June 13, 2021
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
I Kings 3:5-14
I am discovering that the older I get, the more enjoyable it is to reminisce. Today, with your indulgence, I have a couple of memories to share with you. Both of these come from the Willamette University phase of my life. I have a freshman year memory that I will get to in a moment, but first this memory from my senior year.
It was a rare sunny day in January. I was running in the West Salem hills. As I was running, I was struggling with a decision I knew I had to make. I would soon be a college graduate. What would I do then? I was thinking seriously about ordained ministry, but I wasn’t sure. Was it what others wanted me to do or was it what I wanted to do? And the real question was the hardest to answer. Was this what God wanted me to do?
Running has always helped me think things through. Provided I am running slowly enough that oxygen is getting to my brain. I was running up and down these hills, wrestling with what I should do, and then it was suddenly clear. I felt at peace. It was the right thing for me to do. I just knew.
That was 44 years ago, and now I am getting ready to retire. But I can honestly say I have not even once regretting that decision I made while running the West Salem hills.
That was a big decision for me. But life is more than just the big decisions. It’s all the decisions, the big ones, the small ones, and everything in between, that make us who we are today.
It’s been estimated that we make about 70 conscious decisions every day. So if you do the math, over 80 years of living, that’s 2,045,400 decisions. Put all those decisions together and, basically, that’s your life. Albert Camus said, “Life is the sum of all your choices.”
Of course, out of 2,045,400 decisions, there is ample opportunity to be wrong. Even if you are right 99.7% of the time, that’s still over 6,000 really bad decisions.
I think I made at least that many before I was out of grade school. And by the time I had graduated from Willamette University . . . well, here’s one of the more memorable ones.
My freshman year I lived on campus. We pretty much all had roommates – that’s the only way we could afford it. Then there was Marty McBroom. He not only had a single room, he was the kind of guy who had everything in his room arranged perfectly. Nothing out of place. Ever. And he always kept his door locked. Even when he was inside. You’d knock and he wouldn’t say, “Come in.” Because you couldn’t come in. His door was locked. He’d say, “Just a second.” And he would unlock his door and let you in. But he wouldn’t let you sit on his bed. It was made too perfectly for that.
The rest of us decided it would be funny to break into Marty’s room. Except not break in by breaking in. We were more civilized than that. We decided to crawl through an outside window, risking our lives up on the third floor of the dormitory, and do a spider man thing over to his outside window to see if by chance it might be unlocked. It was.
So about six of us proceeded to re-arrange every piece of furniture in Marty’s room. We didn’t take anything. We didn’t damage anything. Everything was just as pristine as before. Everything was just in a different place. It was great fun.
Then Marty came home. He didn’t think it was such great fun. He decided I was the ring leader. I wasn’t. There were several of us who bore equal responsibility. But I was the one he turned in to the campus police. I came very close to getting kicked out of school. As I look back, it was not one of my better decisions. Not my worst. It’s just one of the stories I am comfortable sharing with all of you. And I’m guessing you might have a few of your own.
King Solomon writes in the Book of Proverbs: “People ruin their lives by their own foolishness” (19:3). That’s really true. Most of us are incredibly lucky that somehow, by the grace of God, we haven’t completely ruined our lives quite yet.
We’re going to be looking today at King Solomon. He is commonly referred to as “the wisest man who ever lived.” We read today the story of how he got that wisdom.
One night he was dreaming. God appeared to him in the dream and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” In other words, a blank check. What do you want? Anything. I haven’t had that dream, but if I ever did, what would I ask for? What would you ask for? Let’s listen again to what Solomon asked for.
Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and I don’t 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? (I Kings 3:7-9).
He could have asked for anything, and what he did ask for was wisdom. His very first decision as king was to ask for the wisdom to make every other decision really well – 70 each day, 25,000 each year, 2,045,400 if he lived that long.
It pleased God that Solomon asked for that. In fact, God said because Solomon asked for wisdom instead of some of the more obvious things you and I might have asked for, he would be given more. God said, “I will give you what you have not asked for – both riches and honor – so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings . . . [and] I will give you a long life” (I Kings 3:13,14).
The lesson here seems to be that when we put wisdom first, other good things fall into place. Financial health, because people of wisdom work and save and give. Physical health, because people of wisdom take care of themselves. Honor, because people of wisdom model integrity. Success, because people of wisdom do what it takes to reach their goals in life.
Wisdom is more than what you know. It’s what you do. It’s the decisions you make. One bad decision tends to lead to another. And one good decision tends to lead to another. So today we are going to talk about how to make good decisions.
First, do what Solomon did. Ask God for wisdom.
If any of you of you lacks wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you (James 1:5).
It was not too long after nearly getting kicked out of college, I was pondering whether God wanted me to be a minister. I didn’t really didn’t think so. I’m sure the dean of students at Willamette University really didn’t think so. But it was something I was wrestling with that wouldn’t go away. So I prayed about it. I asked God to make it real clear to me. But it wasn’t clear. Not for a long time. Not until that day I was running in the West Salem hills. Before then, for the longest time, all I got from God was silence.
I wonder if any of you have had a similar experience. You seek God’s will for some huge decision in your life, and all you hear are crickets. What’s up with that? Doesn’t God promise to give us wisdom if we ask for it?
Here’s where I think we go astray. We think God wants to tell us what to do. But what God really wants is for us to grow into men and women of wisdom who know what to do without being told.
For example, as a parent, what I want most for my children is for them to grow up so they don’t need me to be involved in every detail of their lives. What food to eat, what clothes to wear, what class to take, what career to pursue, what person to marry, what house to buy. I may have an opinion about these things, but the task of parenting is to raise children who are developing the character and the courage to make decisions for themselves. And of course in the process, they will make some really bad decisions. But that’s how we learn.
In my case, God did eventually give me a sense of peace about ministry. I treasure that memory. But I was the one who had to decide. When I was asking God to tell me what to do, God was telling me, “I want you to decide. Even if your decision is wrong.” Because God cares most about the person we are becoming, not the decisions we are making. God knows we become great people only by making a lot of decisions and, yes, by making quite a few of them that aren’t so great.
Second, we need to be in the right frame of mind. When our minds are anxious and our bodies are exhausted we almost never make good decisions.
Later in I Kings we meet the prophet Elijah and his nemesis, Queen Jezebel. Elijah has won this epic battle against the prophets of Baal. God is with him. Nothing can stop him. But Jezebel is sure trying. And eventually, she wears him down. He is so tired, physically and spiritually, that even this great man of God is ready to give up and die.
So what does God do? God calls a time out. God gives Elijah forty days to re-charge his batteries. Forty days of resting, alone with God, talking with God, getting his strength back,
physically and spiritually. He hears God’s “still, small voice” during that time, and eventually he is ready to climb back into the arena and pick up where he left off (see I Kings 19).
You might need that kind of a time out. You might have a big decision to make but you are nowhere near the right frame of mind
to make a good decision. Before you can hear God’s “still small voice” you need to feel God’s peace. “The peace that passeth understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Sometimes the best decision is to decide not to decide, until you are ready to decide.
Third, take the long view. Most of us have a tendency to make short-sighted decisions. We decide based on what seems right in the moment, without considering what will be right in the long term.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said:
Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.
There’s a great television program on. It’s in the really good part when Mom says dinner is ready. So just this once, the family does not sit down to dinner at the dinner table. Except it’s not just this once. And before long, family dinners have become a rarity. In the short term, it was no big deal. It felt right at the time. In the long term, it was not a good thing at all for this family.
Often the really important decisions are made without even realizing we are making them. Wise people pause and consider whether the decision that seems good now will still be good ten years from now.
Fourth, get wise counsel. Here’s another pearl of wisdom from Solomon:
The way of the fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice (Proverbs 12:15).
Do you have a coachable spirit?
I remember the moment my baseball career started heading downhill. I apologize for all this reminiscing, but I guess it’s what people who have reached retirement age do. I was playing in the Babe Ruth League. One step past Little League. I was playing first base and we were doing infield practice. The coach was hitting us grounders and we were to come home with the throw. I fielded the ball cleanly and threw a strike, chest high to the catcher. I was feeling pretty good about myself. But then the coach yelled at me, “Bring it down!” He wanted the throw lower so the catcher would have it right where he needed it to tag a runner. The coach was right, but I remember my thought at the time. It was not very kind toward that coach who had the nerve to think he should actually coach me.
Without a coachable spirit, we will be forever stuck in the bad habits that seem right to us.
Apparently, even as wise a man as King Solomon did not seek wise counsel. If he did, I’m pretty sure he would have been advised that taking 700 wives and 300 concubines was not such a great idea. We’re told, “His wives led him astray” (I Kings 11:3). No kidding. Here is some free advice. Don’t take 700 wives or 300 concubines and you will be wiser than the wisest man who ever lived!
Wise old King Solomon shows us that the battle for wisdom is never over. Even very wise people can have very serious blind spots and make very poor decisions.
Remember your shock when you heard about Bill Cosby. And Matt Lauer. And Bill Hybels. And Garrison Keillor. You probably weren’t that shocked with you heard about Harvey Weinstein. These are people who should have known better, but they didn’t. It reminds us of something important. We can all be stupid. And let’s hope we all have trusted friends who will tell us when we are being stupid and that when they tell us, we will listen.
Fifth, decide. The fear of making the wrong decision can paralyze us. I heard Dave Ramsey on the radio the other day saying that we should take our time on big decisions but we shouldn’t waste our time on small ones. Because too often we have it backwards. We will agonize in the grocery store over what kind of potato chips to buy, and then on the way home we will buy a car on impulse. But whether it’s a decision that needs much or little time, make the decision. Even if it’s the wrong decision. Decide.
Remember, even a wrong decision can be a valuable decision. It’s how we learn. So if we are so terrified of making a mistake that we can never make up our mind, we will be slow learners. We will live our lives in the aisle of that grocery store trying to decide which potato chips to buy.
Those are the five things I wanted to say about making good decisions, but I want to close by talking about the bad decisions we have already made. I said earlier that most of us are incredibly lucky that by the grace of God our bad decisions have not completely ruined our lives yet. But some of you probably think you already have ruined your life. Our somebody else’s. It’s too late for you.
You’ve lost your marriage. You’ve driven away a child. You’ve violated your integrity. You’ve sinned in such a way that now everyone knows. What now?
Remember this: We are saved not by the quality of our decisions, but by the grace of God. It’s impossible for you to make a decision so bad that God cannot forgive it.
Case in point. The thief on the cross next to Jesus. He’s lived a life of terrible decisions, 70 every day, 25,000 every year, and he won’t live long enough to get to 2,045,400. Because he is being put to death to keep him from making any more terrible decisions.
But as he is dying, he has one last decision to make. He decides to give his life to Jesus. He says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. And Jesus says, “I will. This very day you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).
With God, the decision that matters most is the one you make right now.
We’re going to close in prayer today like this: If there is anyone here who is in need of wisdom, who has a decision to make, who is confused about what to decide, maybe who is feeling paralyzed and unable to decide, I’m going to run through a few categories as I pray and if I come to one that fits you, I invite you to stand up. You don’t have to. But sometimes doing something physical with our bodies helps seal something spiritual in our hearts. So let’s close our eyes and bow our heads as we come to God in prayer.
Dear God, we lift to you right now parents who are facing a challenge. Those who are feeling stuck at work, maybe looking for a new job, maybe unemployed. Those who are married and find themselves in a season that is difficult. We pray for those who are feeling pressure in their financial lives. And those who are having a problem with a relationship. Or with a particular person who has been a real challenge. We pray for those who are confused about how to spend their time. For those whose spiritual lives feel stagnant right now. For those who are carrying a load of guilt, or shame, or regret. Dear God, for anyone at all who is facing a decision that is bigger than which potato chips to buy. Anyone who lacks wisdom and needs guidance from you, O God. Thank you for your promise that when we ask for wisdom you will give it. I pray especially for everyone in this room right now who is standing, who is courageously saying what Solomon said to you long ago: “God, give me an understanding mind and a discerning heart.” We recognize, O God, that each of us holds the power to wreck our lives, but also that you hold the power to redeem even our worst decisions. Even the stupidest things we have ever done. There is forgiveness. There is learning. There is another chance, to live for you and to become the people you created us to be. In Jesus’ name, Amen.