Ever since I was a kid, the story of Solomon’s prayer for wisdom has been a favorite of mine. My mom would read it often to me and recall it to mind when we were talking about pretty much any subject, so that I should always seek wisdom from God before anything else. I think she knew I was going to need it.
For those of you who don’t know the story, the first half of 1 Kings 3 recounts the story of God appearing to the young Solomon in a dream after the death of his father King David. God grants him one request at the beginning of his reign. To God’s great delight, Solomon replies:
“And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”
(1 Kings 3:7-9)
Understanding, wisdom is Solomon’s request. God has put him in charge of a great people and he knows that he needs wisdom in order to administer justice among them for he is only a young man. God hears this and is greatly pleased and tells him that because he did not ask for money, power, the defeat of enemies, or anything of the like, but rather wisdom to administer justice, he will have all of these things and in spades. Not only will he be wise, but he will be wiser than any that have come before and any that follows. Beyond that, God will bless him with peace, wealth, and general prosperity in a way that Israel will not experience under any other king.
Ruling a Great and Mighty People I come back to that story now as a young guy starting out in ministry and I read it with new eyes. As a minister of the Gospel, I’ve been called to “rule”, administer, and care for the people of God. Call it what you want, there is an authority and a responsibility to shepherd God’s flock given to those of us who work in the church, paid or not. This is a scary task. Many of us don’t stop to think about it, but we are taking care of GOD’s people. They’re his. He cares about them. They are his blood-bought people, so for him to place them in our hands is a weighty thing. It’s the kind of thing that we probably need a lot of understanding to accomplish.
When I read this story it is humbling and kind of convicting to think about my prayer life (and, at times, lack thereof.) What am I praying for as a minister? Working at an North American church it’s really easy to get caught up in asking for all sorts of things besides wisdom. We can get caught up asking for numbers so the attendance sheets look full and your ministry seems effective. Or how about funding? It’s easy to think that if I just had a bigger budget, I’d be able to buy the right tools to make my ministry cutting-edge, or position us to host the right events, etc. Or maybe we pray for more leaders? If I just had a little more help this thing would come together, more people would be ministered to, and the Gospel would go forward.
Now, all of these things would be nice. They’d be great. It’s no shame to ask for them. In fact, you probably should be praying for these things. Funds do help. The harvest is plentiful and we need more workers in the field. Numbers are not a bad thing. A lot of really “spiritual” Christians think that it’s a virtue to not care if your church is empty. It can be when that means fidelity despite unpopularity, but otherwise we should want people to be joining the family of God in our congregations. Still, none of these things means anything if you don’t have the wisdom to know what to do with them. Without wisdom you will spend your cash foolishly, your leaders will fail, and people will walk in and then walk out the doors–or worse still, remain in your church unchanged.
We need to be praying for wisdom. Much of Solomon’s wealth, success, and the peace of his kingdom came as a result of his wisdom. Wisdom helps you find good leaders, work with the funding you have, and know what to do with your people when you get them. Thankfully, God is rich in wisdom and generous with it. He gives it to any who asks in faith. (James 1:5) So, just ask.
(What are some things that you pray for your ministry about? What do you usually feel is the most pressing need? Why? How good would it be without wisdom?)
Wisdom is Needed Even for Two Something else to realize is that this goes for you–whoever you are. Everybody needs to be asking for wisdom to care for the people of God, even if you only have a congregation of two.
That’s one of the things we see in the final story of the chapter, with Solomon’s famous decision about the two women and the child. (1 Kings 3:16-28) Two prostitutes who were room-mates bore children within days of each other. One woman’s child died in the night and so she switched the two babies, claiming the live one was hers. They came before Solomon with a plea for justice. Solomon came up with a way of determining who was the true mother by offering to chop the baby in half and give each a piece. The true mother said to give the child to the other mother in order that it might be spared; the other one didn’t care. Solomon then gave the child to the one with compassion. Scary, kinda gruesome, but wise.
In context, the story shows Solomon’s wisdom was sufficient for administering justice within the whole of the nation. But here’s the thing, essentially the problem occurs between two women. That’s all it takes. Small-group leaders and one-on-one disciplers need wisdom just as much as mega-church pastors running congregations of thousands, because people are people no matter the size of the group.
Really Ask for Wisdom A final point when considering this story: we really need to be asking for wisdom. No, this is not just pointless repetition. One bad way of reading this story is to think that if we ask for wisdom, God will automatically give us all these other things. No, that’s not how it works. You can’t trick God into giving you a bigger budget or a bigger congregation. If your real desire is these things, wisdom will not come because you’ll fall into the foolishness that comes with obsessing over these things. Worry about getting wisdom first, seeking righteousness in the way that you care for the flock of God, and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matt 6:33)
Soli Deo Gloria