Sunday, July 24, 2011

Wise Asking (First Kings 3:5-12)

Sometimes it seems like we speak of gifts from God as though they come to us completely apart from anything else that's already in our lives. "God, please give me the gift of discernment." "God, please give me the gift of helping others." "God, please give me the gift of patience, and could you make that a rush job, please?"

Is that how God always works? Does he take people who completely lack a certain quality and just drop it on them full and complete? If you remember the movie The Matrix, you may remember that when our heroes were conscious in the computer-generated virtual reality simulation of the title, they could gain any new ability by having it uploaded into their brains. In one scene, the woman Trinity needs to be able to fly a helicopter inside the simulation, so she calls up her Operator and has him upload that skill. A quick blink and a headshake later, and Trinity is an expert chopper pilot. Does God give us gifts like that?

Sometimes, of course, it would be nice if he did. If we are dealing with some really heavy troubles, it would be nice to have the patience or foresight or compassion or whatever else we need to deal with them just sort of uploaded to us like Trinity's new piloting skills. "God, I'm always glum. Could you upload me some happiness? Thanks!"

The problem for the people in The Matrix was that these abilities were limited to the virtual world. In real life, Trinity didn't know how to fly that specific kind of helicopter, even if she could have found one. She never learned how to do it, so she didn't have the actual information, skills and practice she would have needed if she had to fly that kind of helicopter for real. She would have been stuck with kicking people's heads in, which was a skill she definitely had learned and was pretty good at.

Obviously, if God were to give us a gift of something like happiness or some other quality we'd asked for, then we would have it. But would we have learned it? Would we appreciate it? Human nature tends to treat things better when they cost more, either in resources or time or effort. Even as a kid I treated something I'd bought with lawn-mowing money better than some of the things I got for free. The Habitat for Humanity organization was founded on the idea that people without homes need to earn those homes with their own money and work so that they will truly be their homes. I'd hope we would recognize the great value of some gift from God like that and treat it appropriately, but I'm not optimistic.

On the other hand, what if God gives gifts differently? What if he gives in a way that magnifies what is already there? I ask that in relation to Solomon because it seems to me when I study this story that Solomon was no dummy to start with. His father David helped build the nation of Israel, forging it from what Saul had started and combining the northern and southern groups of tribes into one country. His battles fought off Israel's enemies and united the people under his leadership and God's authority which he honored.

But there will be no battles for Solomon to fight. The enemies are defeated, or at least cowed enough they'll stay away for awhile. The people have come together, they want to be lead. But how? And to what? Creating a nation is never easy, but in a way it's easier than managing one. Even in our own nation's history, we had to erase the unworkable Articles of Confederation to replace them with our great Constitution, and we had to spill a lot of blood in order to ensure that our country would stay united and its people would be no one's slaves. What will Solomon do? How will he lead the people when they battles they face are not against outside enemies but against their own tendencies to turn from God and grow complacent? He doesn't know.

He does, however, know that he doesn't know. To me, this is a sign of wisdom that a lot of people, including me, display far too rarely. So when God asks him, "What should I give you?" he immediately points out that he's not at all sure how he could possibly lead any kingdom, let alone one populated by God's people, and he needs the wisdom to be able to do that. So God grants his request -- I believe that he magnified, or amplified or whatever you'd like to call it, wisdom that was already there in Solomon, so that Solomon was equal to the task he faced.

When we ask God for the gifts we need in order to deal with our lives -- because face it, we can't deal with them on our own -- we should realize that those gifts are multiplications of what's already there. Do we want God to help us be more compassionate? Then let's start being more compassionate and give the Great Potter some clay to mold! Do we want God to grant us wisdom? Then let's pay attention to what's going on around us and do some exploration and thinking of our own so that our brains have information to process and God can magnify it!

When I read this story of Solomon, who has the wisdom to see what he lacks and the wisdom to ask for more, I am reminded, of course, that God will provide. But I can also be reminded, if I care to think about it, that God has provided, and I can ask in faith that he will continue to do what he has promised.

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