I could hear him tapping on the computer keys at the library. He glared at his screen. We were supposed to be studying for our New Testament exam in seminary. But he couldn’t study. Why? His girlfriend just broke up with him. I was trying to be a good friend and get his mind off of her. I said, “What are you doing?”
“I’m emailing her. It’s my third draft.”
I said, “That’s a bad idea.”
He said, “Would you mind reading it?”
I did. He said, “What do you think?”
I said, “Imagine how good your grades would be if you put this much thought into your school work.”
“Seriously, Will. Should I hit send?”
Should I hit send?
We all have been there. Stuck. Unable to make a decision. Trying to make a wise decision. You want to make the right choice, but you’re not sure what the right choice is. There may be a lot on the line. Choices about our future. Choices about someone else’s job. Choices about whether to hit send on the email that you’ve typed and retyped all day long. Or it may be simple. If you’re like me, it’s helping my 4 year old decide which dress to wear to church even though you agreed on one the night before and you’re running late already and it’s raining and the AC is out in the sanctuary.
I had a friend once give me advice. He said, “Every day you have choices to make. The secret to life is just to choose to do the next right thing.”
On the surface, that sounded like good advice. Just make the next right choice, except for one thing. What is the right thing to do? It would be so easy if you could put on a pair of glasses that would show you what’s the right choice and what’s the wrong choice. It would come like a present wrapped in a red bow. But as you and I know, rarely does such clarity come on its own.
I’m reminded of a passage from I Kings 3:3-15 in which we learn about true wisdom. To give a little background, King David’s son Solomon is about to become Israel’s new king. King David was a man after God’s own heart and had served the Lord faithfully. He was given a vision to build the Temple for the Lord, but he the Lord would not let David build the Temple because he had too much blood on his hands.
The Lord visits Solomon in a dream. In an Aladin-like moment God allows Solomon to ask God for anything he wishes, which is an interesting moment. What would I ask for?
In his conversation, Solomon says to the Lord that’s he just a little boy and he’s not sure how to lead. In fact, he says, “I do not know how to go out or come in.” Maybe that’s one of the most important parts about leadership is understanding our limitations. The first thing Solomon does is admit his limitations. As we think about the choices we have to make, we can be lulled into thinking we are capable of making wise decisions, when in fact we need help. I’m sure I was that way my first few years of ministry. I lacked experience and needed wise counsel from seasoned ministers. But often I was self-assured and fresh out of seminary. There’s an old saying circled among pastors that you can tell a pastor who just finished seminary. You just can’t tell them much.
Most famously, Solomon tells his wish. He says, “Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.” By no means was Solomon a perfect leader. In fact, in one of his first acts Solomon makes an alliance with Egypt’s pharaoh and marries his daughter, which would invite all sorts of problems later. And he would have concubines and build his own palace before the Temple. He had some issues. But in this moment, Solomon gets it right. The Lord gives Solomon a wise and discerning mind. This wisdom would be the hallmark of Solomon’s leadership.
Wisdom is a gift from God to Solomon. God gives wisdom to us. Sometimes, I fool myself into thinking I can make wise choices on my own. If I just think hard enough, write down the pros and cons on a sheet of paper, I can come up with the right answer. But true wisdom comes to us as a gift.
But the Lord also asks of Solomon to walk in his ways and to be steadfast in his devotion. In order to maintain this discerning mind, Solomon will also need to tend to his relationship and devotion to God. Wisdom and devotion walk together. Which means that our ability to discern between good and evil flows out of our relationship with God.
If you’re like me, oftentimes I get into a place of efficiency. I want to make quick decisions. Get the job done. Or I get into a place of reaction. I’m trying my best to respond to what my job or our world is throwing at me. If you’ve been on Facebook for 30 seconds, you’ll see the way our world nurtures reactionary postures. Even in our most passionate convictions, what would it mean to slow down and discern with God how best to respond? I like the words of the great spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen when he writes,
Christians cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time. Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source of their words, advice, and guidance.
I’m working on find ways to slow my mind down. One good way is baseball. I love baseball and it’s about slowest game you can watch! We took our two girls to the Braves game recently. I was thinking the game would be too slow for them. Oddly enough they were as relaxed as could be. I was too. Maybe in this midst of our frazzled, efficient life, we need more baseball to slow us down and let our minds escape and think and let God speak to us in God’s timing and not our own.
God gives us wisdom. In fact, the Hebrew word used in this passage for Solomon is that he asked for a discerning heart. Wisdom flows out of our hearts that seek communion with God.
Here’s the good news for us. Jesus, our savior, is alive and incarnate in our world. This Jesus will give to us the wisdom we need to discern between good and evil. Our relationship with Christ helps give us the glasses we need to see the world rightly.
Our decisions impact people. In the church I serve, our congregation is grieving the loss of Rev. Dr. Sheila Bookout who served as the senior pastor of Haygood from 2011-2016. Sheila suffered from chronic health issues beyond her control. Last week she died at an early age. Although I did not know Sheila well, I feel like I do.
She embodied wisdom. During her early years at Haygood, three teenagers broke into the church. While in the building, the police report says they smoked pot, knocked over Christmas trees, broke ornaments, wrote obscenities on the walls, ripped out pages from a Bible, unwrapped presents meant for underprivileged kids in our neighborhood.
Our congregation was rightly angered and ready to call down fire from heaven on these kids. In fact, Elizabeth McGlamry, a church members, wrote an article in her high school paper, “I wanted to punch the little punks in the face.”
I gotta say, that’s how I would have felt. Stealing presents from kids. That’s probably how most of us would feel. Who wouldn’t feel that way? Get even with these teenagers. Teach them a lesson. Let’s lock up these church doors! But that’s responding out of emotions, out of anger.
But Sheila had a discerning heart. She had the wisdom to see beyond the moment and the emotion. And Sheila responded by saying, “It’s awful what those kids did. But we’re not going to let them deter us. We’re going to keep opening our doors to the community.”
Wisdom is seeing beyond the moment. Wisdom is thinking slow in a culture of fast. It’s making choices rooted in our devotional life. Solomon prayed for wisdom. Wisdom teaches us not just to react with our passions and emotions or fool ourselves into believing we can think our way out of our problems. Instead, we discern with our hearts, out of our devotional life with God.