Why Standing Stones?

Why Standing Stones?

In ancient Israel, people stood stones on their end to commemorate a powerful move of God in their lives. It was a memorial to something God spoke or revealed or did. Often these standing stones became reference points in their lives. Today, we can find reference points in the written Word of God. Any scripture or sermon can speak something powerful into our lives, or reveal something of the nature of God. In this blog I offer, what can become a reference point for Christians, taken from God's ancient word and applied to today's world.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Wisdom and Character

Someone once said, “Too often in prayer we ask for a change in circumstances rather than in our character.”

How true this is. We pray for relief from circumstances. We ask God to help mend relationships. We cry out for deliverance from things that seem to be totally our of our control. But how often are those circumstances the result of a lack of character? Someone who lacks character can get themselves into all kinds of bad situations. They we pray for relief from our circumstances when what we should really be praying for is character. I want to examine character from Solomon’s life.

1 Kings 3:5-10
5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask! What shall I give you?”6 And Solomon said: “You have shown great mercy to Your servant David my father, because he walked before You in truth, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with You; You have continued this great kindness for him, and You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.7 “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.8 “And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted.9 “Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”
10 The speech pleased the LORD, that Solomon had asked this thing.

Praying for Character

This moment takes place in the very beginning of Solomon’s reign as King of Israel. There is so much he could have prayed for. He could have asked for riches; he could have prayed for power. He could have prayed that God would give him something that would benefit only Solomon. So what does he ask for? Basically he prays for character. He asks for an understanding heart, and God grants him wisdom. Wisdom is a reflection of Character.

Wisdom is different than intelligence. Intelligent people can make many things happen. They are writers, mathematicians, philosophers, engineers, inventors. Intelligent people are responsible for much of the technological progress we have made in the last 100 years. But intelligent people are not always wise, because wisdom is a product of experience and character. You can be smart and lack character, but you can’t be wise and lack character. I’ll give you an example. Bernie Madoff was a very intelligent man. He kept a Ponzi scheme going for many years; a very difficult thing to do. But his lack of character destroyed many lives.

As Solomon prays he puts the people of Israel first. He’s looking for the wisdom to govern wisely. His desire is for the understanding that will be needed to lead the Israel. This is something that’s lacking in government today. Leaders aren't looking for the wisdom and understanding to lead well. Their only desire is that their personal agenda will be met. Solomon isn’t asking for his agenda. He’s not trying to make it easier on himself. He wants to lead well, like his father. Look at how he describes his father.

1 Kings 3:6
6 And Solomon said: “You have shown great mercy to Your servant David my father, because he walked before You in truth, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with You; You have continued this great kindness for him, and You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.

David, according to Solomon walked in truth, in righteousness and uprightness of heart. He’s describing David as a man of character. He can see David’s character. It’s visible in David’s life. He has also experienced God’s mercy toward David and he’s looking for the same thing in his life.

Character is found in example

It is David’s example that shows him what character looks like. Often character is imparted to us through our parent’s example. If our parents have integrity in what they do chances are that we will also have character and integrity in our lives as well.

The problem is that character in an individual isn’t hereditary. We determine much of how our own character is formed. While our parents can be examples of good character they cannot give us character. Look at this story:

A rehabilitation counselor took early retirement to spend the rest of his life preaching the gospel. Early in his career he found a young boy with several birth defects. He arranged financial and medical help. Skilled surgeons restored the child's facial appearance. Trained therapists taught him to speak and walk. By his teens, the boy was able to take part in all the activities of other young people. "What do you think has become of this young man?" the counselor asked. One guessed he was a great athlete; another, a skilled surgeon. "No, none of these," the retired counselor said sadly. "The young man is a prisoner, serving a life sentence for murder. We were able to restore his physical features and his ability to walk and act, but we failed to teach him where to walk and how to act. I was successful in helping the boy physically, but I failed to help him spiritually."

This is what parents face. We can teach our children all they need to know to get through life. We can teach them our values, but we can’t control how they will live. Our children, just like us, will form their own character.

Peer Pressure, The Word of God and Prayer

In may way of thinking there are three ways to find character. The firs way many of us find character is through the people we hang out with. Their values become our values.

You can see this in children as they grow up. They start out as babies, eager to please their parents. Their parents are their whole world, in fact. But once they get into school, they begin to want to be like their friends. They want to do what their friends are able to do. They want to have what their friends have, materially. They learn from their friends how to cheat, steal, and lie. All of those things are taught by their friends. That’s why it is so important for us as parents to understand who their friends are, and the character they possess.

Too often our children see their friends as examples of character. They follow their friends, because of a desire to fit in and be popular, and they can grow up to have completely different values than their parents have taught them.

The second way to find character is to apply the word of God to your life. The Bible teaches us much about character: It shows us examples of good character and we see examples of poor character. We also see God’s reactions to those examples, just like Solomon did in the life of David. He saw David’s example of character, “ His walk in truth, righteousness and uprightness of heart,” and God’s reaction to that, and his own character was formed from what he saw. He grew up with the prophecies of David and he heard and lived with the psalms David wrote. He applied those things to his life

The third pathway to character is prayer, and this is ultimately what Solomon did. Look at the words of his prayer:

1 Kings 3:7-9
7 “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.8 “And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted.9 “Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”

Solomon wants to be able to discern the difference between good and evil. This is really what the crux of character is isn’t it; the ability to discern between good and evil and respond appropriately. What Solomon is praying for here is the ability to judge between right and wrong, so he can lead people to live righteously.

What are you praying for? Are you concerned only with circumstances or are you praying for God to build something in you? Are you asking God to do a work in you? There is more to what God can do in us than meet our needs. There is more that God can do, than give us what we want. God can help to build something lasting inside us. God can do a powerful work in us; make us into something we weren’t before. It’s nice that we can call on God to bring us out of bad circumstances, or to meet financial and material needs. But how much better would it be if we could be transformed into people of character?

That’s a much more difficult thing to pray for, though, because we all know what it takes to build character. Character comes through adversity not blessing. So when we pray like Solomon, we know we’re going to have to go through some things. People don’t want that, but it’s necessary if you want character.

Maintaining Character

Solomon started off well. He cried out to God to give him the ability to discern good from evil. He asked God for character, but he didn’t maintain that character. He ended up leading people away from God rather than toward righteous living.

1 Kings 11:3-10
3 And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart.4 For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David.5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.6 Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not fully follow the LORD, as did his father David.7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon.8 And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. 9 So the LORD became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the LORD God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice,10 and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what the LORD had commanded.

He turned away from the God who had blessed him so richly toward idols and false gods. He was no longer loyal, he was unable to discern between good and evil. He no longer followed God; he’d broken faith. He’d lost the attributes of character. He had stepped away from the attributes that marked his father’s character and laid aside the example that was before him.

The problem is that our character is always open to influence. Character can be destroyed if we don’t keep our hearts in the right place. In Solomon’s case he allowed his foreign wives to turn him away from God and toward the gods they worshipped. He came under their influence rather than influencing them. In his desire to please them he lost sight of his own character and became a “spiritual” adulterer. There are influences that play on our character for our whole lives. How we react to those influences in a given circumstance can determine the direction of our character for the rest of our lives.

I used Bernie Madoff as an illustration earlier. But do you realize that early in his career he was considered to be a brilliant stock market analyst; a man of wisdom and integrity, a man of great character. He did his job brilliantly, and ended up making a lot of people very wealthy. That’s what elevated him to such a level of trust in the first place. But somewhere along the line he went off track. Something influenced him away from his integrity and he took on a completely new character: One that allowed him to fleece hundreds of people out of $50 Billion dollars.

And we have seen that this same thing took place in Solomon’s life. He lost sight of the things that made him a man of great character and turned down another path.

What if had continued to pray for character throughout his life? What if he constantly reaffirmed his desire to discern between good and evil? It would have been much more difficult for him to derail. Prayer reinforces – it strengthens, because we speak to God aloud the desires of our hearts. That’s what makes prayer so powerful. Faithful prayer activates a movement of God’s part. Look at God’s response to Solomon’s prayer:

1 Kings 3:11-12
11 Then God said to him: “Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice,12 “behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you.

God saw the rightness of his heart. It was what Solomon asked for that activated the response of God’s part. God makes it clear that because Solomon didn’t ask, “for riches, a long life, or the lives of his enemies,” that He responded. We all understand that the fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. If he had continued to ask for character God would have continued to give it to him.

Staying on Track

How do we stay on track with God? There are a number of ways.

First, is through prayer, we need to continue to seek God daily for the ability to discern good from evil, because when you think about it evil can be disguised as good.

2 Corinthians 11:14
14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.

If he can disguise himself as an angel of light then he can disguise evil as good. Prayer will help to discern evil intent. It will also help to keep us from justifying things we know are wrong to make them seem right. We can also pray before each decision to ask for God’s wisdom to make the right choices.

Secondly, we can stay on track through fellowship. The Bible says that iron sharpens iron. We need to be around people who can keep us on track: People who can sharpen us. We can challenge each other. We can speak into unrighteousness in another’s life that they make overlook in themselves.

The third way is through the Word of God. The Bible shows us many examples of good character and poor character, so that we can learn from them. We can see and recognize bad character, such as Jacob’s deception and theft of Esau’s blessing. We can also see examples of good character, such as Joseph’s care for Potiphar’s possessions and his right behavior with Potiphar’s wife. The examples are included so that we may see what’s right and what’ wrong and live our lives accordingly.

Fourth, we can be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can act as a conscience in us. He speaks to us about our behavior and thought. This is what makes backsliders so miserable. They know and understand what’s right and in refusing to live it they are plagued by the words of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, there is this:

1 Corinthians 10:12
12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

We need to be careful. We need to watch our words, deeds and thoughts. We need to make sure we stay away from sin. This scripture tells us we need to be careful, because if we’re not we can fall. This is what happened to Solomon. He prayed to receive wisdom and character, but he forgot to be mindful of it; to watch over it and guard his thoughts and heart…and he lost it. He traded away his integrity, until everything seemed like vanity. The word translated as vanity means emptiness, lacking meaning. How sad that he went from a man of such character to a man who sees everything as vanity and emptiness. As a young king he sees ruling his people as a matter of great importance, but ends up as a cynical old man who sees it all as devoid of meaning, because he lost sight of his character and what’s really important. We don’t have to have the same experience.

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