Seeking Wisdom And Discernment

[]In today's Old Testament lesson, we see a great example in Solomon of one walking in right paths with God who, in a dream or vision, hears God asking, "What would you like?" It is an amazing thing that is not repeated often in Scripture. Solomon (by his own words a young man at the time of succeeding the throne of his father David) is known by the people of Israel to be a great and mighty king. He walked in the steadfast love of the Lord and, as it says, went to the temple and high places and offered incense and sacrifices that were pleasing to God. And he is presented with an unbelievable question: "What can I give to you?" And Solomon, after thanking and praising God for being steadfast in the relationship God had with his father David, then says, "This is such a great and mighty people, so many that I can't even count them. Help me to understand between good and evil that I may rightly rule your people."

That is, for me, a most impressive request. In the church I grew up in, part of their act of public witness and social justice was a stance against war and violence. As kids, when asked what we wanted to pray for, we would always say world peace because we knew that with peace that meant there would be no more hungry, homeless, or hurting people. So we might expect that answer. It's a very righteous request. But Solomon asked for wisdom so that he might rule God's people wisely, the way God would have him rule. And God says, "This is amazing. You will have it. And then you will have the other things that people ask for: riches, a long life, and power." So Solomon is incredibly blessed, and he is remembered. As God said, "You will be remembered as one of the mightiest kings." And so, Solomon, here we are discussing you thousands of years later. Those words came true.

Seeking wisdom has been important from very early times. The Apostle Paul reminds the church in Ephesus how important being wise is. No doubt some of those at Ephesus already knew about King Solomon and his request for wisdom. So striking a familiar chord with them, he says, "Do not live as the unwise, but as the wise. Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." Then he goes on to reference something that is a problem in the church in Ephesus: "Do not be drunk with wine for that is debauchery." When people drink, they often don't care about too many things so it becomes another wedge between them and their relationship with God. Paul knows that is a problem in the church in Ephesus and so he speaks to something that is familiar: don't do those things that separate you from God and make you not care about your faith or about your calling. "But instead," he said, "be filled with the Spirit." And here I imagine he is talking about the Holy Spirit, a play on the word 'spirit,' meaning alcohol. "Be filled with the Spirit as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves and making great melody to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks to God at all times and for everything in the name of Christ." So Paul says to them, "Do not be unwise, but live as the wise," and then defines what that is very briefly in this lesson for today. He defines that as living in the Spirit and focusing your energies on praising God and turning away from those things that bring problems. And so Paul is granting to the church in Ephesus some wisdom. And we hope and pray that that same kind of wisdom falls upon us as well.

In history, we have had periods where wisdom came upon the people. We had the period of 'The Enlightenment' when people talked about issues of faith and learning, and it was important. Later in history, 'The Great Awakening' swept across this nation awakening people to the Spirit again. It was a very powerful movement and gave many of our ancestors wisdom…wisdom to follow God's ways. And in recent times, wisdom is still very much a part of our culture and pop culture. Recently I watched the 'Star Wars' movies. And there is a figure of great wisdom in that series, and that is Yoda, who I believe is 900 years old. And 'The Force,' which is the light, is with Yoda and he has the wisdom to counsel young Jedi warriors in overcoming the dark side in the universe. One aspect of these movies that makes them so engaging is the seeking of wisdom to be able to overcome evil, to do the good, to be on the right side of things, to live in goodness. And that in itself is wise for us to do so. But permeating our pop culture, we have things like Yoda in the movies representing great wisdom and still seeking to practice great wisdom.

So in movies like 'Star Wars' and 'The Lord of the Rings' where there is a fight between good and evil, there is always a great wise character who depends on wisdom that comes to them from some other high place. As Christians, we denote that as wisdom coming from God. And so when we engage with these movies, it strikes a chord with us because we too want that kind of wisdom. I would bet that everyone in this room has someone they turn to who they think is very wise who can help them through the difficult moments in life: a schoolteacher, a clergyperson or spiritual leader, a grandparent or someone within the family, or a friend. And it is important that we be able to turn to those we recognize as possessing great wisdom. That is something inherent within us as a way for us to continuously seek wisdom because in some time and in some way, it all leads us back to seeking God. The wiser we get, the more we know that we don't know everything. Often that understanding comes with age because when we're young we think we've got it all together, we know how the world works. If you don't believe it, talk to teenagers. They know better than their parents, they know better than the teachers. They're very wise on many things, but very short on life. Those among us who are the most aged can see things from a whole different perspective and with much great wisdom. So the interesting part of God placing within us this desire for wisdom is sort comical because you can't attain that wisdom until you get to the very end of your life because we continue to grow on this continuum of wisdom as God grants it to us as we continuously seek it.

As Christians, we are on a journey of faith. It is inward and outward at the same time. And part of the way that we attain wisdom is to turn to Christ, to turn to Jesus and his teachings to find out how are we to make sense of these matters, how are we to do what is right and what is good, how are we to distinguish between the good and the bad. How do we do this? Scripture is an unparalleled source of wisdom for us, and we turn to it weekly. Each Sunday here we look to Scripture to give us guidance in who we are as the people of God and where we are going and how we are to discern these things which seem to keep cropping up from every direction. But one thing we can be sure of is no matter how many things we're able to come to a conclusion and agreement upon, there will be something else that pops up. There will never be complete internal peace that everything in the world is completely right and well. But it keeps us discerning, it keeps us seeking wisdom. And for people of faith, it keeps us turning to God to help and to guide us. And so one of the ways we do that is by looking to Scripture. Another source of that is calling on the Spirit to be part of our lives, to really be within us and to help us make the right decisions. And as God's Spirit is within us and helping us, wisdom comes. Discernment happens, and wisdom comes.

So, like Solomon, let us be careful in what we ask God for in our prayers. It is okay to ask for healing. It is okay to ask for world peace. Let me discourage you against asking for riches, but instead to ask for the basic needs that God wants to provide for us. But make sure in prayer that the things you ask for are not just for yourself but for the benefit of all and for the good of many. And there is where God will see some wisdom within you as well.

My three-month sabbatical now begins. In that time, I am going to be away seeking wisdom: professional wisdom, spiritual wisdom (maybe even pop-culture wisdom) and a new sense of belonging and energy and all those things within my heart. I will be seeking that out as well as God's wisdom for discernment about the path for future ministry in this congregation. In order to do that, I have to actually set aside time to do those things because the life of the pastor is so busy that often you can't make time for those things, especially when you have a family. So I'm very grateful to all of you for allowing my sabbatical time. I will be going away to gain some discernment by extracting myself and giving myself time to reflect without being in the midst of the busyness that we all experience as part of the mission and ministry here. And I will be asking God to give me wisdom. I ask that you pray for me. Ask God in the Spirit to give me wisdom for it will only benefit you all in the long run. It will benefit the ministries of this church which reach out to many beyond these walls. So pray for me. I will pray for you. And I will see you again in three months, hopefully a little bit wiser.

August 16, 2009

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