Solomon's Secret To Success
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Solomon’s Secret To Success
1 Kings 4:29-5:5
One of my least favorite seasons in life is election season. Before I became a pastor, I never realized how challenging that would be - because what brings us together in this place is our love of Jesus, but we may not be on the same page politically. A lot of churches are very diverse in their politics, people have really different priorities in how they make those decisions, and that can make church life really awkward sometimes. Now I’ve told this story a bunch of times, but never in this church. A couple years ago, on January 10, 2021, the Sunday after the January 6th insurrection thing, something happened in the church I was pastoring at the time. Now I don’t know if you remember the atmosphere around January 6 – it was a mess. When those people stormed the capital and the senators and congresspeople had to go into hiding and several police officers were killed – it was a horrible day. And it was unfolding on the news live, and on that Wednesday we all were glued to our TV sets watching this horrible thing happen. And after that there was a shock, like kind of a scary moment because we never thought something like that would happen in our democratic process. And remember this was on the end of really ugly election season. Just very generally, people were so mean to one another. Now, in the church I was serving, I had Trump supporters who were telling me, “my whole family treats me like a monster,” and in that church there were Biden supporters who had thanksgiving or Christmas with a half empty table because they wouldn’t sit together – and this was on top of the COVID drama of 2020. And in those days following January 6, there was this weird pause. This moment of silence, a moment of shock where we all took a deep breath, and then started screaming at one another. Accusations were flying back and forth, and it was really ugly – practically felt like we were in the election season all over again. And that was the environment where January 10th happened, the Sunday after the 6th.
Now, the congregation I was serving was actually pretty diverse on politics. In that church they had staunch, ardent republicans – both never-Trumpers and big time Trump supporters. But in the same congregation, sitting three seats over are staunch, ardent democrats. And then there’s a big chunk in the middle who kind of see merit in both sides. It was a church with a variety of beliefs – in politics and in everything else. And so as the Pastor, I get to do this nice tight-rope walk, because I love both people, I serve as a pastor to both types of people. And so January 10th came, and I’m just going to be honest with you – I was nervous. I didn’t know what the fallout was going to be, and to be honest I was still processing all this stuff myself. And so I arrive in the morning, doing all my normal stuff. If you know me at all, you know I’m always rushing around making sure everything is ready for worship. I don’t sit still very well, and so it’s just a few minutes before worship, and it was like a traditional service, so I was wearing a robe, and I’m on my way to the sound board, because I need to turn one more thing on before service. And I see, across the way - like, I’m coming out of my office and I see between me and soundboard - two older gentlemen speaking intensely to one another. Now I know these two gentlemen – one is an ardent Trump supporter, big time republican. And the other is a staunch democrat, convinced that Trump was like the worse thing that ever happened. And I see them speaking to one another and I literally had a moment when I thought, “aw man, am I going to have to break up an old man fight before worship?” [laugh]. So I start walking towards them, and I started to overhear what they were talking about, and I hear one of them say, “I’ve got a doctor’s appointment that I’m really worried about on Tuesday morning. I’m kind of scared” and the other fellow put his arm on his friend and said, “well, I’ll be praying for you, and give me a call after and let me know how it goes.” And I just breezed right past them, I just kept on walking right past them, never letting them know what I was thinking, and we gathered that morning and we worshipped Jesus that day.
I love that story because it can be such a mess out there when it comes to all this election stuff. But in the middle of that mess, the church has an opportunity to be something different. We, in this place, have an opportunity to put aside our differences, to focus on the thing that unites us - our love of Jesus Christ. I can’t stand election season, I don’t like the pandering or the speeches, I don’t like the attacking and smearing, I don’t like the commercials - just the whole thing - blech. But, I do want to be very clear about something - our modern system is a thousand times better than the way they used to do it. For all my complaining about the struggles and annoyance of election season, the truth is - the peaceful transition of power in this country is a modern marvel. I mean, just wait until you hear what Solomon did.
Today we are continuing our study in the Chronological bible, and we’re all reading the Bible together. We’ve been following the story of King David, who wrote a bunch of the Psalms, so a couple weeks ago we were all over the Psalms - and then last week we introduced a new main character - King Solomon.
Now before we get to our scripture lesson, which is chapter 4, we need to make a pit stop in chapter 2. Now, if you don’t remember, chapter 2 is all about the transition from David to Solomon. And the chapter starts out with David giving Solomon some advice. [read v.5-9]. David turns to Solomon and says, “Okay, here’s what you’ve got to do - observe the requirements of God, get rid of this guy - he’s going to cause trouble, take care of this guy - he’s a friend.” This is like the godfather, a mob boss, handing out legacy assignments. (Use a bad accent)This guy disrespected the family, so I want you take care of him. Verse 13, there's a little title and it says, “Solomon Establishes His Rule” - and that sounds so innocent and nice, but don’t be fooled. What it should have said was, “Solomon ruthlessly eliminates anyone who was going to cause trouble.” This guy did something wrong, and so Solomon orders him killed, and then this guy over here was supposed to stay in house arrest, and he broke it - so Solomon orders him killed too.
And it seems really brutal, actually let’s talk about this for a second - let me ask you, have you ever read something in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament and thought, “Oh man, that’s so violent. That’s just, like, super mean.” You’re not alone, but one of the things we have to understand is the world at this time was an incredibly violent world. It feels way over the top because we don't live in that world anymore. But what we are seeing is not unusual for the ancient world. In the modern world, we are so used to our peaceful transitions of power - we think it’s always been like that, but it’s hasn’t. Peaceful transitions of power is a relatively new idea. In our country, when we switch from one president to the next - practically the whole cabinet loses their job. They all get fired, and then they just peacefully pack of up their offices and leave and the new guys comes in and starts working. Back then, there was no peacefully packing up your office! People clung to power, they would start rebellions, raise up armies - thousands of people would die before they would leave their position. We actually saw this with King David and Saul - you might remember that. Saul didn't want to peacefully transition, he pursued David for years, and after Saul died, David still spent years putting down rebellions where thousands of people died before his kingdom was established. So Solomon’s method is brutal, and it seems harsh to us in our cushy, peaceful modern world, but actually it’s a lot less brutal than what David had to do to become King.
The other thing I want to highlight is that I think a lot of us get distracted by the brutality and we miss the point of the story. Yes it’s a very violent story, but that’s actually pretty normal for that time period in that part of the world. But what I don’t want you to miss is why he does it. This is the first secret to Solomon’s success - he ruthlessly eliminates distractions from his life. When we shift to chapter 4, and we start talking about all that prosperity and all the things that are going so well for Solomon - the reason is that he started off by removing all the distractions that were going to ruin the kingdom. And this wisdom reflects straight into our lives for today. There are things in your life that are going to distract you from God, and if we want to pursue a successful, flourishing, thriving life with God - we need to remove those distractions. See, here’s the thing - before you can move forward in obeying God, you must remove that which holds you back.
So here’s a really hard question - what are your distractions? What are the things in your life that keep you from obeying God? I’ve got one for you to think about. I call it the outrage machine. No matter who you are, no matter where you are on the spectrum of political or theological belief, the media you consume benefits from making you angry. Whether you’re watching the nightly news, scrolling on twitter or instagram, or even just watching the late night comedy hosts - there’s always something for you to be mad about. And if they can make you mad - even if you turn the TV off, you’re still stewing! It is taking up a big ol’ chunk of your heart. The outrage machine is one of the best distractions that we see in the modern world that keeps us from living a life where we can obediently follow God and start to win. One thing that’s very helpful for me is the realization that the outrage machine is fake. Anger drives clicks, increases engagement and boosts ratings - but most of the outrage is fake! They have to get you upset about something otherwise you will stop watching. But if we resist the outrage, if we don’t get all angry and we approach an issue with a level head and a clear mind - it’s amazing, you can actually find solutions and move on. The first piece of wisdom that Solomon gives us is that obedience starts when we remove the distractions from our walk with God.
So then we get into chapter 4, and it says in verse 29, [read v.29-31]. So God gives Solomon great wisdom and understanding and great knowledge. And you might wonder - isn’t that just three different words for the same thing - but no, no, no. Knowledge is knowing that tomatoes are a technically a fruit, wisdom is NOT putting that tomato in a fruit salad. Knowledge is knowing that it’s a one way street, wisdom is still checking both ways because you’ve met some people. Knowledge can let you win a fight with your wife, but wisdom is understanding there’s no such thing as winning a fight with your spouse. Knowledge and wisdom are not the same thing, but Solomon had them both. It just like lists people he was smarter than. He’s smarter than that guy, he’s smarter than that guy. Then they throw out this little number, [read v.32]. Wrote three thousand proverbs and over a THOUSAND songs. For reference, that’s more than twice as many songs as the Beatles and Taylor Swift combined! And it doesn’t stop there, [read v.33-34]. He was a scientist and a sage, a brilliant researcher AND a great thinker. I think you get the picture - yes? Solomon is at about the highest level a human being could exist at in the universe - and just wait until you see what he does with it.
The start of the next chapter, chapter 5, Solomon reaches out to his buddy King Hiram from the neighboring country of Tyre and he sends him a message because he needs some supplies. (If you’re following along in your Chronological bible study, this is back on page 604.) Chapter 5, verse 3 [read v.3-5]. So we start out with a very detailed account of all the ways Solomon’s life is awesome, and the first thing that Solomon does with that is to turn it into worship. When things are good in life, when the sun is shining and we are living a fruitful and thriving existence - the first thing we should do is turn prosperity into praise. Now let me take a second and connect that first point to the second point. The first secret to Solomon’s success was that he ruthlessly eliminates distractions. The second secret to Solomon’s success was to turn prosperity into praises. And here’s the connecting thread - prosperity can be the greatest distraction you can ever experience in life. When things are hard, and we are struggling and we are living in the valley - it is easy to remember God! We cling to God because we are weathering a storm. We rely on God, and we know deep in our hearts we KNOW just how much we need God. But when things are good? When the sun is shining and the bank account is full and our relationships are thriving and there’s food on our table and joy in our hearts - that is the most dangerous moment. Because it is the moment we start to take God for granted. It’s the moment we start to think - maybe I can do this life thing without God. Prosperity is a greater distraction than struggle. That’s why Solomon’s first move is to build the temple, to turn his prosperity into praises.
A few years back I was watching a comedy sitcom. Now, I’ve seen this joke played out in a bunch of different TV shows, but this particular show was called How I Met Your Mother - and there’s a character named Barney Stinson. Now, if you’ve never seen it, Barney is pretty much a terrible person - who spends almost the entire show chasing women, trying to find various ways to lie to get them to like him. Inevitably his antics get him in trouble - and there’s a possible unintended pregnancy. So Barney finds his way into a chapel, old timey wooden chapel with stained glass and wooden pews, and he sits in the pew and he just starts praying. God if you can get me out of this, I will never ever ever ever ever…” and in the middle of his sentence he gets a phone call, and he gets the news he wants and it’s sort of like he says, “oh, never mind God. Didn’t actually need you.” Now I’m talking about one particular TV show, but it’s a pretty common joke to see in comedy sitcoms. Main character gets in trouble, starts to reach out for God, problem goes away - and so does their interest in God. And it’s a staple of comedy industry, but it also speaks to the way a lot of people understand God. The truth is that it’s easy to reach for God when we are hurting. God is with us in our pain, and he has helped countless people endure and get through their struggles to the other side. But in moments of prosperity, when the sun is shining and things are going very well - it can be really challenging to remember God. Solomon’s second secret to wisdom is turning prosperity into praise. When things are good, don’t forget God - be intentional to celebrate God.
The good news for us this morning is that God is constant. Over the years of being a pastor, one of my favorite words to describe God is that he is steadfast. We live in this roller coaster world, with so many highs and lows and everything around us is telling us that if we buy this product, or we watch this tv show or if we vote for this politician or policy then everything in our life will be amazing and wonderful forever and if we don’t then our lives will be ruined and it’s the end of the world. Everything is so extreme! The modern world is basically the greatest moment of your life or the actual end of the universe - those are the two options they give us every day - and into that chaotic roller coaster comes the simple truth that God is constant. There’s an old phrase, I know you guys know it - but we’re going to practice it anyways. I say, “God is good” (and they say “all the time”), and then if you’re a really advanced congregation we flip it and I say, “all the time” (and then they say “God is good”). One more time - God is Good, all the time, And all the time, God is good. Now I know that seems super simple and not that big a deal, but let me show you why it’s so incredible. God’s goodness is bulletproof. God will ALWAYS be good, because it’s not subjective - it’s a part of who he is. God IS good. No matter what is going on around us - whether it’s a hurricane of horrible or the peaceful seas of prosperity - God is steadfast. God is constant. God is good. (All the time).
Actually, one of my favorite books of the Bible is a book in the New Testament called Philippians. We’re not going to get to it for a long time, it’s way back towards the end of the Bible. But what I love about it, it’s a letter written from Paul and his buddy Timothy to the church in Philippi. And the whole book - it’s four chapters long, it’s a very quick read. But it’s all about how to find joy. A deep and abiding joy in your life, and here’s the crazy part. Paul wrote this letter, which is all about finding joy, while he was in prison. He was literally shackled to the wall while telling people how blessed and happy he was. Because if you let that good news that God is steadfast, God is constant, God is good - if you let that good news get down into your soul - nothing the world can throw at you will shake you. A few weeks ago we saw David crying out to God in his anguish. We saw that the agony of the world does not overwhelm and that God is with us on the bad days. But what we see with Solomon is that God is ALSO with us when the days are going well and there is peace on every front. The good news we see is that God is steadfast.
So here is the challenge that goes with that. My challenge for you is don’t forget God, no matter what happens in life. On the good days, on the bad days - don’t forget God. Follow in Solomon’s footsteps, turn your prosperity into praises. In moments when everything is great and life is good - turn that into worship! Turn all those feel goods into gratitude. Whatever it is - things are going well with the kids, it’s a beautiful day outside, the job is going great, security, friendships - whatever is good, praise God! When we do that, it orients and re-orients us to remember which one of us is the steadfast one.
Because here’s the temptation. When things are good in life, we tend to sit back and take it easy. We become less vigilant in our discipleship and that is actually when we are most likely to walk away from God. If the devil wants to pull you away from God - he’s not going to make your life difficult - he’s going to make your life easy. Because it’s actually harder to follow God when you are in prosperity. Let me see if I can explain it like this. Years and years ago I did a men’s bible study called Common Man. And basically the way it worked was a bunch of retired Navy Seals took some of the concepts that came out of their training for the Seals, and applied the principles their walk with Jesus Christ. And it kind of went like this. Navy Seals train every day - whether they have a mission or not, they are required to suit up, go through the exercises, shoot X amount of bullets, run X amount of drills, every single day. In between missions they don’t lay around on the couch all day just basking in their freedom. They’re working just as hard on the off day. And the reason, as one of the guys explained, the reason they drill every single day was so that when they DID have a mission their muscle memory could put the weapon together, strap the gear on and draw up to readiness just automatically. The reason they were so effective is that they were always ready. We praise God in moments of prosperity to build up muscle memory for the moments we are in the valley. If we waste our moments of prosperity, we will drift away from God and then when the valley comes, when the storm clouds break and the bad days show up - we will be far away from God and our job is that much harder. So my challenge for you is - don’t forget God. Remember Solomon’s secrets to success. First - Ruthlessly eliminate distractions, and second, when life is good, turn your prosperity into praises.
I will never forget January 10th, 2021 - when I thought the political ups and downs of the outside world were going to consume the church, and then the people proved me wrong. I thought I might have to break up a fight, because we humans are so fickle, and it is so easy for us to forget that God is good, all the time. But if we can hang on to that good news - if we can remember that God is steadfast, no matter what the world throws at us - then there is nothing the world can do to touch that. And so I’ll leave you with this - May you ruthlessly eliminate the distractions of this world, get rid of the outrage machine, keep your eyes on God’s steadfast love and turn ALL your prosperity into praises. Let’s pray.