Outward Focus - 1 Kings 3:3-15
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Outward Focus - 05.21.2023
[1 Kings 3:3-15]
Have you ever played that game - what would you do if you found a magic genie in a lamp and he was going to grant you anything you wanted? (Probably not, we’re all adults here - and that’s some silly thing from a Disney kids movie). Well, alright - let me ask the more grown up version of the same question. Have you ever thought about what you would do if you win the lottery? Now I want to be clear, I do not think the lottery is a smart idea - I think a lot of people make really bad financial decisions and it hurts more than it helps. But remember years ago, the first time the lottery got up over a billion dollars - and I had a group of friends and we all bought one ticket, just for fun. And I spent the whole week with my mind just so full of possibilities. What would you do with a billion dollars? The imagination runs wild, right? Have you ever had that happen? I drive past those billboards, the ones that have the totals in big huge red and green numbers. And without fail every time I drive past it, especially when the numbers starting to get ridiculous, 500 million, 800 million. When I drive past those billboards with the huge numbers, my mind starts to wander. What would I do with a billion dollars? Of course we have MOUNTAINS of evidence that that sort of money tends to make things a lot worse - it’s really exciting at first, but a few years back they crunched the numbers and estimated that almost a third, 33% of people who win the lottery eventually declare bankruptcy. And most of them tell stories of ruined relationships, stress and strain, greed and ugliness that comes out of the woodwork around them as soon as they win. And actually that echoes the old genie stories of the ancient middle east. The genie’s were tricksters, and they would grant wishes but it almost always went sour. I wonder why that happens? Why can’t we have nice things? Why does it always seem like those stories fall apart and money does not actually buy happiness? Well to answer that we’re going to have to do a deep dive into our scripture lesson for today.
We are, of course, continuing our Chronological Bible study - we’re reading this whole book in a year and I really hope you’ll join us on the journey. Now we read through these things crazy fast - and if you want to dive deeper, I want to encourage you to check out our Chronological Bible Studies, which meet at various times through the week. I think we’ve got one that meets right after church, and then Tuesday afternoon, Tuesday night - and the Midland campus has even more options. If you want to dive deeper, we will get you plugged in. But for today, we’re going to deep dive into this one story about King Solomon. So let’s take a look.
Chapter 3, verse 1 starts us out, [read it 1-5]. So Solomon is King David’s son, and he’s the one who becomes king after David dies. He’s starting out alright, he’s making alliances, getting married, building a new palace, building a new temple, honoring God, living the way he was raised. So then, we sort of have the genie in the lamp moment. God appears to Solomon in a dream, and says, “what do you want? Ask and I will give it to you.” Okay, so this is Solomon’s lottery billboard, right? If you could do anything.. if you could have anything… what would you go for? And Solomon responds, [read v.6-8]. And so Solomon starts out, “God, you’re so awesome. Appreciate everything you’ve done, I’m king instead of my dad. Oh and also - I’m terrified!” I’ve got this new gig, where I am in charge of all these people - and I’m, like, I’m just a little kid, I don’t know what I’m doing! Have you ever heard of imposter syndrome? It’s like this thing where someone gets a job - and they ARE qualified, they CAN do it - but they FEEL like they’re an imposter. For me it happens with my children. I love my kids, I love being a Father, and while I’m far from perfect - I’m trying really hard to raise little men of God. But I can’t tell you how many times I look at my children and wonder, “Who on EARTH let ME be Father? What were they thinking?” I guess what I’m saying is that Solomon’s child-like humility is totally relatable. I think we all, at different points of our life, feel inadequate. We feel like we have no idea what we are doing, or we feel unqualified. I mean, how many of us have NOT talked to someone about Jesus because we feel like, “What if they ask me a hard question? I don’t know what I’m doing. I really need an adult to help me out.” And actually, this attitude was reflected in what Jesus teaches us in Matthew. Matthew chapter 18 verse 3 says, [read it]. Solomon starts out with a posture of humility, a child-like humility and Jesus calls each and every one of us to the exact same posture. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or unqualified, or like you need an adult to help you even though you ARE the adult in the situation - then you’ve got the exact right posture. (Whisper: because humility teaches us to depend on God, instead of on ourselves)
It keeps going, [read v.9-10]. So God says, “Solomon you can have anything - what would you like?” And Solomon says, “give me wisdom.” And that pleases God’s heart. And that’s awesome - but there’s another level I don't want you to miss, let me read it back [read v.9a]. The reason, the rationale for Solomon is not for himself. He doesn’t want wisdom so he can be the wisest man ever. He doesn’t want wisdom so he can go on Jeopardy and get the greatest winning streak of all time. He doesn’t want it for ANY personal reason. Solomon asks for wisdom, so that he can do his job well. He asks for wisdom for the sake of other people. “So that I can help others” he says. And not only does Solomon ask for wisdom for the sake of other people, but God is very pleased with Solomon’s motive. So the first thing we see with Solomon is that we need to be humble and teachable like a child, and the second thing we see is that our motivation should not be for ourselves, but rather for the people around us.
You see this echoed in the New Testament, 1 Peter chapter 4. [read v.10-11]. Now I want you to catch this. I feel like sometimes we read this story of Solomon, being offered this once-in-a-lifetime moment and we think, “well - how come God never offered ME any gifts?” That’s no fair! Why does Solomon get this super cool offer - but the passage in Peter reminds us. He DID offer you gifts. What did Peter say? “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts!” Even if you’re sitting there in your imposter syndrome, I want you to let this truth push through your self doubt. You have been given a gift from God. I don't know what it is - each of us has something different, but you have a gift, and that gift is designed to help other people. God gave you a gift, not for you to use on yourself, but for you to use to help the people around you. Maybe you have the gift of encouragement. Maybe you’re a great thinker. Maybe you’ve been blessed financially or in your relationships and connections. Maybe you’ve been gifted with a talent for prayer, for lifting people up before God - or maybe you’ve got very talented ears. You know what I mean, right? If you have a friend who is a good listener, you know what I’m talking about - those people are a gift from God. God does not offer gifts only to the famous kings in the old testament - God has given each and every one of you gifts that you can use to help other people.
Back in the book of Kings, we keep reading, verse 11 gets us into it, [read v.11-13]. God gives Solomon incredible wisdom, and then - whoa, hey! - secret bonus prize, God gives you all that other stuff too! Riches and fame, money and power and success! Now here’s my worry - there’s some people out there who are trying to pull a reverse psychology formula on God. They read this chapter and they think, “aha, if I want God to give me riches - I have to tell him I want to help other people and I want wisdom” - that way I’ll still get the riches. People try to pull out this get rich quick formula, as if they could fool God with their motives. But that is not the point of this passage - that is not what we learn from the text. I think some people walk away from this story and they think the message is “hey, if you have the right heart, magic Genie God will give you whatever you want.” [Pause] And I know that’s goofy and I’m sort of making a little joke there, but this is actually really serious. If we think, “I just have to get the right mentality and then God will give me whatever I want” - and then we spend all this time trying to get into the right mentality and then God doesn’t float down on a cloud and hand us our wildest dreams, we start to doubt God. So many people try to fit God into a formula, and then when God doesn’t behave the way you WANT him to - you say it’s HIS fault. But here’s the key - it’s not about what Solomon gets, it’s about Solomon’s heart. Verse 10, hear it again, [read it.] The Lord is pleased when Solomon did not focus on himself.
The good news this morning is that God is pleased when we live for others. The good news is that God has created us to be outwardly focused creatures. That is written into our DNA, it is how we were designed to be - it’s what we were created for - but that also flies in the face of everything the world tries to teach us. The world says live for YOU, but God says live for others! That’s why so many people win the lottery and it does not satisfy them. You can have everything this world has to offer you, and I guarantee that it will not be enough if you aim it all at yourself. God designed you to be outwardly focused creatures. We see this with Solomon, God is pleased when we live for others. God is pleased with us when we use our gifts to benefit those around us. So our response is pretty easy - we need to take the talents God has given you, and then go live in a way that blesses the people around you.
Now - let’s talk about this for a second. On the one hand, this is a super simple teaching, right? If you want call yourself a Christian, you have to care about the people around you - you have to love your neighbor, love your enemy. Put other people first. But here’s the thing - everyone does that a little bit. Most of us, if we have extra, we are willing to share with those in need. But only Christians make putting others first a fundamental value. We do it even when we don’t have any extra. Our kindness is not limited to our surplus. We think of others FIRST - and the rest of the world thinks that is insane. Our entire society is built on a system of self preservation. They expect people to think only of themselves. They expect people to be selfish. To do what is best for THEM, and worry about others after. But God is pleased when we live for others - and as Christians in this world we need to push that to a level that causes the selfish world around us to notice.
Actually, there’s a true story that comes from World War II. During the war there was a Japanese prison camp - where the Japanese soldiers kept their prisoners - and they had a whole bunch - Americans, Australians, Britons and Scottish prisoners. And over time the prison had become a really ugly place. There was this dog-eat-dog mentality amongst the prisoners. Allies would steal and cheat each other - men would sleep on their packs because the other prisoners would try to steal what little they had. Survival was everything. That is, until Angus McGillivray showed up. Angus was this huge prisoner, big strong guy. And he died, and when the prisoners heard about the death - everything changed. You see, amongst the Scottish soldiers (they were called Argylls) - they had this buddy system, which were called “suckers” They believed it is your job to keep your mucker alive. You got his back, you look out for each other, you keep your mucker alive. But Angus’ mucker was dying. Now everybody else had given up on him. He’s dying, it’s survival of the fittest out here - so let him go. But Angus refused. Someone stole his mucker’s blanket - so Angus gave him his own. He said, “I just came across an extra one.” Every mealtime Angus would get his rations and take them to his friend, stand over him and force him to eat them, saying the same thing, “oh I got some extra.” Angus was going to do anything to see that his mucker got what he needed to recover. When the other man started to recover, Angus collapsed, slumped over and died. The doctors discovered that he had died of starvation complicated by exhaustion. He had been giving his own food and shelter He had given everything he had - even his very life.
But here’s the best part. Remember, selflessness - putting others first is how we are created and designed by God to be. And when we see it, it is contagious. Word spread about Angus’ death, and more importantly the reason behind it - and the camp began to change. Suddenly, men began to focus on their mates, their friends, and the humanity of living beyond survival. They started to give themselves away. They started to pool their talents. I’m not making this up, it’s from a book called Holy Sweat by Tim Hansel. One guy was a violin maker, one was a cabinet maker, another a professor, they even had an orchestra leader. So the camp started an orchestra with homemade instruments and they built a church. They began a university, a hospital, and a library system. Even some of the Japanese guards attended the church. To keep an eye on the prisoners, I'm sure. The place was transformed, because one man named Angus gave everything he had for his friend. It’s how God created us to be. It’s how Jesus teaches us to live. And if we live this principle out - it could be the spark that starts a fire that changes the world. I hear it all the time, “oh man the world is so polarized, the world is so divided - what can we do about it?” And maybe that’s the answer. One person. Or maybe one church - doing things a little different. Putting others first.
God created us to be outwardly focused people, we see it with Solomon and how pleased God was with Solomon’s motivations. So my challenge for you this week is super simple - Go BE outwardly focused! Now maybe that’s easier said than done, so let’s walk through it for a second. There’s three steps. First, take stock of your talents/gifts. What do you have to work with? What can you use to love people with? What gifts has God given you? And this is not a moment for modesty. People always come back with, “oh, no I’m not good at anything. I couldn’t do that. I don’t know how - I’d be terrible. I don’t have any gifts.” But that’s foolishness. God gave EVERYONE gifts. If you are sitting there this morning thinking, “oh no, I’ve got nothing to give” then either A.) you are letting the enemy deceive you into inaction or B.) you’re not being honest with yourself. Or here’s anther one - sometimes people think that what they do is no big deal. This is SUCH a common lie. We belittle our own skills and our own value because it doesn’t FEEL like we’re doing a lot. Let me give you an example. When I was getting ready to become a pastor - I was SUPER nervous about visiting hospitals. People in a hospital bed, and I knew I wasn’t going to have enough to say. And for a long time I used to beat myself up. I’d visit, and then as I was leaving - “Oh man, that was probably terrible. I feel so dumb for wasting their time. Why did I even bother to go?” And then I had someone come back and tell me how much they appreciated my visit. “Pastor JJ I’m just so thankful you stopped by.” And in the back of my mind, I’m thinking - why? I didn’t DO anything. I just showed up, sat with you, made small talk, prayed with you and then left.” I didn’t have any super wisdomus clever pastor guy insights - I was just there. But here’s some super wisdomus clever pastor guy insight for you this morning - “never let the devil convince you your presence is not a gift.” Don’t diminish the gifts God has given you. It’s not just a phone call. It’s not just a casserole. It’s not just little card in the mail. These moments are not nothing - never believe that. These little moments are the way we live in such a way that is pleasing to God. The first step is to take an honest look at your life. What are you good at? What do you have to work with in this project of loving other people?
So once we know what we’ve got to work with. The second step is to take stock of your community - ask yourself, who can you love on? Who do you see on a regular basis? And if it’s just church people - we might need to expand the circle a bit! Think about your favorite barista at the coffee shop or that one checker who always bags your groceries. A coworker, or the waitress at your favorite restaurant or here’s a super easy one - your literal, physical neighbors! Look around your life and take stock of who God has placed in your life to love. Be intentional in your relationships, pick someone and try to love them. Live outwardly focused. I’ll give you an example. I’ve got this one neighbor. They’re like the across the street neighbors, it’s this adorable older couple. They are so sweet, and they love on our boys, and we just love them back. And then on this side we’ve got this really nice family with boys in high school. But on the other side - I’ve got this cranky, kinda grouchy man who lives all alone. And I know nothing about him, except that he mows his lawn on the riding lawn mower in his pajama pants, and he never responds when we wave and say “good morning.” Now two of my neighbors are easy to love, and one is challenging. But one of the gifts that God has given me is that I’m a pretty upbeat guy. I love being friendly and I’m pretty outgoing. God has given me the tools, the gifts to love my neighbor. So I’ve got a new project this summer. First - we figure out what are our talents and gifts that we can use to love. Then we figure out WHO in our community we can love. And the third and final step is very simply - go! Go and love them!
I think a lot of people read the story of Solomon asking for wisdom, and we think of it like a genie or like winning the lottery. What would you do if God came to you and offered you anything you wanted? But the reality of what we can learn from the Bible today is that God created us to be outwardly focused, and when we are intentional and we live that way - we line up with God’s purposes and God pleased with us. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you take an honest look at your life, I hope you spend some time this week discovering the gifts that God has given you. Then take a look at the community around you. Who has God given you to love on? And then it is my sincerest prayer that this week you will take what you can love with, and who you can love on - and just go, live outwardly focused. Let’s pray.