David Barnes reflected on Thoughtful wishing or wishful thinking?
For many of us, prayer is our opportunity to ask something of God. It might be a little thing or it might be a big thing but how surprised would we be if God responded to us the way that God responded to Solomon? What would you ask for and how would you handled it when your wish was granted?
1 Kings 3:3-14
Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. 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 honour 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.’
Please pray with me: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you oh Lord, our rock and redeemer.
An angel appears at a meeting of religious leaders and tells their leader that in return for his unselfish and exemplary behavior, God will reward him with his choice of infinite wealth, wisdom, or beauty.
Without hesitating, the leader selects infinite wisdom.
‘Done!’ says the angel, and disappears in a cloud of smoke and a bolt of lightning.
Now, all heads turn toward the leader, who sits surrounded by a faint halo of light.
One of the others whispers, ‘Say something.’
The leader sighs and says, ‘I should have taken the money.’
I imagine that almost everyone here is familiar with the California Lottery commercials? Champagne wishes and caviar dreams? There was a time in my life when the whole concept of winning the lottery became something less like a dream and more like a requirement. Thankfully those days are in my rear view mirror and the only time in recent memory I’ve even entertained the idea of playing the lottery was after going out on a friend’s sailboat. Wishes and dreams indeed!
The story of King Solomon, like many of the “histories” related in the Old Testament is told in competing and sometimes contradictory versions. We usually know him first in the way that all church school children know him. Solomon the wise. Solomon who suggests that two women settle a dispute over rightful possession of a baby by suggesting that they cut the baby in half so that each women has a share. Perhaps not the most practical of suggestions but one that certainly settled the debate!
Solomon is many things to many people and there are certainly some inarguable aspects to his reign whether you prefer the relatively straightforward history of Chronicles or the palace drama that is 1 Kings. He was a keeper of the peace, builder of empires, and the person who really put the nation of Israel on the map. Sure he had his issues but what king doesn’t?
Despite all that happens to him in a very full lifetime though, there is a single event that defines Solomon as a king –“the dream.”
In 1 Kings, chapter 3, Solomon goes to the great shrine at Gibeon in order to make a sacrifice in the same way his father David used to do and to shows God that he is every bit as loyal to God as his farther was. It is in that place that God appears to Solomon in a dream and asks him, “ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you.” (A note here in that I’m reading from the Common English Bible translation so if you’re following along in one of the pew bibles, the words might be a little bit different. If you haven’t had a chance to look at it, the common English bible is a very new translation and I find the language to be powerful in a very contemporary way).
Now I don’t know about you but my mind boggles at the thought. This is God the creator, sustainer, ‘big G’ God offering up a world full of wishes. Power? Glory? Riches beyond knowing? The ability to vanquish all of your enemies and yes, Solomon had many. This is the sort of wish whose answer defines a person for all of time.
As we have heard, Solomon chooses discernment. Saying that he is “young and inexperienced” and that “no one is able to govern these people without God’s help.”
Solomon the wise? How about Solomon the humble…
I’d like to take a moment to step away from Solomon and talk about our experience this summer with our middle-schoolers and their mission trips to Los Angeles.
We chose Los Angeles as the destination for the middle school mission trip because it was drivable and our mission partner (the Center for Student Missions), looked to have the ideal program and connections for what we wanted to accomplish in our inaugural trip to Southern California.
The trip was amazing and the kids and adults that went along had an interesting and instructive time. In addition to that, there were a couple of individual experiences that reminded me of Solomon’s request of God and the thought that despite evidence to the contrary and all money and possessions aside, we all really want the same thing. Let me explain…
One of the activities we did while we were in Los Angeles was go to Hollywood Boulevard. I don’t know if you’ve been or are familiar with the area but this is where all of the glitterati – movie and television stars, musicians, entertainers of all types and even cartoon characters and famous animal have gold stars embedded in the sidewalk in their honor. People come from all over the place to walk the Boulevard, see the stars and of course shop at the stores that line the street. And the stores themselves are the kind of stores one might expect at such a place. Stores that speak to an ideal rather than anything of substance.
What we were asked to do while we were there was to walk around the neighborhood and see if we were able to find things and places that dealt with basic human needs. Were there places that provided for basic human needs? Were there grocery stores? Were there churches? How about bathrooms? Was there affordable housing in the neighborhood and if there was, how about jobs?
In addition to basic human needs, we were asked to talk to the assortment of people who habituated the boulevard – tourists, natives, people that worked in the area and of course the homeless people that also frequent Hollywood Boulevard.
It’s easy to understand why the homeless would gather in such an area. There is money to be found, the weather for the most part is decent; lots of logical reasons. But there is also a different mindset than you might imagine that runs through these down on their luck folks. Let me give you an example…
One of the people we had an opportunity to spend time with had a cat. We offered to buy him food for his cat if he’d sit and talk with us for a couple of minutes and let us get to know him better. He declined the offer of cat food saying that the cat was fine though he ended up being okay with us buying him some lunch. We talked about how he came to California from the Midwest and how he spent his time and what he thought about California and in particular Hollywood and things that he would change if he had the power. In general all of his complaints were the same that you or I might have and his difficulties were more or less in line with anything you’d hear from anybody. Where it got interesting was when we asked him if we could pray for and with him and if so, what he would like us to ask prayers for.
His response was that he wanted prayers for all of the people of Hollywood. That they might all find peace and a way to get along with each other and an easier life for all concerned.
This situation repeated itself when we went to hand out pastries to the people in MacArthur Park when we encountered a young man just out of the hospital. He wasn’t in very good shape but was very grateful for what we had to offer including our prayers which he also deflected back to the community.
That was what we discovered time and time again: people living on the fringe of survival that never even thought about prayers for themselves or their situation no matter how dire or stressful.
Let’s take the story back to Solomon. Solomon’s ascendance to the throne was not an easy one and he was still a comparatively young man when he went to the shrine at Gibeon to make a sacrifice.
I don’t know enough about Solomon to question his mindset when he made his request of God. Was he being a pragmatist? Did he know that by asking for a little he would get a lot? Like I said, I’m not sure about his motives but I also believe that he had seen enough in his young lifetime to know that there is there is much wisdom in coming to God with a humble heart. He had also witnessed his father David’s relationship with God and had to understand that despite his flaws, God loved David and David God.
They say that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it and maybe that was also in Solomon’s mind. Perhaps with a greater ability to distinguish good from evil, he’d be able to lead God’s people in a way that would not only honor God but lift the nation to a new standard of personal accountability.
In looking back at the two mission trips and the story of Solomon’s dream the ongoing theme seems to be the linkage between wisdom and humility. Walking with God in humility almost always means putting others before ourselves. Walking with God means doing as much listening to others as we do with ourselves. Walking with God means that no matter the situation, you are never walking alone.
I see Solomon as a young man who has witnessed much in his early years and knows that without God’s help, it is probably not going to be a fruitful life and certainly not a long one.
As we enter into a time of quiet reflection, I’d ask each of you to contemplate a moment like Solomon’s and what would you ask of your creator. Are you free enough of material needs to go big with your wishing? If not, are you willing to trust God to provide those things so that you can focus on the greater community and not restrict yourself to a smaller world?