Wednesday, August 28, 2013

'A wise and discerning heart'

1 Kings 3:4-15a (NIV)

The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “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.

“Now, 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?”

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 wealth and honor — so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” Then Solomon awoke — and he realized it had been a dream.
Hang around long enough in churches and you tend to stop noticing the interesting ways in which words get smushed together. In the world of sports, we joke about terms like “ensuing kickoff” and remark the word ensuing is rarely used in any other context. But in church, it’s more of a case of using everyday words but partnering them uniquely.

I don’t know if this is some sort of special vocabulary taught at seminary, but when pastors write or speak formally they simply have a different spin on English. I’ve been lucky enough to be conversationally friendly with dozens of ordained folks, and they can all pretty much carry on a decent conversation. But I can still listen to those same people from the pulpit and wonder how they invented or chose a given term.

For example, we say scripture is “God-breathed” when “inspired by God” would suffice. A congregational prayer of confession I read recently includes the phrase, “If we have received blessings with scant gratitude.” These are just a few off the top of my head, and I’m trying to avoid singling anyone out or taking a notepad to worship next Sunday. But the topic comes to mind as I find myself wondering where else , outside of a religious setting or Bible reading, could I or would I encounter the notion of “a wise and discerning heart”?

And yet as odd as the phrase may seem grammatically, especially to those with no religious inclination, what a wonderfully crafted image of something I so desperately want for myself. Not just a heart for love, but one with wisdom and the ability to perceive and understand God’s intended direction. Each day I pray the phrase “thy will be done,” and the subtext is not for God to simply roll over me but for me to be able to see and then do what God wants to have done. It is a plea to have an active role, to be used in pursuit of the greater good.

The difference between Solomon, crowned the king of his people, and me, average mid-30s suburban father, is I have no need to govern a great people. Just the three (soon to be four) kids, and I have a pretty good partner leading the way. But just like Solomon when he ascended to the throne, so do I remember the early days of fatherhood when I felt way to young and unsure of how exactly I was supposed to behave. Even now, with almost a decade of experience, I still encounter circumstances that leave me wondering how best to respond.

And so that quest for a wise and discerning heart seems to make sense, day after day, week after week, year after year. It’s not something I seek to better myself but to improve the way I relate to those around me. It goes beyond the banality of “what would Jesus do?” by digging more deeply in a quest to not just respond properly to a given situation but to ultimately see the world in a different way, to look not with human eyes but to legitimately approach the whole of life with a God-breathed perspective.

Understand that as I sort these thoughts out in this forum I am realizing precisely how much of a gap exists between what I say I want and how I actually function right now. There are good days and bad days, but even the best-case scenario makes me feel I’m standing on the shore and gazing at my goal like some far-off island. But there is comfort in at least having something to aim for, in trusting that if I set sail I won’t just be hopelessly adrift forever.

I don’t want to pursue wealth and honor. A long life would be great but is a byproduct at best. What I want is to be a good husband and a good father, to give my family the best version of myself I can possibly muster and to show love for the world in accordance with the love God has given me. And I can think of no better foundation, for myself or anyone else, than the gift of a wise and discerning heart.

A prayer for August 28:

Lord, teach me your way. Lead me in a straight path. Open my eyes fully to the world around me. Do not let me be blind to chances to love, to serve and to make a difference. Help me teach my children, and continue to learn myself, what it takes to give you complete control. Change me, not just for a moment or two throughout the day, but for good. Your will be done. Amen.

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