Ask God for this one thing…

My friend Max takes scripture seriously when it says to give to those who are poor.

Scripture is filled with this mandate, like Deuteronomy 15:11: For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.”  He believes this is non-negotiable to any seeking to follow Christ and honor God, so he lives it out, no matter the literal cost to his wallet.  It’s fairly common for him to be at the store and someone ask for money, and while many may say no or question the asker’s intentions, Max gives without finding fault, because it is a simple way to fulfil the command to “love God and love others.”  When someone asks, he gives.

God is the same way, though we struggle to believe it.

God makes it clear in His word that He wants to be Provider and offer full life, but we often fail to ask, or take matters into our own hands; or, we ask from a misaligned understanding of who He is and what He offers.   James 4:2-3 puts it like this: “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

There is so much we could ask for, like provision, opportunities, restoration; James suggests something else:

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.
James 1:5

God offers wisdom like Max offers money to those in need; but — one could say — what good is wisdom when practical needs have gone unmet?  What help are thoughts in one’s head when their bank account is empty?

What if we are wildly underestimating the value of wisdom?

No story captures the value of wisdom better than Solomon’s interaction with God in 1 Kings 3, beginning in verse 5:

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.  And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.”

“Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”  If the God of the universe — who could really do anything — said this to you, how would you respond?  If you could literally receive anything, would you ask for “thinking”?  Yet this is precisely what Solomon did, and God commended him for it.  He could have asked for long life, wealth, or vengeance against his enemies; he instead asked for something that would not directly benefit him, and would primarily honor God and support others.

He chose not to love himself, but to “love God and love others.”

While many kings in that time used their power and authority to amass wealth and control, Solomon humbly owned his responsibilities and limitations.  Even more, he could have wished to be freed from the burden and live out his life on a tropical island.  Instead, he used his one big “wish” for the sake of God’s glory and the thriving of His people, accepting the burden of kingship for purposes beyond his own life.  God not only approved, but was pleased: “I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.

Solomon knew wisdom was not a small thing to ask for; in fact, he knew it was the best thing.

In our hardships, we have long lists of things we “need”, and are quick to ask for those in prayer.  “God, send money for this bill.  God, fix this work situation.  God, repay this person who has wronged me!”  Sometimes we may be right about what we need… often we are not.  Fortunately, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8) and wisdom is His way of sharing that insight.  Even James knew that our pursuit should not be to eliminate hardship; prior to calling us to ask for wisdom, he says this:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, a whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4

Rather than asking for our trials to be removed, James — like Solomon — recognizes the invitation in the midst to remain, because we are called to more than loving ourselves.  Afterall, the hard truth we struggle to accept is this: life works differently than we understand it.  Human logic prioritizes self; wisdom prioritizes “love God, love others.”  Human logic says to pursue long life, wealth, power, and comfort; wisdom may invite us to embrace trials.  Human logic seems to make sense; wisdom actually makes sense, though we may not catch it until eternity.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
James 3:13-28

Solomon was offered the chance to receive anything, and he chose wisdom; what if wisdom is the one thing you need right now too?  This is not something we can attain by our own efforts, strength, intelligence, or drive.  Fortunately, like Max serving his neighbors, God freely offers it: “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.”  This is not a small ask, because it requires us to forego our understanding of what we need, and trust what He offers: “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6)

When we, like Solomon, ask God with humility and a willingness to “love God and love others”, God will do as He did with Solomon, not settling for his request, but giving “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20)

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