EDITOR'S NOTE:  The following is an excerpt from The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment by Tim Challies (Crossway Books).

Chapter One:  A Call to Discernment

By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.

2 Timothy 1:14

It must be terrifying to be the son of a king and to be heir to a throne. A prince always lives with the knowledge that, at some point, his father will die, and he will have to step in as successor. He will have to assume the throne of his father and rule the nation, and an entire country will depend on his wisdom and his ability. A foolish prince might imagine this to be a simple task and might relish the power and glory that will be his. A wise prince will tremble, knowing his inadequacy for the task.

Just such a man is described in the Bible. Following the great King David, whom God describes in Acts as "a man after my heart" (Acts 13:22), stood Solomon. Though he was already a grown man when he became king, Solomon was wise and considered himself as little more than a child who was still dependent on a Father's wisdom. In the book of 1 Kings we learn that while Solomon was at Gibeon to offer sacrifices to the Lord, God appeared to him in a dream and said simply, "Ask what I shall give you" (1 Kings 3:5). We are commonly taught that Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom, and that God, being pleased with this request, instantaneously blessed him with a great outpouring of this gift. But in Solomon's words we see that he requests more than wisdom: he requests discernment. Solomon's humble prayer is recorded for us in 1 Kings 3:6-9:

"You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, 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 this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?"

I find this a deeply moving passage, for the cry of Solomon resounds in my heart. It is a cry born of deep humility and a profound sense of dependence upon God. "I am but a little child," he cries, "I do not know how to go out or come in." Ascending to the throne of his father, the renowned king, Solomon must have realized his frailty, his inadequacy.

Solomon's specific request is this: "Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil" (1 Kings 3:9a). God reiterates and answers this request, saying to Solomon, "Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word" (1 Kings 3:11-12a). And here is what God gave Solomon: "Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you" (1 Kings 3:12b).

Commenting on verse 9, Hebrew scholars Keil and Delitzsch point out that the "understanding mind" Solomon requested was really a "hearing heart" or a "listening heart"—"a heart giving heed to the law and right of God."1 Solomon was given wisdom, to be sure, but he was also given a hearing heart. He was given discernment such as no mere human has possessed before or since. We might even say that Solomon requested discernment, but because of the connectedness of wisdom and discernment, God gave him both what he requested and its important prerequisite. Solomon became both wise and discerning.