What would you do if God handed you the theological equivalent of a signed, blank check – totally free, no questions asked, no strings attached, and all that? What would you make it out for? How about good health? Pay to the order of “retirement security”? How about a little assurance of salvation? Or just something mundane, like a million dollars (or the equivalent in stock options)?
Something to think about – if God said to you, “Ask me for anything,” how would you respond? Would you come up with some kind of beauty pageant answer – peace on earth or an end to homelessness or that every little boy and girl in the world would be given a chance to flourish in life thanks to good dental health, or some such thing? Would you try to come up with the most altruistic sounding response possible, so that everyone within earshot (God included) would be duly impressed with your altruism?
It may sound weird, but it’s pretty much what happened to Solomon as recorded in 1st Kings chapter 3, “…and God said, ‘Ask what I should give you.’” Just like that. What do you want, Sol? King Sol could have asked for anything – power, money, respect, military success – anything! But no, not our hero. Solomon says, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.”
An “understanding mind” that would be able to figure out what was up, to recognize the best way to go, to determine some sense of meaning in the complexity of life, and to tell the good stuff from the bad – this was what Solomon wanted. And he wanted all this for the sake of other people, so that he would be able to govern effectively – not for his own sake. And so God granted him that wisdom.
Although, if you ask me, Solomon already demonstrated a pretty elevated wisdom score by asking what he asked in the first place. So, was he wise because God gave him what he had asked for, or had God already given him the gift of wisdom, which he displayed in his remarkable prayer? I don’t know for sure, but it seems to me that too often people of faith minimize prayer to a simple wish list, as if prayer was comprised solely of asking God for stuff. I heard a man say recently that we need to ask for God’s help with everything, to realize that we are fully dependent upon God. As an example, he said, “As you spread your peanut butter on your bread, you should be saying, ‘God, help me to spread this peanut butter on this bread.’” My response (which I kept to myself) was to suggest that perhaps God would respond to such a prayer by saying, “Spread it yourself, moron, I have a few other things on my mind right now.” (Although God may choose some other word than “moron” I suppose, maybe “My beloved moron” or something.)
If God were to ask the church today, “What do you want, church?” what would God’s church say? Would the church ask for something on behalf of others, or would it ask for something for itself? I can hear it now, “O God, just make it so we don’t have to close our doors due to the fact that our congregations are dying off and no new people are coming to replace them because what we do here, although good and decent, is lifeless and boring and lethargic and completely lacking in the energy of your Spirit or any kind of new, creative, transformative initiative in ministry for the past forty-five years but if you will just get a couple of young families to come to our church and like the way we do things here then everything will be okay, Amen.” Or something like that.
“An understanding mind” is what Solomon wanted. He wanted to be able to make sense of it all. He was looking for meaning, purpose, vision. It seems God thought that was a pretty good idea, because in response God said, “I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life.” And in response to that, Solomon worshipped. Imagine what might happen if a church undertook that process – honest prayer for clarity of vision for the sake of others, wisdom to hear God’s answer and strength to follow God’s way, and grateful worship in response to God’s faithfulness. Sounds pretty wise to me.