Who Is Able?
The most recent biography I’ve enjoyed reading is called The Accidental President by A.J. Baime. It’s subtitled Harry S. Truman and the Four Months that Changed the World. The title comes from Truman’s own words. He claimed to have become President by accident, and he might be referring to his lack of qualifications. Truman never went to college, never owned a home, never ran a successful business, never was a mayor over a city, never governed a state. A perfect candidate to run our country.
So, he might be referring to his lack of qualifications, but I think he’s more likely referring to the way in which he became President. On April 12, 1945, FDR died, and Truman was sworn in as President. Truman’s wife, Bess, wept. Her worst fears realized. Truman tried not to cry. As he said later,
“I was fighting off tears. It was the only time in my life I think I ever felt like I had a real shock. I had hurried to the White House to see the President, and when I arrived, I found out I was the President.”
He tried to get himself together. He asked Eleanor Roosevelt, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
And she responded, “Is there anything we can do for you? For you’re the one in trouble now.”
Adolf Hitler, deep within his secret bunker in Berlin, experiencing a nervous breakdown as his Third Reich was collapsing exclaimed, “We have the miracle I always predicted! The war isn’t lost… Roosevelt is dead.” The Fuhrer was counting on the new President failing.
And when you consider what Truman was about to face and his qualifications to face it, his chances of success were small. In the four months after FDR died, Truman was called to lead the United States and their allies to do the following, and these are just a few: defeat Nazi Germany, liberate Nazi death camps, create the United Nations, capture war criminals, persist through some of the deadliest battles in American history, including Okinawa, initiate nuclear warfare.
By the way, when Truman was sworn in as President, he had never heard of the Manhattan Project. He did not even know our country was designing or could build an atomic bomb. He didn’t even know what it was. End the war in the Pacific, negotiate with Churchill and Stalin at the Potsdam Conference, see the beginning of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race – those are just a few of the foreign challenges on Truman’s to-do list. Even one of Truman’s closest friends concluded,
“He got into a job that was too big for him.”
One White House correspondent observed,
“He was a man who came into the White House almost as though he had been picked at random off the street with absolutely no usable background and no usable information.”
Regardless of what you think of Truman’s policies, he seemed to have been a man of genuine humility. He knew he needed help. The day after becoming President, Truman stunned a group of seasoned male Washington reporters with his directness.
“I don’t know if any of you fellows ever had a load of hay or a bull fall on you. Last night, the whole weight of the moon and the stars fell on me. If newspapermen ever pray, pray for me.”
Three days later when Truman first addressed Congress, he ended his speech with a prayer quoting from King Solomon. 1 Kings 3:
“Give, therefore, Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people, that I may discern between good and bad; for who is able, for who is able to judge this Thy so great a people?”
Truman was not a gifted communicator like FDR. As A.J. Baime explained, “It was the voice of a common man, asking God for guidance.” Truman’s sense of inadequacy and dependency reflected Solomon’s. King Solomon, in 1 Kings 3, King David, his father, had died. Solomon now assumed the role of king, and his prayer is really a case study for all of us in crying out for power, the kind of power that we could describe as “capacity,” “ability” to do what God has called us to do as we begin this new year. And I want to limit our study to three significant lessons. There are many more in this prayer, but three significant lessons on prayer that flow from Solomon’s example.
1. The invitation to pray flows from God’s generosity. Notice how God was actually the one who told Solomon to ask. Look at verse 5, 1 Kings 3.
“At Gibeon, the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, ‘Ask what I shall give you.’”
That Hebrew word sha’al appears five times in the English, in the Hebrew, it’s eight times in these few verses. Verse 5 is the first time. If you look down at verse 10, “It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.” Verse 11, there are three times in the English; in Hebrew there are more. Literally it says, “because you asked for this and have not asked for yourself long life or have not asked for yourself riches, have not asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding,” verse 13, “I give you also what you have not asked.” Now that reveals a little of the heart of God, doesn’t it?
God is in a posture of generosity. He is ready to give. He is actually asking us to ask. And you say, “Well, maybe not me. Solomon is a big important King of Israel. I feel like a nobody. God doesn’t care about what I ask for.” No? Look at James 1:5. “If any of you lacks wisdom,” let him do what? We can do better than that. Let him do what? Ask! This is God saying to you, “Ask, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
Notice the progression there, because sometimes it feels – God is always with us – but sometimes it feels like he is right there, so ask him. But sometimes it feels like he’s far away, so seek. And sometimes it feels like there’s a wall there, like a door is shut, so knock. Ask. Seek. Knock. All those are imperatives, commands that are emphatic in the present tense, which means you could translate that, Keep on asking. Keep on seeking. Keep on knocking.
This passage tells us so much about the heart of our Father. Notice in the next couple verses. Verse 8, your Father is not stingy. Your Father is not stingy. “For everyone who asks, (present tense) is receiving, and the one who seeks is finding, and to the one who knocks (future), it will be opened.” Your Father is not stingy. Notice also your Father (still in Matthew 7) is not abusive. Verse 9, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?”
There are human fathers who can be manipulative, coercive, maybe even play mind games. What God is saying here is this is not your heavenly Father. Your heavenly Father does not do that. He knows what we need, and he loves to provide it. He is not abusive. He is not naive. Verse 11, your Father is not naive.
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him.” This means when our Father says “No,” he has a really good reason to say no. And when our Father says “Yes,” he has a really good reason to say yes. Or, if we ask for one thing and he gives us another, we can be sure that the other thing was actually better for us, even if it’s painful. He knows how to give good gifts. And he doesn’t just give us what he knows is ultimately bad for us. He is not naive. He’s not an old man in the sky, who is clueless but generous. He is not stingy, not abusive, not naive. The invitation to pray flows from God’s generosity.
Secondly, the foundation to pray rests on God’s loyalty. God’s loyalty. And what I mean by loyalty, his loyal love, his covenantal love. Look at verse 6. “And Solomon said, ‘You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David, my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you.’” Now, Solomon wasn’t deluded; he knew his father sinned and even sinned greatly.
But look what he says, “You have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day.” God’s steadfast love never fails. Look down at verse 8, “And your servant is in the midst of your people, whom you have chosen, a great people too many to be numbered or counted for multitude.” Now, any Jewish person reading that “too many to be numbered,” their mind immediately goes all the way back to Genesis 12, 15, 17, where God promised Abraham – this is Abraham, who hadn’t even had a son yet – the nation that will come from you will be more than the sands of the sea, will be more, too many to be numbered, more than the stars in the sky.
The point is when Solomon was about to ask for more, he grounded that request on God’s covenantal faithfulness that went all the way back to Abraham, and now to David his father, and now was resting on him. This is the foundation of our praying. We don’t rest – the basis of our praying is not on our eloquence, if we can say it right, or even our sincerity, if we can mean it enough, or our resume, if we’ve done enough to earn it, or our liturgy, if it’s formal enough or casual enough. No, it’s God’s covenantal love.
This is one of the reasons we pray in Jesus’ name. Why do we pray in Jesus’ name? It’s another way of saying my prayer is tapping into this long stream of God’s covenantal faithfulness, because if I’m in Jesus, then I am tapping into the promise of Abraham because Jesus is the seed of Abraham, the promise made to David because Jesus is the son of David, the promise through Solomon all the way to Jesus.
And as we are in Jesus by faith, we are tapped into this covenant, faithful love of God. Worthy is the Lamb who is, who was, and who is to come. Look at the way Paul prays this in Ephesians 3:14.
“For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory, he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able, now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
The foundation to pray rests in God’s loyal love. And then 3, the motivation to pray rises out of God’s ability, our inability. So, in 1 Kings 3:7, if you look down there, “Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father. Although I am but a little child.” Now, he doesn’t mean that he’s literally a little child because he’s already married, probably around 20. But what he’s talking about there is, “I’m not able. I don’t have this ability within myself.” Look what he goes on to say, “I do not know how to go out or come in.”
That’s a Hebrew idiom for “I lack leadership skill.” “And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you’ve chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people.” Notice the contrast: verse 7 – “little child,” and then down in verse 8 – “a great people.” Similar to what Truman said shortly after taking office, he said to the senator from Vermont, George Aiken, “I’m not big enough for this job.” Solomon felt the same way.
Now, you can say that in kind of a passive, hopeless way, but that’s not what Solomon is saying. Many people in our culture today view turning to prayer as moving away from action. Have you noticed that? We’re either going to pray about this, or we’re actually going to do something! And that is such a misunderstanding of prayer.
Solomon is not saying, “I’m praying because I’m not intending to do anything.” He is saying, “Because I intend to do something, I am praying. I am begging you to help me know how to do what you’ve called me to do.” As he says in verse 9, “Give your servant and understanding mind to govern your people,” to actually do something, but not to do something that in the end does more damage than good, which is often what we do. Not just to do something to do something, but to do it well, to discern between good and evil, to govern your people skillfully, wisely. I believe every true leader has a sense of his or her own inability.
Why is that? Well, it’s almost a definition of a leader, almost. Because when God calls a leader, that means he’s calling you to step out, which means, typically, you’re in a place where there isn’t the comfort and coziness of a lot of people around you. The crowd isn’t always supporting you. You’re having to venture forward in humility toward a destination that maybe not everybody is there yet. And, by definition, that is going to put you in a vulnerable position.
Now, there are deceived leaders, fake leaders, who are delusional, who don’t have any insecurity, and they intimidate and manipulate their way through. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about real leadership. There is also a kind of fake humility that is like “I stink at everything. I can do anything,” which is really turning in on itself. That’s not what we’re talking about either. We’re talking about an honest assessment of what God has called me to compared to an honest evaluation of what I am capable of and saying, “Help! This is more! If I truly fulfill your calling, God, it’s going to take more than what I can bring to the table.”
So, notice here God is calling Solomon and, by extension, us at various times to respond to his call even when we have a sense of inadequacy, and to cry out to him for capacity, which he generously provides. Now, I can’t tell you the amount of times that I have been in this position over the last 27 years of pastoring here as part of the leadership team, driving toward a very difficult situation and just saying, “Help, God. I don’t know what to do” or in a very sad situation, driving to the hospital, “Help, God,” or a very tangled, complex counseling situation or even wrestling with a text. “Lord, I don’t know.”
Let me just give you one example, a different kind of example. Several years ago, I needed to restructure a part of our church and so I was consulting with other leaders and other people and reading and praying over it, finally led to a three-day study/prayer retreat to kind of pull all this together. So someone gave me their house about an hour from here. No one was there. I was just alone for three days and just begging God for wisdom and ability.
And here’s the passage the Lord gave me. Exodus 31:1-3, I’ll put it up on screen. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God.’” Notice what the Spirit of God brings, “‘with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship.’” Now, what we’re talking about here is Bezalel had been commissioned by God to build the tabernacle and the Spirit of God filled him. Now, many of us I think, have a misunderstanding of the way the Spirit of God works.
We think, “Well, if the Spirit of God really came over me, then I would be totally catatonic, my brain would shut off, I would go limp, and I would be mindlessly doing what he told me to do.” And maybe he does that for you. But what this is talking about is the Spirit of God coming on Bezalel and actually quickening his mind, guiding his hands, stimulating his creativity to use the gifts God had given him in a very specific, empowered way.
Now, how many of you would like a little of that? When God calls you to do a task in 2019 and you feel deep within yourself, “Lord, I’m not smart enough. I’m not creative enough. I’m not wise enough. I’m not strong enough.” And everything inside of you is like, well, you need to run from that, because we don’t like that feeling of not being enough. And God seems to delight to put us in those places where we are aware of our not-enoughness, and we cry out to him. And the Spirit of God comes on us. And you’ll notice wherever you go in the Bible where the Spirit of God fills someone, most often, it is to fill them for the purpose of accomplishing what he has called them to accomplish.
And whatever the need, he rushes in and fills us with the ability. That doesn’t mean our brain is turned off. That doesn’t mean we don’t read or consult or seek counsel or wisdom or work together as a team. All of that, beautiful, vital part of what God empowers us to be able to do, as we submit ourselves in love to one another, as we humble ourselves and acknowledge we don’t know everything, that actually can set us up to learn something.
He enables us. And I remember those three days, having that plastered up on the wall, and just praying this constantly and just sensing God saying, “I’m giving you the ability to do what I’ve called you to do.” And he did. And he does. He did it for Bezalel, did it for Solomon, does it for us.
So, I wonder if we could actually personalize Solomon’s prayer for this year. You’ll notice in your notes at the end some space, and just using Solomon’s prayer as a guide, “Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant…” and think of some of the roles God has called you to play this year, to fulfill. Some of you may say, “You have made your servant a student in home school or in public school, in a Christian school or in college. You’ve made me a student. You’ve made me a parent of a special needs child. You’ve called us to be foster parents. You’ve given me the calling of running a business well. You’ve called me to be an accounting teacher or an IT guy.” Or whatever it is.
It could be a calling in the home, like to be a wife, to be a husband, to be a son or daughter, to be a friend. Try to pick one role. I know we all have many, but one role that’s on your heart that as we talk about this, you have a sense of, “Wow, Lord, I really want to be able to do this in your power with your help.” And then you could go on, “and although I am but a little child, I do not know how to…” What is it about that calling that might lead you to feel unable?
I think we have to distinguish, let me just use myself as an example. So, I’ve been pastoring now many decades, and there are times where I can mechanically, humanly do what he’s called me to do. I can get up in the morning, and I know what a pastor should do by now – sort of, at times.
But see does that mean that I have this down? No, that’s death to a pastor right at the minute you think you’ve got this down, because there’s a big difference between going through the mechanics of pastoring, even if you’ve done it for a really long time, and truly turning to your Father in the morning,
“Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom, your name be hallowed, not mine. Your kingdom come, not my kingdom or anybody else’s kingdom! Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Now try doing that mechanically. Try being deceived into thinking that you can just check that box, knocked that out a year ago. No! When we begin to pray with the vision of God for what he’s called us to do, whether it’s running a business, or going to school, or working in the nursery, or greeting people in the lobby. Whatever he’s called us to do, when we have the eyes of God as to what that could be, truly seeing heart change, truly serving with worship, whatever our hands find to do, seeing multigenerational revival, we are aware of the fact that we need help.
God, I can’t do that. If I’m just checking boxes, I can do that, but that is not what we’re praying for. We are praying for much more. We are longing for your Spirit to empower us to do what, at times, we may feel is quite mundane in a way that bears fruit that actually remains. Only God can do that.
So, what is it there? “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding mind to…” I don’t know how to, but I’m asking you to help me to… Ask him to guide you there. Can you imagine what would happen if we, by his power, did what he’s called us to do every day, empowered by the Spirit?
Not only working with excellence, but asking God to provide divine encounters throughout our day, people we get to encourage, speak love to in the name of Jesus. We can’t manufacture that. He’s got to do that. And that’s what we’re praying for.
So, as you continue, I’d keep that out, and keep praying over that. Some of you can write that out because you know exactly, you knew when the message started what the Spirit of God has called you to do in 2019 and what help you need and how you’re crying out to God. Others of you may need to think about it for a while.
And we want to take time to do that together now. So, I want to pray, and then we’re going to respond with a song. The purpose is for us to get our eyes on the greatness and goodness of God because some of us pray too small because our view of God is way too small. So, Lord, kill the lies. Let us see your greatness and goodness. And as we gaze on his greatness and goodness, and then we see what he’s put in our path, what he’s called us to do in the day-to-day, he will guide us, even how to pray for the ability to do what he’s called us to do.
And then, after that first song I’ll come up, some of the elders will be up here, and while we continue to sing and pray, if the Spirit of God is speaking to your heart about a specific area, whether you can write it all out or not, a specific area where you say, “Lord, I just need wisdom, capacity, spiritual power, whatever it is. Some of us up here we would love more than anything just to join you in praying for that for 2019. Maybe God has called you to a particularly difficult classroom in public school that you’re teaching and you’re like, “Lord, help me. I want to love these kids, and I want to I want to be effective as a teacher.
Or a challenging job that requires every brain cell you have and more. You say, “Lord, please. If you could give Bezalel intelligence beyond his native capacity, you can multiply brain cells in my head. You can enable me to do more than I could naturally do as I humble myself before you and seek your help and power.
So, feel free, whatever it is, whatever challenge you have before you this year, the purpose of this series is to begin our year, not just to end here, but to begin our year and continue with the trajectory that our eyes are locked in on God. He will enable us. He will give us what we don’t naturally have or can do.
Father, we thank you that we can call out to you, knowing your generosity. You are a Father who loves to give good gifts. Knowing your loyalty, you have proven your steadfast love on the cross for us in fulfillment to the promises you made to Abraham, to David, to Solomon and on. Knowing your ability, we cry out to you because you can do what we can’t do. There is nothing too hard for you. So, our competency flows from your capacity.
And we thank you. We thank you. So, hear our cries now as we call out to you in song, as we cry out to you in prayers, meet with your people and empower us by your Spirit we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.