Wisdom and prayer go hand-in-hand in 1 Kings 3. And that’s helpful, since for a small church like us it’s been a tough year in all sorts of ways. And we’ve prayed, haven’t we? But we all struggle at times to know what to say. We want our prayer to be wise and our wisdom to be worked out in practice.
These notes are from a Sunday sermon on 1 Kings 3.
Your prayers are upside down
God gives Solomon wisdom in this chapter because he is pleased with Solomon’s prayer. So this must be a helpful model prayer for the Lord to be pleased to hear it. Oddly, the chapter begins with Solomon not really doing so well. He’s a mixed bag: Read v1-4.
- A political marriage to a non-Israelite woman wasn’t ideal.
- Offering sacrifices in the high places (local places of worship) was what the pagan religions did, though without a Temple in Jerusalem there might be some excuse.
- And yet, for all that, we’re told he loved the LORD (v3).
- In fact, he’s the only man in the OT described that way!
In his autobiography, Bill Clinton said that he’d always loved his wife – but not always very well. That’s probably a description of Solomon here: We might frown on his non-Israelite marriage, or his pagan-ish worship, but there’s no doubt he loved the LORD. Just not always very well.So we thank the LORD that his love for us doesn’t depend on our excellence. It’s all about his abundant grace.
Read the amazing v5! God is a giver. He is lavish and open-handed in his gracious generosity. The “cattle on a thousand hills are his” – but he hoards nothing, because everything is his to give. And he delights to give. In fact, we might say that his abundant grace actually lures us to pray.
- If I say, there’s a man just outside with more cash than he knows how to spend and he’s just giving it away, you’d go – wouldn’t you?
- The abundant liberality is what lures you. And it’s what lures us to God in prayer.
So: Your prayers are upside down #1
- Prayer that is pleasing to God is less rooted in your need, and more grounded in God’s abundance to you.
So even though God has invited Solomon to ask for anything, it’s no surprise that Solomon’s prayer doesn’t start with himself but with God:
- The “You” at the start of v6 is emphatic (אַתָּ֨ה)
- Read v6 – Solomon recalls God’s covenant promise to David in 2 Samuel 7; a king to reign God’s people forever
- Read v8 – Solomon picks up on the language of God’s covenant to Abraham, to have offspring “so great and numerous they cannot be counted”
- You are the God of grace and promise and faithfulness!
So in Solomon’s need (which we’ll come to), the first thing he does is praise God.Now, praise completes the enjoyment of a thing – we enjoy something, and we enjoy praising it (“lovely cake” etc). So for Solomon, the act of remembrance and praise actually does himself good – and frames his own need within God’s bigger purposes.
So Your prayers are upside down #2:
You may feel overwhelmed by the size of your problems, but by taking time to remember and praise God you focus on how much greater he is. Start with “you”. Solomon, it turns out, is overwhelmed by his new task as king: Read v7.
- If you’ve ever been a line manager you know how weird it is to manage other people. It gets more weird the more people you lead. Solomon, the new king, is overwhelmed!
- He wants to do right and deal justly – but not for himself, but for the sake of God’s people.
- He wants help to do the task God has set him, and he wants that not to be praised for success, but simply to benefit the people.
Your prayers are upside down #3:
When praying about your own situation, see it in terms of how it might glorify God and bring blessing to others.
If you put these things together, you can change your prayers with one simple thought: How can I pray to please God? Because, in the end, prayer is worship. And all worship is to him and for him. Just like our prayer meetings and Sunday services aren’t about what you get out of them, but us all coming together to honour and worship the living God.
Feast on the king’s wisdom
So God was pleased with Solomon’s prayer (v10). God then promised Solomon he’d receive all he’d asked for and much more besides. And the result for Solomon? Read v15.
- Solomon left the high places of worship and returned to the Ark of the Covenant, the place of promise and true worship of God.
- He led the people in that worship, and then he treated them all to a great feast!
Immediately, his own prayer is actually overflowing to blessing for the people – God’s people. And David, and now Solomon, were fore-runners of the great king who would rule God’s people for ever. That king will be the Messiah, Immanuel. Isaiah wrote about him. Read Isaiah 11:1-5.
This Branch from David’s line would have the Spirit of the LORD on him. And the result of that is that he would perfectly execute the very justice and wisdom that Solomon is being gifted here. Jesus, the Messiah, in whom is all the fullness of God. Were his prayers the right way up? In Gethsemane? Of course.
The Messiah’s heart for wisdom
Jesus prayed, “Your will be done.”
- He knew that would be awful for him.
- But he knew his life and sacrifice was part of the bigger plan and for the blessing of all God’s people.
- Jesus was taking the punishment you deserve. Without that, you could not be forgiven by God. Without forgiveness from God, you would have no hope.
So even in his own darkest hour, his bleakest prayer, he prayed in a way that expressed his pain but gave glory to God. And now he is risen, and ascended into heaven!
- Now, all riches of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ.
- And you are in Christ, and he is in you!
- You feast on him now, all of us, together.
- We do that together as a picture of the great feast to come – the wedding feast of the Lamb when we will be resurrected to be with him forever.
But how can we feast on his wisdom, now, in practice? So that we can pray in a way that pleases God and brings him glory? By recognising the link between wisdom and prayer, and then putting it into practice.
Ask for (and use) wisdom
James 1 tells you that if you lack wisdom, you should ask and it will be given you. But 1 Kings 3 helps you understand the nature of wisdom itself. Know what you’re asking for, and what it will look like in you. Read v9.
Wisdom needs a listening heart
First, notice that Solomon asks for “an understanding heart”. Different translations have “understanding mind”, “discerning heart” or “receptive heart”. Literally, it’s a “listening heart”
- “Heart” in Hebrew isn’t your emotions, it’s the whole inner you – your mind in particular.
- And when we listen to understand, rather than just respond (“oh that’s like me!”), then we really learn.
- For godly wisdom, develop a listening heart / mind.
- Listen to God in his word – here and your own reading
- Listen to culture and society; think about its idols.
- Reflect on life: Ps 90:12 Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.
- Reflect on the greatness of God. Same psalm v2 Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from beginning to end, you are God.
So if you pray for wisdom you’re praying for a more listening, absorbent, reflecting mind and heart. You’re not praying for brains, or cleverness, or cool pithy lines – just the right proverb for every situation.
Wisdom needs a discerning mind
- Solomon wanted to be able to differentiate right from wrong (or, more literally, “good from evil”) (בֵּֽין־טֹ֣וב לְרָ֑ע)
- When stuff happens in your life, wisdom will help you understand the good and evil, right and wrong.
- A listening heart, discerning mind.
Some things will make you happy that aren’t good for you. Some things will make you sad that are very good for you. But when bad things happen, it’s not always an evil. When good things happen, it’s not always good in God’s sight. Wisdom knows that all things work together for the good of God’s people. And wisdom believes it, and sees it at work in the best of times and the worst of times equally.
So wisdom has a listening heart and mind. Wisdom discerns good from evil, right from wrong. And then wisdom is put to use. It’s clear that wisdom and prayer are hand-in-hand, but with purpose too:
- Again, Solomon doesn’t want wisdom so he can look really clever, but to govern the people well.
- He wants wisdom to bring glory to God as king, and to bless God’s people by ruling them well.
- True wisdom is active, not self-focussed, but looks to God and his kingdom.
So, Solomon was overwhelmed and prayed the right way up. Jesus in Gethsemane was overwhelmed; prayed the right way up. Now, read James 1:2-5.
Prayer in troubles of any kind
When “troubles of any kind come you way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” You may well need to pray for wisdom to do that. In all the treatments and illnesses and job uncertainty you’re facing, can you see the opportunity for joy? It’s not always easy. So pray for wisdom, as we’ve seen it in 1 Kings 3.Wisdom to discern right & wrong, good & evil: Laws say “do this” or “do that”. But wisdom is often much harder, listening to what’s going on, knowing right from wrong, and navigating through life’s pain when choices aren’t always clear.
So in your life, in matters of life and illness, in witness, in work, in studies, in church, pray to please God:
- Based in his abundance even more than your need
- Recognising his immeasurable greatness – much greater than your problem
- Seeking his kingdom and glory, and the blessing of others
- Pray for a heart of wisdom – listening, discerning, and active for God.
Seek first the kingdom of God. Even (perhaps especially) in the dark times. The God of abundant grace will hear.