Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“What to Wish for?”
Rev. Art Ritter
July 30, 2017
1 Kings 3:5-12
At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.
Three men were once marooned on a desert island. As the days slowly went by, they dreamed of what it would be like to be rescued from that island, at home with their friends and family, back at their jobs, just enjoying some of the things that they loved. One day, one of the men found a bottle that contained a genie. He opened the bottle and the genie announced that he would grant each of them one wish. One of the men said, “Wow, I want to be back in Livonia with my wife and my children.” Poof! He was back in Livonia. The second man immediately said, “I want to be back in Novi with my fiancé.” Again, in a matter of seconds, he was gone – back in Novi. The third man was left all alone sitting on the sandy beach. He looked around for a while desperately trying to think of the one wish he could make. Finally he said, “Boy, it really is lonely here with all of my friends gone. I wish that they were back here with me again.” And poof!!!!
If you could be granted one wish, what would you pray for, wish for, ask for? I think that perhaps at one time or another, each of us has asked that fantasy question. I remember vaguely that in the early 2000’s there used to be a reality television show about this particular premise called “Three Wishes.” Gospel singer Amy Grant went all over the country sorting through the prayer requests and wishes of people in specific cities to see how sincere and selfless those longings might be before granting the three wishes of the most deserving contestant.
Deciding what we might wish for is not an easy thing. It might be something for ourselves: success, wealth, the trappings of power, health, or perhaps simply a long life. Or our wish might be for someone else: for our children, our spouse, our parents, or someone in great need. What would you ask for? Even though we know such a request is purely fantasy or at the very least the plot line of reality television, we also know that it is not a simple question. It involves a choice that speaks to the heart of our existence and what we deem most important in life.
We also know that with our wishes comes consequences. Consider the legend of King Midas who wished that everything he touched would turn to gold. He was granted his wish and soon was surrounded by riches. But then he learned that such a request was a mixed blessing. He could eat nothing because the food he touched turned to gold. When his daughter came to visit, he touched her and she turned to gold. Anne Lamott writes of the short-sided danger of wishing for things that benefit only our lives and our cause. She calls it “a damaging insistence on forward thrust, a commitment to running wildly down a convenient path that might actually be taking us deeper into the dark forest.” Lamott asks us to instead “turn our eyes to something else: to our feet on the sidewalk, to the middle distance, to the hills, whence our help comes-someplace else, anything else.” Such a turn she writes, can be a life-changing moment.
One of the most famous stories of the Old Testament is partially told in our Scripture lesson this morning from I Kings, chapter 3. God appeared before King Solomon in a dream and gave him the kind of request that we might expect from genies who come out of a bottle. “Ask what I should give you.” We know that Solomon was one of the greatest kings in the history of Israel, the son of David and the builder of the Temple. And we also know that Solomon carefully and humbly considered his position in life, the people and circumstances that brought him to the place where he stood before God. And Solomon, chose not riches or health or many years. He chose one thing- an understanding mind.
The wisdom of Solomon became legendary. In the next chapter of I Kings we read the story of two women who argued over the fate of a baby. Both said that they had given birth to the child and they came to Solomon so he might decide to whom the baby legally belonged. Of course we remember the King’s wise solution- divide the baby in half so that each woman could have their share. Solomon knew that such a decision would move the heart of the real mother of the baby who insisted that her son go to live with the other woman so he would not be killed. That story concludes, “All of Israel heard of the judgment that the king rendered; and they stood in awe of the king because they perceived the wisdom of God that was in him.”
In order to gain some perspective of Solomon’s wish, I think it is important to go back into his life history before the dream. What were the circumstance of the visit from God in that dream? What was the background of that open ended question, “What do you want?”
Solomon had just ascended to the throne. He really wasn’t legally entitled to such power. David’s son from another marriage Adonijah was next in line for the throne. But through scheming and cunning, David’s wife Bathsheba arranged for her son Solomon to come to power. It was like a plot of a movie with great political intrigue. There were alliances made, assassinations and house arrests. Solomon married the Egyptian Pharaoh’s daughter thus insuring himself of one of the strongest armies on earth. There was compromise, as Solomon agreed to turn a blind eye to those who worshipped pagan idols. No- Solomon wasn’t exactly the perfect person. He had some good qualities and some very questionable ones. He was torn by the challenge and trouble of his life. He was frightened by the uncertainty and danger all around him. Yet it was to this person and situation that the Lord appeared with almost a blank check question, “Ask what I should give to you. What is your wish?” All Solomon had to do is fill out the amount. How many long years of life? How much in gold and silver? How many nations could he rule? Oh- if only it could be so easy for us!
Of course we know what comes next. Solomon chose to ask for an understanding mind and became known as a great king through the use of that gift. Throughout history he was the epitome of wisdom. The books of wisdom – Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes are generally attributed to Solomon. Yet it is interesting to note that Solomon’s actual request of God did not mention the word wisdom. In verse 9 he wishes, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” Some translations say that Solomon requested, “A listening heart.” It seems to be that Solomon was really asking for the ability to discern God’s hand in what he was doing each day. He wanted to have knowledge of what God was doing in his life and in the world and to appreciate the nature of God’s gifts. He wanted to have an awareness and concern for all. He wanted to have an attitude of recognizing the grace of God so he could use the gifts of that grace for the benefit of others. Solomon’s dream did not bring him new possessions or new power but rather a new reality. While not asking specifically for wisdom, Solomon understood that he would gain wisdom if he was in a place where his actions and decision were made for the benefit of others not just for him.
American writer and publisher Elbert Hubbard once wrote, “Every man is a darn fool for at least five minutes a day; wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit.” Hubbard’s words speak much truth for our day and time and our perception of God’s place and presence in our choices and actions. Making a wish for “a listening heart,” as King Solomon did, means that we acknowledge that we do not know everything and that there will be things we don’t know or that we need to question. When Solomon explained to God in that dream inspired conversation that, “I am only a little child,” surely he understood that part of maturity was seeing the larger picture; the “we” instead of the “me.”
Robert Short, author of the Gospel According to Peanuts said, “The situation today is lots of knowledge, but little understanding. Lot of means, but little meaning. Lots of know-how, but little know-why. Lots of sight but little insight.” Although Short’s words were written many years ago, they speak a lasting truth. With no listening, with no discernment, with no understanding, with no sense of God’s claim on our words and actions- there is no wisdom.
Solomon wished for an attitude that meant wisdom. The request for a listening heart was an acknowledgment that people operate with a mixture of motives and that we all need to be sensitive to the perspective of others and God’s desire for us to do what is right. Such wisdom listens more than it talks. Such wisdom means having self-control; not trying to control others or control circumstance but controlling oneself in the midst of whatever might come. Such wisdom assures that the needs and feelings of others are considered in relationship to one’s own desires and that the plight of the most vulnerable members of the community do not go unnoticed.