Last week in our Encore Bible Study we began a new study entitled “Great Prayers of the Bible.” Our goal for this study is that we will learn more about prayer, as well as be challenged and encouraged to pray. This week we’re looking at Solomon’s prayer in I Kings 3.

In coming to the account I think it would be safe to say that Solomon’s prayer is not a normal prayer so to speak. Solomon had recently been established as king following his father David. He went to worship, and while there the LORD appeared to him in a dream and told him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (I Kings 3:5).

Solomon thoughtfully responded to God’s offer. The first thing he did was express gratitude to God for his kindness (verse 6). Whenever and wherever we pray, it is always appropriate to be thankful. Solomon also expressed humility (verse 7). He knew being king was a great responsibility and he was not overly confident of his ability. As a matter of fact, he suggested he was inadequate for the job. Heartfelt humility is always appropriate, and perhaps especially when we go to the LORD in prayer.

After expressing gratitude and humility Solomon made his request: “give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong” (verse 9). I’m impressed by what Solomon did not ask for, but more importantly, so was God (verse 11). As impressed as I am by what he did not ask for, I’m more impressed by what he did ask for. But again, so was God. “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this” (verse 11). God was so pleased that he told Solomon he would grant his request by giving him a wise and discerning heart, but he would also give him what he did not ask for (verses 12 and 13).

I’m thinking asking for wisdom is a request you and I should regularly be making in our prayers today. Who doesn’t need wisdom? Or perhaps better yet, who doesn’t need more wisdom? There is an interesting promise in the New Testament in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Wisdom is available to us if we seek it and ask for it.

Here’s my takeaway from this for your consideration: Solomon’s thoughtful request for wisdom tells me he was already somewhat wise. His request shows that, doesn’t it? And the primary wisdom book of the Old Testament tells us in Proverbs 9:9, “Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.”

Most of us have heard the saying “The rich just get richer.” If that’s true, and it often is, I want to add another similar phrase that is also true: “The wise just get wiser.” If we are wise it seems to me we should humbly ask for more wisdom, always remembering that it will be difficult to grow in wisdom if we think we already know everything.

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“Older” readers no doubt remember the Rolling Stones and most “younger” readers probably have heard their best known song I Can’t Get No Satisfaction (1965). I’ve been reading the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes and could not help but think of the their first number one hit in the US and what is considered by many the greatest song they ever recorded. The writer of Ecclesiastes relates how he did not find satisfaction in work, pleasure, wealth, wisdom, or power.

Ecclesiastes comes right after the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament and both are in the category of wisdom literature. When I read the book of Proverbs I am challenged and encouraged, but when I read the book of Ecclesiastes, if I am not careful, I am confused and almost depressed. Parts of it seem to contradict not only the book of Proverbs, but a lot of the rest of the Bible as well.

The second verse of chapter one declares, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” The Teacher not only can’t get any satisfaction, he thinks everything is futile and pointless. Most of us have felt the same at times in our lives. But this is the Bible; you can see why I am confused and almost depressed! In their book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth authors Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart affirm “There is good reason for the reader to be puzzled, because Ecclesiastes is a very difficult book to read.”

Even with the unsettling parts, there are numerous notes of wisdom throughout the book. We just have to read it carefully and with discernment. For example, 3:1 tells us “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” There follows a list of 14 pairs of opposites beginning with “a time to be born and a time to die” and ending with “a time for war and time for peace.”

I appreciate the insight of 4:9 that “two are better than one” and the examples of why that is true that follow: “they have a good return for their labor,” “if either of them falls down, one can help the other up,” “if two lie down together, they will keep warm,” and “two can defend themselves.”

The Teacher’s observation on money and wealth in 5:10 gets my attention: “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.” The wisdom of 7:5 gives us something to consider: “It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person than to listen to the song of fools.”

In reading the Teacher’s honest assessment of things it’s helpful to keep in mind he is talking about life “under the sun.” Chuck Swindoll notes that life “under the sun” is life without the Lord. The writer of Ecclesiastes doesn’t use the phrase, but Swindoll suggests that to find happiness and meaning in life “we must get above the sun”—by including God and faith in our lives.

Philip Yancey sums up the book, “Ecclesiastes endures as a work of great literature and a book of great truth because it presents both sides of life on this planet: the promise of pleasures so alluring that we may devote our lives to their pursuit, and then the haunting realization that these pleasures ultimately do not satisfy.”

The conclusion of the book provides perspective, a warning, and a challenge: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (12:13 and 14).

It all reminds me of a question Jesus asked, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36). We might ask ourselves where we are looking for satisfaction and where we can find it.

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I love the Old Testament book of Proverbs and have reread it every January for several years now. There is no way I could choose one favorite verse, but one I return to again and again is Proverbs 9:9. The New International Version renders this verse “Instruct the wise, and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.” Here are four things I take from this verse.

I DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING. You may think that is obvious, but the truth is I sometimes come across as though I know a lot more than I do. I am finally learning that it is good to keep in mind that I don’t know everything; I don’t even know as much as I sometimes think I do.

Not only do I not know everything, I COULD BE WRONG. I don’t like to be wrong, but there have been plenty of times when I have been wrong. I’ve been wrong on some little things, and I have been wrong on some big things. It hasn’t always been easy for me to admit that I could be or was wrong.

If I could be wrong, then it follows that THE PERSON WHO DISAGREES WITH ME COULD BE RIGHT. If it is hard to admit you could be or were wrong, it’s probably even harder to admit that the person who disagreed with you was right.  I know people who have disagreed with me have been right at times.

In light of these first three revelations (that I’m sure surprise no one), I NEED TO KEEP LEARNING AND GROWING IN WISDOM. I don’t need to know everything, I don’t need to always be right, and it’s ok that someone who disagrees with me is right. What I need to do is to keep on learning and growing. And these four affirmations indicate at least some progress.

Going back to Proverbs 9:9, A CERTAIN LEVEL OF WISDOM IS ASSUMED if a person who is instructed will become even wiser. And A CERTAIN LEVEL OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IS ASSUMED if a person who is taught will learn more. I don’t think we can be too optimistic for those who think they know everything, who don’t think they are ever wrong and someone else could be right, or don’t realize they need to continue to learn and grow.

Proverbs 1:7 gives the theme of the book: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” By “fear of the LORD” the Bible does not mean that we shrink back in terror from God, but rather that we acknowledge Him as Creator, worship Him as God, and submit to Him as Lord. That is a good beginning point, isn’t it? From there we can continue to welcome wisdom and instruction into our lives.

Share this post with others if you think it will encourage them and I welcome comments below.

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