I was having lunch recently with some Vanguard University faculty colleagues when Dr. Rich Israel, Professor of Biblical Literature, made the observation that when Solomon prayed for wisdom in 1 Kings 3:7-9 he was actually asking God to give him a lev shomea, a “listening heart.” Since shomea is related to the Hebrew word shema, “hear,” I suppose we might also refer to lev shomea as a “hearing heart.” 

Almost immediately, I thought of a quote by Thomas Kelly that goes like this: 

There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.

I love both images–that of a heart eager to hear from God, and of a self that seeks to be continually receptive to divine breathings.

Ultimately, it’s all about direction, isn’t it? To what degree are we committed to being guided by God rather than by our natural understanding of things. The Bible is replete with passages that encourage the former and warn against the latter. Here’s just one passage, well known but worth repeating:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

I want to suggest that, given it’s context, the exhortation to “acknowledge” God is a call to always have a spritual ear tuned to the divine direction he can and will provide those who belong to him. To the degree we do this, says the proverb author, we will find ourselves walking the right paths, doing the right things.

You see, the problem is that our natural understanding of things can sometimes be terribly errant. Other passages from the Book of Proverbs make this crystal clear. For example:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25)

He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe. (Proverbs 28:26)

It was only right for King Solomon to ask God to give him wisdom–a discerning, listening, hearing heart. After all, as the new king of Israel he was facing some huge responsibilities. But, really, aren’t we all? Don’t we all need all the divine direction we can get?

Much later in time the Apostle Paul would write these encouraging words to the rank-and-file members of the church in Philippi:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

More love informed by knowledge and insight? A greater ability to “discern what is best” so that I might be “pure and blameless” until the return of Christ? The ability not to be merely positionally righteous in Christ, but to actually become practically righteous as well? Are you kidding me? Sign me up!

So, my suggestion is that all of us make Solomon’s prayer our own. In fact …

“Dear God, I’m certainly neither a Solomon nor an Apostle Paul, but my prayer today is that you will give everyone who reads these words, no matter when they do so, a lev shomea–a hearing heart that will enable them to discern what is best so that they may be pure, blameless, and practically righteous until the day of Christ. Amen.”