Imagine you could have anything you wanted. What would you ask for? A poll asked that question recently: “If you could have anything in the world right now, what would it be?” One person replied, “The world. I want the world.” Others answered with wanting school loans paid off, a more fulfilling job, immortality, and unlimited tacos. One guy pointed out there are only 20 blimps in the world, and he wants to fly one of them. Someone else replied succinctly, “Someone who loves me.”
How about you? If God himself appeared and said, “Ask for whatever you want, anything at all,” what would you want? What would you ask for?
Steven Levitt and Stephan Dubner, two economists who wrote a book titled Think Like a Freak, point out that it has long been said that the three hardest words to say in the English language are I love you. They write, “We heartily disagree! For most people, it is much harder to say I don’t know.” And until you can admit what you don’t yet know, it’s virtually impossible to learn what you need to—in any arena of life, certainly in spiritual wisdom as well. (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Think Like a Freak, William Morrow, 2014, pp 19-20)
We conclude our series titled Traction: Getting Going With God, by going on one final ride along in the Old Testament book of 1 Kings. In this final scene, the theoretical question we just started with becomes a reality for ancient Israel’s king Solomon. And in how he replied to that invitation, we discover one of the greatest keys to walking in God’s blessing.
Loving the Lord like Dad did
Let’s start by learning what kind of person Solomon was. He was chosen to lead Israel as king, not because he played the “King me!” game, but by God’s sovereign choice. God called Solomon to serve as king. What kind of person was Solomon inside, in his heart?
1 Kings chapter 3 and verse 3 gives us a big clue when it says… “Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David…”
1 Kings 3:3
Some people talk a good talk but their actions defy their claim to love God. Not Solomon. He loved the Lord. Like his Dad David, Solomon sought God’s kingdom. He wanted to know the Lord, and to honor the Lord in how he led. One day he offers a thousand sacrifices to the Lord.
A poor person might bring a pair of doves as their worship offering. Someone of stronger financial standing might bring a lamb. Solomon offered a thousand sacrifices on just this one occasion.
We don’t understand or practice animal sacrifice. Today it’s seen as cruel. But back then, in the progressive revealing or unfolding of God’s salvation plan, God allowed the sacrifice of animals to foreshadow the sinless sacrifice of Christ for the forgiveness of sin. The principle is the same—that an innocent takes the place of the guilty, and the innocence of the sacrifice is counted to the one who comes admitting their guilt.
So right away, we get a glimpse into Solomon’s heart, that he knew he needed the Lord’s help. The Lord saw that, and reached out in response to Solomon’s heart of worship. Verse 5 we read…
“At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’”
1 Kings 3:5
There it is. Anything, anything at all. Now watch what Solomon does. Instead of going for the lottery or massive fame, we see more of his heart in verse 6…
“Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.”
1 Kings 3:6
Offered anything he wanted, Solomon’s immediate response was not grabbing for more, but gratitude for what he already had seen. He thanked God for his kindness to his father, and for his kindness in allowing him to come to the throne. David and Solomon hadn’t asked for power and position, but God had blessed them with both. Solomon recognized that, and thanked God.
When was the last time you thanked him for saving you from sin and guilt and condemnation?
When have you thanked him for giving you a spiritual gift which you can use to honor him and build others up in their faith?
When have you rehearsed with thanks the ways God has shown kindness to you and your family?
We have people here who have made it through life-threatening disease. We have people who have defied the statistics and are making marriage work, and now their children are blessed to see that play out. We have members who have been blessed with their parents living well into being grandparents and even great-grandparents. These are rich blessings. In my family we call these the bonus years. We have people who have experienced God’s blessing on their careers, as they have advanced to better jobs.
Do you make time to praise the Lord, to thank and worship him, to tell him you’re grateful? The greatest thing Solomon did when offered anything he wanted, was to pause and thank the Lord for what he had already done for him.
Loving the Lord but driving on cracked rims
Solomon is far from perfect, but here he’s right on target. My family had a warning light came on the dashboard of our car recently. It indicated low tire pressure, which was odd, since the tires are new. We took it to the shop and they found that one of the rims was cracked.
They sent it out to get welded. The welder found two places that were cracked. They welded the cracks and sent the rim back to the shop. But then someone at the shop found another couple of cracks—on the splines themselves that hold the wheel together. The rim was unrepairable, and that model is no longer made.
So it turns out we were driving on cracked rims. So was Solomon. For all the honest devotion we see in how he responded to the Lord’s amazing offer here, there were cracks in his heart. 1 Kings 3:1 tells us:
“Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of the Lord, and the wall around Jerusalem.”
1 Kings 3:1
An alliance with Egypt may or may not have been good politics, but it was definitely a poor decision by Solomon spiritually. He loved the Lord, but married someone who didn’t. Later on, he did the same thing again. And again. And again, to the tune of seven hundred wives of royal birth (that’s playing politics). They ultimately led him astray.
1 Kings 11 tells us that…
“As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.”
He ended up spiritually with his heart divided in a thousand different directions.
Someone asked a great question when I was in grad school. They had heard that once you come to faith in Jesus, the New Testament no longer calls a Christian a sinner. The question was, if God calls Christians saints, then why do we still wrestle with sin? Our professor answered with a famous phrase in Latin, that Christians are simul iustus et peccator—meaning, we are simultaneously righteous and sinners. The penalty of sin has been dealt with by Christ’s death on the cross; the believer is declared righteous in God’s sight. Yet at the same time, we like everyone else wrestle with sin.
So the caution mid-story is that what happened to Solomon, can happen to us. We can be driving on cracked rims spiritually, and just not see it.
Loving the Lord by asking for what matters most
Having said all that, go back with me to this golden moment in Solomon’s life. Offered anything, anything at all, here’s what Solomon says back to the Lord:
“Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.”
1 Kings 3:7
Solomon felt like a kid on the first day at a new school, with no idea how to tackle the assignment given him. He felt overwhelmed at the responsibility that had fallen to him. And just like the economists I cited who point out that the hardest thing for most people is to say, “I don’t know,” Solomon humbled himself and admitted that he didn’t know what to do. So here’s what he prayed:
“Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
1 Kings 3:9
He asked for “a discerning heart.” Other translations say he asked for “a heart than understands” or “a God-listening heart.” The latter is what the Hebrew literally says—that Solomon asked God for “a listening heart.”
The word for listening or hearing (shomea) implies obedience, because if we are wise, what we hear from God, we obey. We put it into practice. The word for the heart here (in Hebrew, leb) refers to the whole person. So Solomon was asking that he would fully be able to discern God’s will.
Walter Wangerin, Jr. adds, “The genius of wisdom…is the ability to open a room in [your] heart for the talk–and so for the presence–of another. Wisdom is none other than the ability to listen [to listen to God].” (Walter Wangerin, Jr., As for Me and My House)
The Lord loving what you ask for
That’s what Solomon asked for. And the Lord was pleased that this is what he wanted. Offered anything, anything at all, Solomon asked for a listening heart, for wisdom to discern God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.
And so we read in 1 Kings 3:10-12…
“The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.’”
1 Kings 3:10-12
Sir Isaac Newton, who was a brilliant mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian, and author who is widely recognized as one of the most influential scientists of all time, nonetheless left us with this humble admission of his longing for greater wisdom. Newton wrote:
“I don’t know what I may seem to the world, but, as to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
He also wrote, “I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.” For that, we need wisdom.
- Wisdom and discernment show you which way to choose when there’s more than one option facing you.
- A listening heart helps a marriage to make it.
- A heart that understands shows you how to raise not just good kids, but Jesus-loving kids.
Wisdom helps us with how to live, how to go at our work, how to enjoy free time, and wisdom even helps in how to face death—as we follow Jesus who walked through the valley of the shadow of death before us.
Solomon did well in asking for a wise and discerning heart.
He went on to become, as the Lord had promised, the wisest man who had ever lived. Even today, 3,000 years after Solomon’s time, his God-given wisdom lives on and wises us up, as we read Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.
If you want to wise up, to gain wisdom, read the book of Proverbs. It’s amazing, filled with pithy little sayings that pound for pound pack a big punch. They’re brief, but they speak right to the things we deal with. Again, they were written down three thousand years ago, but they’re just as current today as the latest news. God is all-wise, and he imparted stunning wisdom to Solomon who asked.
The Lord giving what we need
Solomon never regretted asking for wisdom, asking for a listening heart. He leaves that counsel for us in Proverbs 4:7-9, urging…
“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
embrace her, and she will honor you.
She will give you a garland to grace your head
and present you with a glorious crown.”
Solomon asked for wisdom, and then with the gift of wisdom also came God’s blessings of wealth and honor. And so the counsel he passes on to us is not to pursue the lottery or flying a blimp, so much as to pursue wisdom, discernment, a listening heart.
We do that today in large measure by studying the Scriptures, which 2 Timothy 3:15 say are able to make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” We need that kind of wisdom, wisdom to stick with Jesus.
Jesus himself dared to describe himself by saying, “something greater than Solomon is here” (that’s from Matthew chapter 12).
Jesus is, as 1 Corinthians 1:24 says, the “wisdom of God.”
Jesus is, as John 1:14 declares, the Word made flesh.
Paul writes in Colossians 2:3 that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Jesus.
He adds in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 that Jesus Christ is both “the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
So take a page from Solomon—imperfect, but loved-by-God Solomon. If you could have anything, anything at all, make it wisdom. Discernment. A listening heart. And then stay locked on to Jesus, in whom the fullness of wisdom is to be found. Don’t let your heart be divided. Don’t wander.
To Solomon, the Lord’s stunning offer came in a dream. To you and me, the Lord speaks through the promise of Jesus:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Where do you need wisdom? Do you need wisdom for your work? Wisdom for how to heal a bruised relationship? A listening heart for how to come alongside someone who is hurting? Do you need discernment for a problem facing your family? Wisdom for finances?
Ask. Ask for what matters most—wisdom, discernment, a listening heart. Ask confident in Christ’s promise, confident that God who was pleased with Solomon’s request, will be just as pleased to come through for you. Praise God that in Jesus, one greater than Solomon is with us and for us!
What do you need from the Lord today? Romans 8:31-32 asks and answers a tremendous question we wonder about:
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
What do you think? With God for us, who can ever succeed against us? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, knowing our condition and sending his own Son for our forgiveness, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us?
Come confident that God loves to hear from you, just like he was pleased with Solomon’s request.