Wisdom Quest

I Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14

It was, and perhaps still is, the most perfect prayer ever uttered. It came out of the mouth of a six-year-old boy. His mother shared the story. They were at a local swimming pool and her son was standing at the deep end, his toes curled over the edge. Still unsure of himself in the water, he stood there for what seemed like forever. Hesitating. Meditating. Palpitating. And just when it seemed that he was going to back away from the edge, he looked up to the sky, put his hands together, and said: “O Lord, give me skills or give me gills!” And he jumped.[I]

Give me skills or give me gills. That pretty much covers all the bases, doesn’t it? Lord, give me what I need to overcome what I’m facing; but if not, give me what I need to endure it. Give me skills or give me gills.

In his book Hustling God, Craig Barnes, the president of Princeton Theological Seminary, wrote this about the Christian life: “…your calling is not primarily to accomplish something, but to serve God who will always lead you to places where you are in way over your head.”[ii] Barnes is reminding us that life has a habit of tossing us into the “deep end”. The question I think we need to contemplate today is when these “deep water experiences” happen, will we sink or swim? Will we blame God and everyone who crosses our path, or will we trust God enough to start paddling?

And this is where we meet Solomon today. He’s in way over his head. His father died. He’s grieving. He’s afraid. And he’s now the head of his family. Solomon is no longer swimming in the safety of the shallow end of his childhood. With one swift toss, he’s headed into the deep end of adulthood.

And what a deep end it was! It isn’t just the loss of his father that Solomon was forced to confront. It was who his father was. His father was David, the great king of Israel, their liberator from the Philistines, the original Raider of the Lost Ark, the unifier of the tribes, the master musician and wordsmith, the “man after God’s own heart.” So, with David’s death, Solomon not only took his place at the head of his own family; but he was now the head of a great nation. Ready or not. But it was clear that Solomon was not ready.

But the good thing, the saving grace, if you will, was that Solomon knew he wasn’t ready. He said, in effect: “I’m not up to this, God. You put me in the place of my father, but I’m not my father. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m scared to death.” [iii] But it’s then that Solomon demonstrates real insight, it’s then that Solomon utters the words that should come from the mouth of everyone who assumes a leadership role.

Please give your servant a discerning mind in order to govern your people and to distinguish good from evil, because no one is able to govern this important people of yours without your help”

So, if we find ourselves “in over our heads,” as we all do from time to time, then this humble request from the lips of Solomon is an important one. It’s important because it means we can relax, or at least, we can stop pretending that we have everything under control. It means asking God for what we need to overcome the situations that arise or what we need to endure them. It means we should boldly pray for skills or for gills, confident that God will always give us one or the other. And sometimes, like Solomon, we may even get both. But, however the answer comes, God always comes with it.

You know, I heard a phrase many years ago that’s stuck with me. And the phrase is this. “God goes before you.” No matter what situation you might be walking into; no matter what disturbing thing the voice on the other end of the phone might have just said, no matter what crazy thing happened in the latest news cycle; God goes before us. Maybe that’s the crux of the message for us today. Maybe we should remember that no matter what, God goes before us, beside us, and all around us. God has our back. When life tosses us into the deep end, God’s there with the life preserver.

The challenge in all this, however, is for each of us to try and figure out how to be patient enough, to be humble enough, how to tread water long enough, for an answer to become apparent. That’s a tough one. But it’s also an important part of developing our faith and deepening our understanding of the nature of God’s wisdom.

And that’s final point that I would like to share today. God’s wisdom, by and large, is beyond our perception. God is mysterious, right? But we can come to know a little about God’s wisdom, we can begin to see a bit of what the manifestation of God’s wisdom might look like in real time.

How? Well, the word in Greek for wisdom is “Sofia” (Sofia) and I have some of my own thoughts about this word. First of all, it’s no accident that this is a feminine word. Sofia, wisdom, is always referred to as a woman. Life experience, a mother, a wife, two daughters, three granddaughters, and many wonderful relationships with women, both personally and professionally, have reinforced to me that this is accurate. Guys, it’s true, wisdom is a woman.

But seriously, over the course of many years of study, I have concluded that wisdom is more that just a mere attribute of God; I have come to believe that Sofia is a part of the nature of God.

And this is an important distinction. An attribute of God is something God does. Faithfulness for example. The Hebrew Scriptures often tell us that God is “faithful and slow to anger.” Faithfulness is something God does; it’s an attribute of God.

But the nature of God goes somewhat deeper. The best example is love. The author of the first epistle of John tells us that God IS love. Now, wait a cotton-picken minute, you might say, don’t you always tell us in the benediction, “God – loves – you”? Isn’t that an action of God? Isn’t loving something that God does? In short, yes. But the difference here is that love is actually a part of the make-up of God. I perceive love as a part of the essence, the being, the very core of the consciousness of God. So, yes, God is loving, but while God demonstrates faithfulness, God is actually love itself. Love then proceeds to us from the very core of God’s being.

Now, I realize that this is pretty philosophical, and you might be checking your watch about now. But hang in here with me. I believe that Wisdom, Sofia, is also a part of God’s make-up. God’s being. God’s nature. So, if that is the case, if Wisdom is a part of God’s nature, then what might the procession of wisdom look like to us?

Well, the Talmud, one of the sacred texts of Judaism, might help us to begin to address this question. It states that, “The highest form of wisdom is kindness.”[iv] What an interesting way of viewing wisdom. According to, at least a portion of, the Jewish tradition, wisdom is seen in its highest form in acts of kindness.

So, if Wisdom is a part of God’s nature, then kindness, according to this ancient text, is what proceeds to us. And here’s the goodie. It’s a part of God’s nature that we can see and emulate. We can emulate it in our relationships, by showing kindness in how we deal with others; even the difficult ones. We can emulate God’s kindness in how we conserve, preserve, and interact with the natural world. And, finally, we can practice kindness when we, like Solomon, are called to step up and assume a leadership role, even if we don’t feel we’re fully qualified. Think about that for a moment.  What if one’s call to leadership was born from a desire to propagate kindness rather than from a desire to rule over others or to satisfy a thirst for power. What if our leaders were to humble themselves before God utter the words of Solomon…

Please give your servant a discerning mind in order to govern your people and to distinguish good from evil, because no one is able to govern this important people of yours without your help”

May it be so for all of us. Amen.

—————————————————————————

[i] Tim Boggess Skills and Gills (www.Day1.org) 2015

[ii] M. Craig Barnes, Hustling God, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), p. 99.

[iii] Ibid. Boggess

[iv] Quote from www.ucc.org/samuel 2018.

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