The Key to Wisdom
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Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. . . . Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil (1 Kgs. 3:7-9).
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When Solomon ascended the throne of Israel upon his father's death, he knew he was in over his head. David had forged a loose confederation of tribes into a great nation, and Solomon was in a position either to build upon his father's success, or to wreck it. So when God gave him a blank check ("Ask! What shall I give you?," v. 5), Solomon knew exactly what to ask for: "give to Your servant an understanding heart . . . that I may discern between good and evil" (v. 9).
A parallel account to this story gives a different version of Solomon's request: "Give me wisdom and knowledge" (1 Chron. 1:10). Together, these two accounts provide a working definition of wisdom: the ability to discern between good and evil. God honored Solomon's request, and his wisdom as a king became legendary. Not only did he prosper personally, the kingdom flourished under his wise rule. When those in charge are able to discern between good and evil, and make decisions accordingly, everybody wins.
The Bible gives us a promise similar to the one God gave Solomon: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (Jas. 1:5). We can debate the manner in which God bestows that wisdom upon us, but notice the opening premise: "If any of you lacks wisdom." In other words, before we can receive wisdom from God, we must admit that we lack it. We first must confess to the foolishness that dominates so much of our decision-making.
Solomon's path to wisdom started with such a confession: "I am a little child; I do not know...." In that admission, Solomon showed a humility of heart that is rare among those in positions of power. We may not occupy a high office like Solomon, but pride is often the main impediment to us receiving God's wisdom. We like to think of ourselves as pretty savvy people--or at least smarter than a lot of others we could name. But that leaves us little room to grow.
If we find our lives plagued by poor decisions that blow up in our faces, sending us careening from one crisis to another, it's a pretty good bet we're deficient in the wisdom department. Until we can admit that failing to ourselves and to God, the trajectory of our life will likely never change.
The key to wisdom is knowing how little of it we possess. Admit that, and we're on our way to learning it.