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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lessons from Solomon for Worship Leaders

1. Solomon chose wisdom over power, fame, and wealth. Although this may sound odd, there are those in worship ministry that fall prey to the “showmanship” of being in the limelight Sunday after Sunday and let the weekly comments of how “great the music was” go to their head [or better said, inflate the ego]. The Amplified Bible translates Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 3:9 this way: “So give Your servant an understanding mind and a hearing heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and bad.”

Let’s focus on the two phrases: “understanding mind” and “hearing heart.” There is a tendency among some to assume that because they can do some things well, they are the authority in virtually everything and generally they readily and openly share their opinion as fact. A wise leader understands his or her own limitations and surrounds himself or herself with those who excel in those areas that are weak. The “understanding mind” is one that truly tries to comprehend the other person, not just one that “knows it all.” It is the ability to identify with those with whom they are working.

The other important phrase mentioned was a “hearing heart.” How frustrating it is to talk to someone who can barely control themselves while another person is talking to them, because they aren’t attempting to listen, they just want to talk; they are more interested in their next response, than listening to what the other person is saying. Those with “hearing hearts” listen for more than just the words that are said, they are attuned to other signals that may be telling a different story, words or expressions that may be masking a hidden heartache. These people have learned to put their own agendas aside long enough to really hear the individual until the individual knows that they have been heard.

Solomon requested these qualities so that he could “discern between good and bad,” that is, so that he could rightly lead the children of Israel justly, in a way that reflected the nature and character of God. The reason we would desire to develop an understanding mind and a hearing heart is so that we would reflect God’s nature as well. In seeking God’s character and nature, we are seeking that which would be for His glory and honor. Such seeking will help develop a ministry that God can use, as Matthew 5:33 says, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well.” Worship leaders would do well to follow Solomon’s lead in seeking to have “understanding minds and hearing hearts,” rather than seek the rush of crowd approval, the push for top billing on the charts, or the next viral video on You Tube. Remember, Solomon’s request pleased God.

2. Whatever you do, do well. Solomon brought in the help and expertise he needed for the building of the Temple. He didn’t assume that he knew everything about everything, even though he was the wisest man of the times. This idea is related to the previous one, but is more specific. Notice the transparency and humility in the in 1Kings 5:6, as Solomon tells King Hiram of Tyre that he will pay for some of the Sidonians to come help, because, “you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians.” The man that was the overseer of the work was a man“whose mother was a widow from the tribe of Naphtali and whose father was from Tyre and a skilled craftsman in bronze. Huram was filled with wisdom, with understanding and with knowledge to do all kinds of bronze work. He came to King Solomon and did all the work assigned to him.” [1 Kings 7:14]

I heard and was reminded many times as I was growing up, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.” A job well done is its own testimony, it reflects the nature of God, who never does anything poorly or half-heartedly. Offering to God anything less than our best is like offering a defective sacrifice. Laziness will accept almost anything, but that is a far cry from the nature and character of the One who offered His best for us so that we might have a relationship with Him.

3. Have lifetime goals. The goal of building the Temple was not Solomon’s goals, but David’s. Once the Temple was complete, Solomon had no personal goals that kept him tied to the worship of God. His decline as a leader began after the completion of the Temple: he built his own house with was so grand, it took 13 years to build it [the Temple took 7]. He began to marry outside of the covenant. He marries the daughter of Pharaoh as a strategic political and economic move and builds a house for her. He then continues marrying hundreds of other women, who eventually turn his heart away from God. How different things might have been if he had begun a teaching movement to instruct the Israelites about the law of God, rather than devote himself to self-indulgence. It might have been politically correct or economically sound to do what Solomon did, but it was diametrically opposed to the commandment of God no to intermarry with the peoples around them. Following God’s commands are rarely easy, but not following will produce fruit that will not remain. He needed goals for his entire life, not just seven years.

4. He confused the symbol of God’s presence for God, Himself. In looking at Solomon’s prayer during the dedication of the Temple, a case might be made that there was confusion from the beginning between “worshiping the Temple” and the “God of the Temple.” In 1 Kings 8:22-53 records Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the Temple. Included in the prayer is acknowledgment of the fulfilment of God’s promise to David [22-26] as well as the fact that God is much greater than the heavens, so no dwelling could ever really contain God [v. 27]. This was the place where “My name shall be there.” But it seems that the place was becoming synonymous with the Person: “May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” [v. 29-30, emphasis added] A similar issue arose with the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, in confusing the Ark of God with the God of the Ark. [1 Samuel 4] The symbol of the presence of God, is simply that, a symbol; God is Spirit. The Ark was holy not because the metal was somehow different, but because God’s presence was there. With the Temple, what started as a place to honor and worship God, seems to have also laid the foundations for becoming an idol in and of itself. In later years, Solomon might have considered the Temple as just “another great thing that I have accomplished,” rather than a place where the focus of where God, Himself might be sought and that God’s great mercy and compassion might be found.

5. Keep worship central to your whole life. The fact that the wisest man that had ever lived to that day would fall prey to sin and end up as he did should tell us that none of us are exempt from failure. Solomon’s wives turned his heart away from worshiping God and this one who had started out so well, ends his reign with the promise of failure at every turn. How? By failing to keep worship of God as the most central part of his life.

Another part of Solomon’s failure was that he multiplied his wealth at the expense of his own people. While this might not have been true in the beginning of his reign, by the end of his reign he only left a legacy of hurt. Early on, he only used foreign workers as labors and fellow Israelites as overseers, but somewhere that began to change. His lust for power, fame, and all that might be associated with that soon had him inscripting his own people for the grueling work. Listen to the commentary of the people when Rehoboam is set to take over after Solomon’s death: “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.” [1 Kings 12:4] Somewhere down the line, Solomon lost his desire to worship God alone, and Jehovah just became one more among other gods. Some time he began to allow the ends to justify the means. Absolute power and unlimited authority without adequate accountability will produce this. Over a period of years his relationship with God grew cold and his heart for worship and the Temple faded. Perhaps it began with him focusing more on the Temple, than the God of the Temple. Regardless, it eventually cost his son the kingdom and left him with but a shell of its former glory.

For worship leaders, the same can happen. Private devotional times can fade with busy schedules, always with the hope that “we’ll start again with things calm down...” – But things only get more hectic. More and more attention is given to the “job” than the relationship with God. More quality time is spent with Praise team members that those of our own family, and one day we wake up to the fact that the marriage is in shambles and leading worship is just another “gig” that we get paid for.

6. Solomon sought the advice of other counselors. Even though he was considered the wisest man of his day, he himself had counselors and encouraged such. When Solomon’s son takes office Scripture relates how he refused the counsel of his father’s advisors [1 Kings 12:1-15]. The principle is also underlined in Proverbs as well: “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” [Proverbs 15:22] If it were necessary and prudent for the wisest man living to have and seek counsel, how much more for us today and especially as we seek to facilitate the worship of God!

We don’t have to be Solomon to learn from him. We can study what was good, what God blessed and what God condemned and become obedient followers of God who have “understanding minds and hearing hearts.”

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