I’ve spent a large part of today getting ready for next Sunday’s Family Service at YWBC. We’re continuing to look at the theme of prayer, and posing the question, ‘What should we ask for?’
One of the passages we’re looking at is 1 Kings 3, and the famous story of King Solomon’s prayer for wisdom. The opening chapters of 1 Kings are not pleasant reading – Solomon does not have a clear path to the throne and his power is consolidated only after a number of violent deaths, including that of his brother Adonijah and his father’s military commander Joab. The chapters make little attempt to hide the fact that the trail of responsibility for these murders ultimately leads back to Solomon.
But in chapter 3, we have a very different portrait of the King, to whom God appears in a dream. God instructs Solomon to ‘Ask what I should give you.’ Reading Solomon’s reply, I’m particularly struck by one claim which he makes: ‘I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.’ Considering the guile and ruthlessness Solomon has just shown in order to secure power, these words demonstrate either breathtaking nerve before God or a genuine humility in his presence, or both.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be too quick to make judgements about Solomon. I wonder if all of us have played this game at one time or another, presenting ourselves as innocent victims before God, failing to acknowledge completely our own culpability where things have gone wrong. Perhaps, God is gracious enough to see beyond this sort of self-deception, recognising it as part-and-parcel of the human condition. He is certainly approving of Solomon’s request for wisdom, granting him ‘a wise and discerning mind.’
And yet the Solomon story does not work out well. For all his apparent humility in asking for wisdom, it’s hard to escape the feeling that a basic instinct for power and wealth is never really dealt with in his life. Ultimately, his life is not one characterised by humble rule or justice. Instead, he comes as acquisitive, for power, for riches, for women. It’s telling that when God appears again to Solomon in 1 Kings 9 the message delivered to him is one of warning about the danger of falling away.
So I wonder if 1 Kings 3 offers insights on prayer at all sorts of levels. At face value, we’re taught to ask for what is right. But beyond that there’s another lesson, that if our prayers don’t really reflect a true depth of changed character then their long-term impact may be much less than might otherwise be expected.