In Solomon's Stead
For being one of the most beloved people in the Bible, King Solomon is depicted as a rather controversial figure. Back when Israel had no king, God told them exactly how a king would sin, giving them a list of things a king must never do (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). In an almost parallel passage, Solomon is shown to have used the list of don'ts as a checklist for do's (1 Kings 10:14-11:8). And yet God still promised to give him whatever he asked -- and Solomon asked for wisdom (1 Kings 3:4-15).
You have to admire the man. If God appeared to you and said, "Ask for what I shall give you," with the clear implication you'd get whatever you asked for, would you ask for wisdom? Not many of us would -- if anyone. Instead we'd be far more likely to ask for any one of a hundred other things: winning lottery tickets for life, our dream house, the best sports car in the world, fame, glory, the perfect marriage, the perfect family, infinite wishes (as if God were a genie), a dream job, a miracle cure, things like that. The majority of what we'd ask for would probably be selfish. Few would be the selfless requests for world peace, an end to hunger, an end to poverty, universal healing, and the wisdom to live well.
Our prayers reveal that. We're all given a chance to make our petitions and intercessions before God, but rarely do we consistently focus primarily on things and people other than ourselves. Should we pray about what goes on in our own lives? Absolutely -- but not exclusively. Like Solomon, we should pray for others to receive help, ask to be given the means to assist our neighbors (and remember: everyone is our neighbor). Self goes last, for love demands others go first.