God must not like our prayers because he keeps giving us the opposite of what we ask for. We ask for patience and we receive more frustrations. We ask for peace in our household and we receive more conflict. We ask for enough wealth to be secure and we find ourselves jobless and dependent upon the kindness of strangers. I get the feeling that God’s intention is to throw us fully into life, like a baby being thrown into the deep end of the pool. We pray, “Lord give us a firm foundation of truth,” by which we mean that He should make us smart enough to always be right. God responds, “Hey it’s time for your swimming lesson. Keep your head up and remember to breathe.”
The story is that young King Solomon felt totally unprepared for his ascent to the throne. So, he prayed and God said, “Now be careful what you ask for, because I’m only going to grant you one wish.” He could have asked to become so smart that he would never have to worry about ever being wrong. He could have asked to be a great deal maker, always winning. He could have asked to become the self-help guru of his time, so that all his kids and wives and neighbors would seek out his advice. He could have asked to be made a powerful leader, with an arsenal of clever weapons, so that he could defeat whoever dared to disagree with him.
Now, its important that you read I Kings 3:5-12 carefully. Young Solomon does not ask to be made smart or always right, the way we would have. Instead he prays for an understanding heart, so that he might discern what is right in the midst of life’s difficult decisions. God grants him wisdom, which is not the same thing as self-confidence, in fact, the two may be opposites.
The story goes on and King Solomon also becomes smart, rich, and a successful political leader. I have come to believe that these things have little to do with his initial gift of spiritual wisdom. For most people, discerning God’s will takes you in the opposite direction from riches, sexual prowess, and winning. It took Jesus to the cross.
Pop psychologists often ask, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?” Each time we get into conflict, we face this choice. The way out of the conflict isn’t through doubling down on being right. It is through discerning the humble path that God is calling us to walk. Since I don’t think happiness is the same thing as wisdom, I would rephrase the question, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to live with a heart at peace (Shalom)?”
We live in difficult times. The respectful give and take that once marked our political process is gone. Unity in the United Methodist Church is in jeopardy. It is harder than ever to raise our children with the confidence they need to succeed. Be careful what you pray for. We have been cast into deep waters. Ambiguity is the new normal. We seek God in the few spare moments that we have between crises. Half drowned and treading water, we pray for wisdom in the wet. Give me a discerning heart, O Lord.
And God is pleased. Our prayer is answered.