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Discernment: Cut Out the Clutter

August 25, 2019 Sermon
Discernment:
Cut Out the Clutter

First Scripture Reading:  1 Kings 3:1-9

3 Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt; he took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David, until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem. 2 The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord.

3 Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. 4 The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7 And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”

Second Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:25-33

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Message – “Discernment: Cut Out the Clutter”

Y’all remember Solomon, don’t you?

  • He was David’s son, the heir to the monarchy and the third king of God’s people, Israel, in the Old Testament;
  • He was the king who, as we read in our first scripture reading, was asked by God to name ANYTHING he might want God to give him, and he responded by asking God to provide him wisdom and discernment for guiding God’s people.
  • He was the king under whom Israel became “as numerous as the sand by the sea” (1 Kings 4:20).
  • He was the king who built a temple for God;
  • He was the king about whom it was said, “The whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind” (1 Kings 10:24.)

Solomon was THAT great king…BUT, Solomon had another legacy, as well:

  • He was the king who amassed great wealth and showed off that great wealth: he made hundreds of golden shields, a throne of ivory overlaid with the finest gold, 1,400 chariots and had 12,000 horses.  It was said of Solomon that he “exceeded all the kings of the earth in riches (1 Kings 10:23) and even had a fleet of ships for the purpose of acquiring precious metals and other extravagant items.
  • He was the king who had 700 royal wives and 300 concubines, many of whom were from the peoples from whom God had forbidden the Israelites to take wives (1 Kings 11:4).
  • He was the king who “turned away his heart to other gods”, even building altars to foreign gods (1 Kings 11:5, 7-8).
  • Ultimately, he was the king who would be the LAST king over the united monarchy of God’s people…because God was so angry about Solomon’s unfaithfulness that God raised up another man/king to take 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel from Solomon.

So…what happened?  How did Solomon go from being the king who sought God’s wisdom in governing God’s people to being the king who so upset God that God tore most of the kingdom away from him and his family?

I’ll answer that question in a moment, but, first, I’ll remind you of our current sermon series.  Presently, we’re in the midst of a 3-part series on the topic of discernment, the topic of knowing God’s will, God’s desires, so that we can DO God’s will and desires.

Last Sunday, we talked about this discernment thing, this seeking to know God’s will thing, as being something that God expects of ALL of us, not just people with a special Spiritual gift called discernment.  And I told you at the end of last Sunday’s sermon that I would this Sunday begin looking at how we can discern God’s will.

And one of the answers to how to do this comes from Solomon’s story.  Something changed during the time of Solomon’s reign, and we can find an answer for ourselves by remembering what happened to Solomon.

In broad strokes, the answer we find from Solomon is relatively simple: cut out the clutter.  All too often, what prevents us from discerning God’s will is clutter, other stuff we’ve accumulated, that gets in the way of our knowing God’s will.  Sometimes, this clutter is material in nature, but, sometimes it’s not…so, sometimes I call it “competing voices” instead of clutter.

Let’s take a look at how this worked for Solomon.

The first kind of clutter to consider in Solomon’s story is the clutter, the competing voice, of pride.  Late in his reign, Solomon got awfully prideful. Indeed, an entire chapter of 1 Kings is devoted to Solomon showing off to the Queen of Sheba, something I imagine was just one example of at least 700, given the number of Solomon’s royal wives.  There are other examples of Solomon’s pride sprinkled throughout the stories of his kingship; my favorite is Solomon’s choice to make his house significantly larger than God’s house…prideful, perhaps? Solomon is presented as liking to show off; it may even be why he built altars to the gods of his many foreign wives…to show them he could do so…extravagantly.  With so much pride, I imagine it got more difficult with each passing year for Solomon to discern God’s will. Solomon couldn’t see or hear God because he was so focused on himself.

Contrast that with Solomon as presented at the beginning of his story.  At the beginning of Solomon’s reign, when God asked Solomon to name anything God might do for him, Solomon spoke of himself with these words:

I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.  And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted.

Could you get more humble…especially for a king?  Out of humility, Solomon KNEW he needed help to govern well.  Ultimately, we are told Israel – even Solomon – became so wealthy and powerful precisely because of God…not because of Solomon.  But…Solomon appears to have seen things differently.

Y’all, pride is a kind of clutter, a competing voice, that can get in the way of your discerning God’s will.  When you start hearing the voice in your head say things like, “I want”, or “I would like”, or “that would make ME happy”…or really any form of “I” or “me”…that should be a signal that pride is working to crowd out the voice of God.  Pride leads us to do for us and to hear ourselves, not God. It’s VERY difficult to discern God’s will when you think your will matters. Actually, it’s very difficult to discern God’s will when you’re thinking about your will at all.

But…how do you cut out this prideful clutter?  There are many ways. My personal favorite when making a decision is to ask myself what I want…and then remove that option from consideration.  If what YOU want isn’t even an option, that gives you the space to consider what God wants. And if God does happen to want the same thing as you, God will let you know.  Another way some people have devised is to very intentionally ask, “What would Jesus do?” or “What would God do?” whenever you make a decision. When you intentionally place God as the one who matters – not you – pride gets pushed out of the  way. One final option, the one most people expect from a pastor, is to read the scriptures. I don’t mean to look in your concordance or on Google to find scripture verses that are related to your decision. I mean just open up a Bible, open the pages to a seemingly random spot, and start reading.  When I do this, when I read scripture with absolutely no pre-planning on my part, I almost always find God speaking to my decision in a way I would have never imagined. It’s like when the apostles were choosing a new person to take Judas’ place. They cast lots, kind of like flipping a coin, which means they completely took themselves out of the equation.  Sometimes, that’s the best way to remove the clutter of pride.

A second kind of clutter to consider in Solomon’s story is the clutter of material stuff.  Clearly, Solomon’s life got cluttered with stuff. I’ve already told you about the golden shields, the fleet of ships, the chariots, and the horses.  But I haven’t yet mentioned that all of Solomon’s drinking vessels were made of gold. The Bible tells us that Solomon had so much wealth that making drinking vessels of gold wasn’t considered as anything.  There was just so… much…wealth. That can get in the way, right? When you’ve got so much stuff, it competes for your time and attention, giving you very little time to consider what God wants.

Doesn’t that happen in our lives?

I’ll use the example of getting a larger television.  Several years ago, as I noticed my eyesight declining to the extent that I could no longer read subtitles or see fine details on my television, I decided I had to get a new one, a larger one.  But once I had that new tv and could see it, I figured I might as well have better sound, too…so, a sound system. And then, well, you’ve got to have some good stuff to watch on such a television…so I gave in and bought cable, and about 200 DVDs, and a few streaming services.  And, of course, such a large television would be great for gaming, so…well, you get the point. Material things are like this. Once you start investing in them, they demand ever more of your time and money and, WORSE, your attention. I wonder what happened to my focus on God while I was thinking about sound and cable, and streaming services, and DVDs, and gaming systems?  Surely, my focus on God got cut out, at least a LITTLE, when my attention turned to all these other things. That even seems to be what Jesus was saying in our second scripture reading for today: worrying about the stuff of this life gets in the way of our focusing on God and even enjoying God’s provision.

But, what to do?  The simple answer is downsizing.  Get rid of some, maybe most, of the clutter.  That’s the simple answer, but, I get that it’s not so easy to do:

  • Maybe you’re attached to some things for sentimental reasons;
  • Maybe you’re attached to some things for financial reasons – you’ve invested so much in them already that it seems foolish to get rid of them now;
  • Maybe you’re worried that some day, you just might want to use them.  It’s possible I’ll lose that extra 20 pounds sometime and will need those smaller clothes.  It’s possible I’ll want to read those books again…after enough time has passed for me to forget enough to make reading them again interesting.  Same for the DVDs.

The interesting thing about all the reasons I can think of for keeping the cluttering stuff is this: they are all BETTER reasons to downsize than they are reasons to keep the stuff.  All these reasons, all these different kinds of attachments, they are simply PROOF that your material clutter is diverting your attention, your focus, from God. Ouch.

The third kind of clutter to consider in Solomon’s story may well be the most difficult.  It is the clutter of people. Not just any people, actually, but people who are not God-focused.  Please, don’t tune me out yet. I’m not going to be one of those ministers who tells you to not have any friends who aren’t Christians.  I won’t do that.

But here’s what I will do.  I will ask you to consider Solomon’s story.  In fact, go back and read 1 Kings 3 through 1 Kings 11 if you get a chance.  Something will scream at you: the biggest clutter in Solomon’s life that led to his downfall was the clutter of people who worshipped foreign gods:

  • There were the foreign dignitaries;
  • There were the wives;
  • There were the people who paid him what I’ll call “tribute”;
  • There were the people from whom Solomon purchased the many cluttering goods;
  • There were the great many people who put some of these strange notions – like golden drinking vessels and golden shields – in Solomon’s mind…we know God didn’t do that.

Y’all, these chapters present Solomon as absolutely, completely, surrounding himself with people who worshipped foreign gods…and giving these people what they desired…whereas Solomon had ONCE given his total and complete allegiance to God alone, doing what God desired…even over what Solomon desired.  Solomon had once sought first the kingdom of God.

I’m not at all suggesting there’s not a place in our lives for people who do not follow God – there would never be new people of God if we did that.  I am suggesting these people’s voices and desires can become part of the clutter that prevents you from discerning God’s will:

  • When the people around you don’t go to worship, and you hear about the seemingly fun stuff they do on Sunday mornings, it can make the decision to worship God in community one day a week more difficult;
  • When the people around you don’t give anything to God, through the church, and so have an extra 10% or more of extra spending cash, and you see them buying things that you would really like to have but can’t afford…it can make the decision to give to God more difficult;
  • When people around you make all or most of their decisions on the basis of what they want, it can make it very difficult to even know what God wants anymore;
  • When people around you who don’t focus at all on God become prosperous or become anything that you would like to become, it can make it difficult for you to know what God wants.  Surely, God wants you to be prosperous and happy, so maybe God wants you to do what these people are doing.

When we surround ourselves with people who don’t even TRY to listen to God, we see their decisions, maybe even start to like their decisions, and it can become much more difficult to know God’s will.    That’s what seems to have happened to Solomon.

(PAUSE)

I hope by now you’ve got the point.  One of the best and first ways to know God’s will is to start cutting the clutter of stuff the competes with God’s will from your life.  When you do, you may find you have more time on your hands that you can use to listen for God and more time you can use doing what you believe God wants you to do.  When you do, you may even find that you have more money in your hands to spend in the way God wants you to spend it. And you very likely will find that you’ve got more time to spend with other people who are also trying to discern God’s will for their lives…and so those people can become resources to help you better discern God’s will.

Cut out the clutter…that’s one great and scriptural way to know God’s will.   Amen.