From a sermon series on 1 Kings by See Huang Lim, a missionary at IBF.
Today we continue the story of King Solomon in the book of 1 Kings. Today’s theme is “seeking wisdom.” We will read about Solomon’s prayer for wisdom in 1 Kings chapter 3. Let’s see what we can learn from his prayer.
On your own time, you can read the rest of chapter 3, which shows how Solomon used his God-given wisdom. Chapter 4 goes on to describe how Solomon’s wisdom became so famous that people from different nations came to learn from him.
Today, I want to pose some questions about wisdom: First, what is wisdom, and why should I pursue it? Next, will God really give me wisdom if I ask? Finally, how do I make wise decisions?
1. What is wisdom?
So, first of all, what is wisdom? Is it being clever? Is it knowing how to make profits? Is it living a virtuous life? I’m sure you can think of many definitions.
In the Bible, “wisdom” had more than one meaning. It could mean the skill to craft something well. Or the skill to govern well, like in Solomon’s case. One Old Testament scholar suggested another definition of wisdom. He said that in ancient Israel, wisdom was the ability to live in a skillful way so that a person’s life would result in something worthwhile or meaningful. For today’s sermon, I will use his definition: Wisdom is knowing how to live a worthwhile or meaningful life.
For ancient Israelites like Solomon, wisdom to live a meaningful life was only possible if you truly knew God and revered Him. For example, Proverbs 9:10 summarizes this view well. This part of the Bible was actually written by Solomon himself. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
What is wisdom in Japanese culture, I wonder? I’m not familiar with this topic; but when I imagine Japanese people praying for wisdom, this image comes to mind: In February, many Japanese youth take entrance exams, so they or their parents go to the temple to pray. In everyday life, they may not think much about God, but there are times they pray for success. Good exam results means entering a good school. A good school means a good job. A good job means a good life.
Unfortunately, many people have achieved these things and still are not satisfied. The British Christian writer C.S. Lewis made this comment: “It is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
In other words, life apart from God and his design for us is ultimately not satisfying. He is the source of true wisdom, meaning, and purpose.
2. Will God really give me wisdom?
But perhaps many of us already ask God for wisdom. We pray to make good decisions. We pray to know God and how He wants us to live. But there are times that I pray and then wonder whether God really heard me or not. Instead of hearing His voice, I merely feel the weight of silence in the room. I might start wondering if I’m worthy enough to receive His answer. And many times I doubt that I can hear His answer correctly. Will He really help me make the right decisions in life?
If you ever feel like this, I hope the story of Solomon will encourage you. Based on this story, I would like to suggest several lessons.
First, when we pray, let’s remember who we are praying to. Are we praying to an invisible power whom we’re not sure really exists? As Christians, we pray to a God who is our Creator, King, and Father. He is faithful, merciful, and generous to his children.
Look at 1 Kings 3 verse 6. When Solomon began talking to God, it didn’t start with, “Dear God, please give me this and give me that.” No, he started by recalling God’s character and being grateful. I think this is a good model of prayer. Let’s begin our prayers from the right starting point: gratitude and awe towards God.
But of course, we first have to realize who God is. For example, I think it’s amazing that God wants to listen to us. So I thank God that he hears me. If you look at verse 5, it was God who started the conversation, telling Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Wow! Don’t you want God to tell you that?
But let’s also remember that God is not a genie who grants just any wish. He is the King and we are his servants.
Even though Solomon was a king, he saw himself as a mere servant before God. In verse 9, he prays, “Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” He acknowledged that Israel was not his personal property. Everything he had rightfully belonged to God. That’s why he wanted to please God.
These days, it’s common to hear people say, “It’s your life. You should do what you want, and don’t just listen to other people.” I hear this message everywhere, even in children’s movies like Frozen. I agree that we shouldn’t be slaves to people’s opinions. But… the Bible also says that my life belongs to God. If so, then I should care about what God wants. He is not a personal assistant who serves me on my journey towards success and happiness. Rather, I am the servant.
This leads us to the next lesson, an important one. When we pray, let’s pray for what God wants. It seems Solomon understood God’s desires. He understood that God wanted Israel to be a godly nation. And that God wanted Israel’s king to lead them in that direction. Solomon’s prayer aligned with God’s will, and that was why God granted his request for wisdom.
What does God want for you? Well, many things, but one thing I’m sure of is that God is pleased to grant you wisdom. Not just to Solomon, but to all of us too. We find evidence of this in James 1:5. It says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” So we can pray for wisdom with confidence, because it is in line with God’s will.
Third, let’s focus on honoring God. Verse 10 says that God was pleased to grant Solomon’s request because Solomon was focused on serving God and serving people rather than focused on hoarding benefits for himself. God saw Solomon’s good motives.
It’s not that you can’t pray for your personal needs. After all, Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Lord, give us our daily bread.” Rather, it is a matter of your motives behind the prayer. James 4:3 says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
So what are our motives? Is our heart focused completely on personal comfort and success? Do we remember to pray for other people? Do we ask God to show us what we can do for Him? We may not have a kingdom to rule like Solomon. But we are part of God’s kingdom, and He wants us to build His church, that is, the body of Christ’s disciples.
Finally, as disciples of Christ let’s also learn to pray in Jesus’ name. We find this concept in John chapter 14 and 15. For example, in John 15:16, Jesus says, “…I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” What does it mean to ask in Jesus’ name? I don’t think he means just uttering the word “Jesus.” I believe it means to ask in the same spirit as Jesus. To ask the way Jesus himself would want. To pray with a heart that is like Jesus’ heart.
By the way, Jesus himself is the embodiment of wisdom. The Old Testament has the following prophecy in Isaiah about God’s promised Messiah: Isaiah 11:2 says, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.” The New Testament affirms this in the book of Colossians. Colossians 2:3 says that in Christ is “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” So if you seek the deepest wisdom of life, start by seeking to know Christ more.
If you are his disciple, Christ already lives in you, as he has given you the Holy Spirit. In John 14:26, Jesus said to his disciples, “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” So you are not alone. God desires to guide you in this life, in matters big and small.
3. How do I make wise decisions?
This leads me to my last point: How, exactly, do I make wise decisions?
When my wife and I were trying to decide whether to come to Japan, we read a very helpful book about discerning God’s will, written by a Jesuit priest (God’s Voice Within: The Ignatian Way to Discover God’s Will by Mark E. Thibodeaux). Some of its suggestions overlap with the lessons from Solomon’s prayer, so I would like to share about it briefly.
When you have to make a tough decision and are seeking God’s wisdom, there are helpful questions you can ask yourself:
1) First, what are the motives driving me? What the emotions or desires driving me? For example, I am making decisions out of fear towards something?
2) Second, what is the purpose of my life? What specific roles God has called me to play? Is my decision is in line with that purpose?
3) Third, what are my attitudes towards God? Do I believe He cares and does what is good for me? Do I seek His glory more than anything else? Can I surrender my choices to Him?
4) Finally, am I ready to listen? Do I already have a habit of conversing with God and obeying Him?
Sometimes we are too focused on our specific problem and fail to ask God the right questions. For example, I eventually had to stop asking, “God, is going to Japan your will for me?” I realized that God wanted me to move beyond that specific question. He wanted me first to answer bigger, more important questions.
Of course, sometimes we have done our best to ask questions and consult wise friends but still don’t know what to choose. In that case, maybe we must simply make a choice and trust in God’s love for us.
To conclude: If we want to live wisely, it makes sense to find out what life is for. The best person to ask is our Creator. What is his design for our lives? If we want to serve the King of this universe, it makes sense to learn about his character, his desires, his plans. Let’s be glad that He has promised to guide us. He will guide us through His words and through His Spirit that lives in us.