Bible verses, spirituality

“Whatever you ask I shall give you.”

If you could ask for one thing (and one thing only), what would it be? Would it be money? Clothes? A different body? Seeing your enemies fail? Seeing yourself succeed? Fame? An invisibility cloak? The ability to fly?

For many of us, this is a question for a group of friends or family, discussed over some kind of alcohol, laughing at the improbabilities of any of it happening.

For King Solomon who reigned over the Israelites from 970 to 931 BC, it was a question the Lord asked him in a dream.

“In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said: Whatever you ask I shall give you.” (1 Kings 3:5)

Solomon had concerns and worries that you and I will probably never fully understand. He had a mighty army, but he lived in Israel, an area ravaged by war. He had a kingdom, but he needed to rule the people. He had a beautiful wife, but she had different religious beliefs than he did. (Well, he actually had 700 wives…Imagine trying to appease all of them!) So what did he ask for?

“Solomon answered: “You have shown great kindness to your servant, David my father, because he walked before you with fidelity, justice, and an upright heart; and you have continued this great kindness toward him today, giving him a son to sit upon his throne. Now, LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed David my father; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act- I, your servant, among the people you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil. For who is able to give judgment for this vast people of yours?”” (1 Kings 3:6-9)

He didn’t ask for his life to be radically different. He didn’t ask for life to be any easier. He didn’t ask for abilities that no other person could attain. He didn’t ask for suffering on anyone else. He asked to be able to discern the will of God from his own will.

(I don’t think that’s what anyone answers to that question… Touche, Solomon.)

“The Lord was pleased by Solomon’s request. So God said to him: Because you asked for this—you did not ask for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies—but you asked for discernment to know what is right – I now do as you request. I give you a heart so wise and discerning that there has never been anyone like you until now, nor after you will there be anyone to equal you.” (1 Kings 3:10-12)

The Lord even gives more than what Solomon asks for because his answer was so selfless.

“In addition, I give you what you have not asked for: I give you such riches and glory that among kings there will be no one like you all your days. And if you walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and commandments, as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” (1 Kings 3:13-14)

Wow! Wisdom, riches, glory, a long life!? That’s amazing. Solomon got all those things. Even in our culture today, the name “Solomon” invokes an image of a wise man. Even though he may have died, his name lives on. I’d call that fame, glory, and long life!

But this does not mean Solomon was perfectly holy. In fact, this story begins with Solomon sacrificing “on the high places” which means he was worshipping pagan gods.

“Although Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father, he offered sacrifice and burned incense on the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, because that was the great high place. Upon its altar Solomon sacrificed a thousand burnt offerings.” (1 Kings 3:3-4)

So, Solomon loves the Lord and is caught up in sacrificing to other gods. And what does the Lord do?

“In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said: Whatever you ask I shall give you.” (1 Kings 3:5)

He does not abandon his chosen leader. He meets Solomon where he is and offers His love.

Solomon went to a very renowned pagan altar, likely with a request or longing. This is the Lord who first commanded his people “You shall have no other gods before me.” Solomon is putting something else before the Lord. Solomon is in the throws of sin, and  the Lord meets him where he is physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

God does the same thing for us. He meet us where we are, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In the depths of our hearts (which from experience, I’ve found to be a tug, a doubt, or a hint of guilt for what wrong I’m doing), He asks us, “What are you looking for? Whatever you ask I shall give you. Why are you caught up in something else? Whatever you ask I shall give you.

I think of myself in college. I used to drink and party mostly because I had never felt like I belonged. When I was buzzed or drunk, I belonged.

My first summer away from home, my co-workers and I worked together all week and drank together most of the weekend. Per usual, we were having a great time at my co-worker’s house one night. When it came time to head out to the bars, I had to leave alone because I didn’t have a fake ID.

I was alone and didn’t belong. For the first time, alcohol couldn’t fix that. A profound sadness swept other me, and I stifled tears on my walk home.

The Lord met me there. He met me in my sin. I wish I could report I was like Solomon and had this profound dream that night, but I didn’t. And if I did, I would not have been as holy as to ask for discernment of God’s will. I probably would have asked God to take off 20 pounds off me or a boy to love me.

No. The Lord met me because He let His will be known in my heart. After that night, I slowly felt the need to say “no” to drinking excessively, to participate in my college parish, to seek help in areas I did not want to seek help, and to turn to Him instead of relying on myself. I fought His will with every fiber of my being and every bit of logic I could muster, but I could not shake this feeling I had to do it.

I used to think that the desires of my heart were automatically against the will of God. I thought He and I were competing, but really, my alignment was off.

If God’s will for our lives is a highway, we are driving a car down the path. Ultimately, we control where the car goes. But what happens when we let go of the wheel? That’s where alignment comes in.

Alignment is how close our will is to the will of the Lord. Alignment in either a car or in the spiritual life should keep us on the road when we let go of the wheel. In my old Toyota Camry, I always veered sharply to the left. My current Ford Focus seems to have much better alignment, and I only veer slightly to the left.

If you were to let yourself do exactly what your heart desired, would it be the will of God?

No? Me neither. I’d love to report that God and I are perfectly aligned, but that would be a lie. I still desire things that aren’t necessarily for my good. My alignment is not perfectly straight (though much improved!).

I used to fear that aligning myself with the will of God would just make me miserable. But here’s the thing: the Lord only desires our good. He never leads us to something that would not ultimately better us and produce more joy than pain. He’s not going to lead you down a path that your heart, the truest, deepest desires of your heart, do not want.

Thank the Lord I did those things I did not want to do. My life has turned out better than I ever thought possible because of the times I begrudgingly did the Lord’s will.

How do you know it’s the Lord will, you might ask? Well, the Lord is all good, so the thing in question must be good. But what if you face a morally neutral decision or two equally good choices? Excellent question. The best explanation I’ve ever found comes from Rabbi Harold S. Kushner in his book “Living a Life That Matters.” He writes,

“If the words you speak are hard for you to utter and hard for others to hear, if you get no pleasure in speaking them but you feel you must, then you can believe they come from God. On the other hand, if your words make you popular and win you easy applause, or if people don’t like hearing them but you get certain pleasure from speaking them (“I’m only telling you this for your own good”), then you have reason to suspect that those are your own thoughts disguising themselves as the Word of God.“ 

– Harold S. Kushner, Living a Life that Matters

We may ask for the ability to fly, 15 pounds off, more money, fame, wealth, whatever. We may even pray for those things in earnest and may even get them. No matter where we are in life or what we pray for, the Lord will answer. He may not answer in a way we like, and sometimes we may feel we have to do something good we do not necessarily want to do. That’s how we’ll know it’s His will.

And, like Solomon, we have a choice. No matter how aligned we are to the will of God, we still have control over the wheel. Once we know His will, we can accept or reject it freely. Solomon chose to reject the Lord as well as accept the Lord throughout his life. He increasingly turned to pagan gods in his old age, even though he knew it was not the will of God.

Let us ask as Solomon did. Give your servant, therefore, a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil.

Just remember, when you’re choosing between your way and the Lord’s way, the Lord is holding nothing back. He will give you the truest, deepest desires of your heart. He has promised “whatever you ask I shall give you.”

All you need to do is ask.

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