After some twenty six flights, one mechanical fault, one upgrade to business class in Singapore and some wonderful hospitality I am very thankful for the opportunity and privilege I have had to visit some of our mission partners around the world and some church conferences while on sabbatical. Indeed I was humbled by the faithfulness of our mission partners working in very humid conditions and by their daily dependence on God in prayer. They know God is sovereign every single day. I was challenged by the fact that Western Europe is now one of the most needy mission fields in the world and the need to both pray and go. Do we realise that in almost every Western European country more than 90% of the population are heading for a Christ less eternity. That should both drive us to our knees in prayer and make us get up and go. I was inspired by the God given vision of Rick Warren to reach the 6000 unreached people groups across the world with the gospel through local churches and small groups and that that is being soaked in prayer. I was inspired by the church planting movements that are helping to reach many throughout the Muslim world and by their dependence on God in prayer. In Kenya and South Africa I was inspired by the vision of Mwendwa at our link project in Mburi and of Martin Morrison in Johannesburg, their love for the Lord and their reliance on God for wisdom each day, rather like Solomon in our passage this morning. He loved the Lord and with his new responsibility as king went to worship God at Gibeon (v3&4). If we love the Lord we will want to spend time with him in worship and prayer each day.
Seeing all this made me even more excited about the vision God has given us at JPC for growth and church planting over the next 20 years. In fact I developed an unshakeable conviction that the continued growth of JPC and church planting are vital for the spread of the gospel in this region and beyond. But how we need to guard against losing our first love, how we need learn to pray, to trust God, to ask in faith and to rely on him for the wisdom we need to play our part in fulfilling that vision. We may not be kings, we may not have the same amount of responsibility as Solomon but we all have a part to play and we all need to depend on God.
I also had the privilege of visiting one or two amazing churches on sabbatical but I did miss the fellowship here! There is no church quite like JPC and no place quite like Newcastle! I can empathise with John Wesley who noted this about the Toon on the Tyne:
“Lovely place, lovely people. Certainly if I did not believe in another world I would spend every summer there for there is no pleasanter place in Great Britain.”
Now many of us here this morning have an advantage over John Wesley’s experience. We too believe in another world but we also have the privilege of being able to spend a lot of time in one of the most pleasant places in the UK! But because we do believe in heaven we are not here just to enjoy a pleasant place, we are here for a purpose and one of those purposes is to take the good news of Jesus Christ to the people of Tyneside and beyond and make disciples in the power of the Holy Spirit.
So we need to pray: to pray for opportunities and for wisdom to make the most of those opportunities. Colossians 4:2-6 says that we are to pray for God to open doors for the gospel message and to be wise in the way we act towards outsiders, making the most of every opportunity. So in our encounters with people this week let’s be praying for wisdom in the way we act and in knowing when and how to speak. But be warned – God answers such prayers! If you pray for opportunities he will provide them!
Yet so often we don’t even take time with God to ask him for wisdom in the first place! James puts it like this in chapter 4 and v2 of his very practical letter: ‘You do not have because you do not ask God.’ Billy Graham once said that ‘heaven is full of answers to prayers for which no-one ever bothered to ask.’
And God wants us to ask him. Indeed he invites those who love him, those who therefore walk in his ways to pray, to ask him for wisdom, and for whatever we want him to give us. Look at v 3&5 of 1 Kings 3. And Solomon’s prayer is very instructive. Often we can think what should I be praying for, can I pray for myself and if so what am I allowed to pray for? What prayers please God and are granted by him? Well God was pleased with Solomon’s request (v10). So let’s see what we can learn from Solomon’s prayer for a wise and discerning heart, for wisdom, which is my first heading.
THE PRAYER FOR WISDOM v4-15
Look at v4&5. In response to Solomon’s offering of worship God appeared to him in a dream and said: “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
How do we view God? As someone who usually says no? As someone who doesn’t listen to us? But isn’t the God to whom we come the same lavish and generous God who appeared to Solomon and invited him to ask for whatever he wanted God to give him? The only reason we can come to God with freedom and confidence in prayer is because he gave his only Son to die in our place on the cross. The Bible clearly tells us that God is a generous God who wants to give good gifts to his children. As we heard in our gospel reading Jesus said: “Ask and it will be given to you…If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7&11)
James tells us:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (Jas 1:5)
The generosity of God is indeed a true incentive to prayer.
But look next at v6-7. How does Solomon begin his prayer? Does he begin by asking? No. He begins by remembering and praising God for his faithfulness.
“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.”
And remembering and praising God for his faithfulness leads to confidence in asking God. As you look back at what God has done does that not lead you to praise and prayer? As 3 Osborne Rd is officially opened today we remember and praise God for his faithfulness, which encourages us to go on asking for the growth of his work here.
God’s faithfulness is indeed the true foundation of prayer.
So what does Solomon now confidently ask God for (v7-9)? Does he ask God to enhance his own life or to enhance his service of the people of God? God’s generous invitation is also a test. Look at those verses:
“Now, O 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. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So 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?”
Solomon was only about 20 at the start of his reign and was no doubt feeling inexperienced and inadequate. It may be that we’re feeling like Solomon at the start of this new term. Many of us have responsible jobs and responsibilities whether in our families or in the church family at JPC. We are to pray for wisdom, for a wise and discerning heart, for wisdom in our relationships at home, at work and at church; for wisdom in the decisions many of us have to make at work. Also, for wisdom to know how to balance our commitments. One pastor I encountered in Dallas said that he’d asked God for wisdom when he hit the wall through over working. The answer was life transforming. He now works between 6am and 6pm, after which he spends time with his family and evangelising the neighbourhood through having people round for meals. His church council meetings are at 6am and Home Groups are on a Sunday afternoon! He calls it creation time planning. Of course it does help that America is more used to 6am breakfast meetings but perhaps we can learn from the answer he received. Sometimes we can be just too busy to love our neighbour!
So what do we ask God for? We may not be a king but do we pray like Solomon? Is our concern for the people of God and for his glory or is it supremely for ourselves? Is it for those we’ve been called to minister to and for his power to be able to do so or is it only for our own needs? Is it for the people of God suffering terribly in the Sudan or for world leaders to have wisdom following the terrible atrocity at the Russian school, or just for our own troubles? Its not that we shouldn’t ask God for our own needs, we should but what is our motivation? Is it for God’s glory or for our glory? Paul’s prayers in the NT always begin with a concern for the people of God or for his preaching of the gospel. Jesus said: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [the needs we worry about] will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) Which leads us into v10-14.
This prayer of Solomon’s for wisdom pleased the Lord. So God granted his request and more. Look at v10-14:
“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. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for –both riches and honour – so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.”
The true goal of our praying should be to please God. Not in order to earn salvation, which is only through faith in Christ, but to please him. And here the Lord was pleased and granted Solomon’s request and blessed him further. There is a link between what we ask for and why and God’s answer. Does our prayer life and our public prayer life as a church bring pleasure to God? We were planned for God’s pleasure. In response to God’s mercy we are to live to please him in all that we do. Sadly Solomon did not remain obedient to the covenant as his father David had done (1 Kings 11:6) and he didn’t live to be much more than 60.
God said to Solomon: “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” How are we to reply to his generous invitation today? We are to ask, for his generosity invites us; we are to ask, remembering his faithfulness; we are to ask, for the sake of his people; and we are to ask, above all, in order to please him.
1 John 5:14 is one of my life verses. It says this:
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.”
THE PROOF OF WISDOM v16-28
In v12 God said that he had given Solomon what he asked for – ‘a wise and discerning heart’. And now we have a court case before us in v16-28 to prove that God really had granted Solomon wisdom and discernment.
I’m sometimes asked, ‘How do you know if God has answered your prayer?’ Of course, sometimes it is very obvious. But how do we know if our prayer for wisdom, for example, has been answered? Well often God then puts us in a situation to prove his work in our lives.
And what a case is brought before Solomon. It’s a case that very strikingly demonstrated that God had answered Solomon’s prayer! Look at v16-22:
‘Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. One of them said, “My lord, this woman and I live in the same house. I had a baby while she was there with me. The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no-one in the house but the two of us. During the night this woman’s son died because she lay on him. So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. The next morning, I got up to nurse my son – and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t the son I had borne.” The other woman said, “No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.” But the first woman insisted, “No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine.”’
How was Solomon to judge? There were no other witnesses. The women and their babies were alone in the house. There was no DNA test available. So Solomon called for a sword and ordered the living child to be cut in half and half of the child to be given to each woman (v25). This immediately revealed the mother love of the genuine mother and she insisted that the other woman be given the child. Even if she couldn’t obtain justice, at least she could secure the life of her child. This was the clue Solomon needed – he had detected the real mother. V27: ‘Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”’
Solomon’s ruling didn’t just impress the woman but all Israel. V28: ‘When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.’
God had clearly granted Solomon’s request. In v12 God said he would give Solomon a wise and discerning heart, and in Solomon’s adjudication of the prostitutes case Israel saw clear proof that he had and that the wisdom of God was in their king.
What do we need to ask God for so that he might be pleased and glorified? So that men may see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven? Wisdom? A wise and discerning heart? Boldness? To keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit? To proclaim the gospel faithfully? God’s invitation to those who love him is, ‘Ask and it will be given to you.’
THE PROMISE OF WISDOM
Solomon, here in chapter 3, points beyond himself. The words judge, wise, wisdom and discerning also occur in the description of the coming messianic king in Isaiah 11:
“And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and discernment…
and he will not judge by what appears to the eyes,
nor will he decide cases by what he hears with his ears,
but he shall judge the weak in righteousness,
and he shall decide in uprightness for the downtrodden of the earth.”
The hint in 1Kings 3 is that the wisdom, discernment and justice of Solomon point to One who would outstrip Solomon, to One in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3). Ephesians 1:20-22 says that this King, King Jesus, has already begun to reign and therefore his subjects can be assured that he will never ordain or order anything in our circumstances, except what is in line with wisdom at its highest and best.