A prayer for listening hearts: wisdom for Alberta’s MLAs

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 7, 2015

“Grant your servant a listening heart to govern your people.”  —King Solomon

By the time this column appears in print, the results of this week’s Alberta provincial election will be in. I’m writing before the results have been decided, but what I have to say applies to whoever the winners are.

For me, the call to governing a people is well informed by the example of wise Solomon, the king of Israel some 3,000 years ago. When he ascends the throne of his deceased father, David, God comes to him in a dream and asks him what he’d like from God.

Solomon responds: “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. 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. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.” (1 Kings 3:7–9)

Note especially the phrase, “understanding mind,” the focus of his request. In the original Hebrew, that phrase is lev shome’a, literally “a listening heart.”

God is pleased. Solomon could have asked for long life, riches and revenge against his enemies. But no, he asks for a listening heart in order to guide his people wisely.

Ah yes, a listening heart, a heart that is sensitive both to the voice of God and to the needs of the people. A heart, not of sentimentality, but of spiritually and morally informed observation, reason and reflection within the awesome mandate such leadership implies.

A heart that beats to the rhythm of the Shema, the core of the Torah, the sacred law of Israel: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” . . . and by extension, “love your neighbour as yourself.”

And indeed, that’s just what God gives him, so that Solomon has come down through the ages as “the wisest king that ever was.”

There is a psalm associated with Solomon’s coronation, the same psalm from which our nation of Canada derives its motto, A mari usque ad mare, “From sea to sea.” Psalm 72 opens:

“Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy . . . . May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.”

Clearly, the listening heart that God gave Solomon was not primarily about wealth and prosperity, but about a balance between prosperity and charity, wealth and the welfare of even the poorest among the people.

I find it interesting, in the light of so much emphasis today on divorcing godliness from governance, that for the psalmist, seeking God’s governance first is fundamental to human governance and necessarily precedes any desire for national prosperity. Only with that priority clearly established does the psalm continue:

“May there be abundance of grain in the land . . . and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field.”

When our political leaders today seem so caught up in the kind of legacy they want to be remembered for, it is instructive that Solomon’s legacy was ultimately to be rooted in one thing alone: godliness reflected in goodness – a legacy that has the potential to benefit the whole world. And with that balance in mind, the psalm pronounces a special blessing for the king:

“May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun. May all nations be blessed in him; may they pronounce him happy.”

The impassioned tone of this coronation psalm is not surprising in light of that encounter Solomon had with God at the beginning of his kingship.

Solomon had a good mentor in his vision and values for leadership. In his final words, his father, the beloved King David, spoke of the most important principle a king – or a premier, or any of the MLAs – must never lose sight of:

“One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land” (2 Samuel 23:3-4).

May the premier and MLAs of our province likewise be so blessed with the wisdom of a listening heart that they, too, may govern us with listening hearts in a spirit of justice, compassion and humility.

In that spirit, and unrestricted by the Supreme Court’s recent ruling against municipal councils beginning their meetings with prayer, perhaps the Alberta Legislature might even adopt Calgary City Council’s former opening prayer:

“O God, author of all wisdom, knowledge and understanding, we ask Thy guidance in our consultations to the end that truth and justice may prevail in all our judgments.”


© 2015 Warren Harbeck

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