listen for what Solomon asks for when God appears to him in a dream:
The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt-offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, ‘Ask what I should give you.’
And Solomon said, ‘You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart towards you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today.
And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?’
It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.
God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed, I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.’
Then Solomon awoke; it had been a dream.
He came to Jerusalem, where he stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. He offered up burnt-offerings and offerings of well-being, and provided a feast for all his servants.
(The word of God for the people of God! Thanks be to God)
Solomon had a picture of his father in his head that he wasn’t convinced that he could live up to. Most, if not all of us, do not know the complete story of our parents’ lives, just as most parents in this room do not regale their children with tales of their most regrettable sins. It’s quite possible Solomon has put his father on a pedestal.
It’s also possible that this remembrance serves as the narrator’s reminder to us that Solomon’s perceived lack of experience stands in stark contrast to the positive aspects of David’s life that would ultimately be remembered in the hearts of the people.
People are imperfect, leaders are imperfect, this we know to be true—and yet when we remember one another in death, or nearing death, the laundry list of our sins is sometimes glossed right over so that those left to carry on in life can release what ached, and hold close to the celebrations. Maybe this is what’s happening in Solomon’s shiny remembrance of David.
Whatever the case for this glowing recollection of David’s time as king, these are the words that come pouring out to God first as God commands Solomon to tell God what to give him.
Solomon is young, and unlike what would have been more common for elder siblings, he has apparently not longed for the riches of kingship, nor sought after the power of it. He hasn’t dreamt of this since he could talk. Despite the lures of wealth, power, and possessions, these are not the things that Solomon asks God for when presented with the opportunity! Instead, Solomon somehow has enough wisdom from the get-go to say to God, “Give your servant… an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil…”
Solomon has enough wisdom in him already to pray for an understanding mind, or an understanding heart, depending on the translation, along with the ability to know good from evil. Listeners of this text put two and two together and for centuries have heard this story as Solomon asking God for wisdom, because that’s certainly how God interprets it in this text. God responds, “Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.” God gives him wisdom…plus some signing bonuses since he didn’t ask for the go-to power-hungry themes or riches and smiting his enemies. (We will see near the end of his life that his obsession with riches, a palace larger than the temple itself, and a life of comfort built on over-taxation and oppression of God’s people may have God rethinking this particular part of God’s promise to Solomon… but at least here in the beginning, it seems that God is quite pleased that Solomon’s heart is in the right place.)
As Bible scholar Dr. Robert Williamson, Jr., puts it, “God has worked with the wisdom that Solomon already has.” God takes what is already there—the desire to serve the people with a heart and mind fine-tuned for justice-- and God amplifies that initial willingness. Williamson says that “Solomon already has in him the possibility that God then amplifies.”
In other words, Solomon has enough wisdom in him from the start to pray for wisdom. This invites us to wonder: What are we inclined to pray for? And how might God work to amplify the genuinely good impulses that we bring to God in prayer?
The inclination to pray may or may not come so naturally to us, but we all have conversations with God, whether we know it or not. It turns out that heaven and earth are not so separate, one from other, but that we are simply less inclined to tune in and remember that Immanuel, God with us, is in actuality with us. (Not just when we notice or tune in, but always!) So that means: God hears our singing in the shower and our crankiness before coffee, just as God listens when we pour out our grieving hearts or ask for guidance along weary days. God hears our joy, God dances with us, God delights in us. God looks at human beings at creation and says, “This… THIS is GOOD.” And so it is. So it is that we bring some kind of goodness to the table from the very start. What is that embedded goodness within our particular human hearts that God just might be ready and waiting to amplify?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I have ever prayed particularly for WISDOM, not exactly. Have you ever prayed for WISDOM?
I started thinking about this question, and then I began asking around to see who I might know who has prayed specifically for WISDOM. It turns out that most people that I asked have spent more time praying for things that seem to skirt wisdom, or be part of wisdom in some way, but perhaps are not wisdom exactly. To know if we’ve ever prayed for it, I suppose we have to first define it.
Wisdom could mean “the ability to contemplate and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight.” (Thank you, Martha, for finding this definition!) By this definition, something tells me that we human beings may be more prone to pray that God give other people common sense than we are to pray for ourselves!
Wisdom could mean being far-sighted, thinking ahead. It could mean taking your ego out of situations. It could mean accessing and practicing empathy.
What’s so delightful about Solomon’s exchange with God is that Solomon doesn’t exactly pray for wisdom either, but that’s how God interprets Solomon’s request. Solomon prays in verse for and “understanding” heart, an understanding mind, and the ability to discern what is good and what is evil. God, in verse 12, says, “I give you a wise and discerning mind,” but the word “wise” that is used here also has the connotations of “skill.” I give you a skilled heart, and skilled mind, and the gift of discernment. Solomon prays for an understanding heart, and God gives him a skilled heart…
Our hearts can be skilled or unskilled. If Solomon’s skills of the heart can be amplified, so can ours. We don’t have to wait to be asleep to work on the kind of heart-skills that God provides to Solomon! Even Jesus grew in “wisdom and in years,” as the gospel of Luke reminds us!
So I’d like to suggest a few practices that might increase our heart-skills, whether or not God comes to us in a dream! Heart skills like reflection, connection, and growing through im-perfection may be magnified through our relationship with God.
So let’s try on for size a few practices together as we seek to growing in wisdom and not just in years:
1) Take time to reflect. Schedule in this time if you need to during busy, busy weeks, but carve out time without screens, without distractions, to simply reflect.
What happened in my life recently? How did I respond or react? Is there an invitation from God in this, something that I could learn from?
Reflect. In the Christian tradition, we have ancient models for this, contemplative practices that Christians have used for reflection for hundreds of years. Look up Ignatius’ Awareness Examen. Feel free to pull your phone out and Google it to get it into your browser! We’ll have links to versions of it in the E-Presence too.
Reflect on the past regularly, with God at the center, so that you can live the future with greater intention and deeper awareness.
2) Let go of being at the center of the movie. We’re all theoretically the star of the movie of our lives. We experience the world from our own limited viewpoints. We can, however, begin to pause the film now and then to wonder what the script looks like from other characters’ perspectives. We can shift the focus. What does this event look like from this person’s vantage point? If I am no longer the center of this particular story, how does the plot change? …
…Asking questions like these in our daily routines can help us move from the orientation of “me and my” to “thou and thine,” because as we know so well from Jesus, the first commandment is to love God with our hearts and minds and spirits, and the second is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Let go of being the center of the movie.
3) Make more room for grace, not just with each other, but also with ourselves. As a wise one among us put it this week, “People that are wise realize that they do not encompass all wisdom,” and that’s ok! We really have to practice forgiving each other and making room and space for each other, especially in times when our world feels increasingly divided. And, part of that also means extending grace not only to those around us, but also within us.
Friends, in this type A area, we need to remind ourselves and one another: perfection is not achievable, and in fact, im-perfection is often part of cultivating wisdom.
When we miss the mark—because we are human and so sometimes we will!- we can choose to learn from what’s helpful for our growth as individuals and in community, and release the rest so that we can grow in wisdom, and not just in years.
This is all so much easier said than done, and so it is that we remember Solomon got it right sometimes, and then went down a terrible path the further away he grew from God.
The more he relied on himself instead of his connection with the Holy One, the more he disengaged from his care of God’s people and focused on his own needs, the less he practiced wisdom in the world and the world suffered as a result. He suffered too.
Reflection, connection, and growing through im-perfection… these tools can help us to become wise, and not just happen upon wisdom.
May we practice these in the name of the God who loves us enough to dare to dream. Amen.
 -Martha found this on Wikipedia