When I think of wisdom, I think of some old guy with gray hair and glasses. He always has a solution to every problem and sometimes talks in riddles. This image is probably very much influenced by the television and movies I’ve watched… and is also not exactly true.
Who is wise & understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13)
But what exactly is wisdom?
The Oxford dictionary defines wisdom as “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise,” and “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” Wisdom is generally considered something that comes later in life, or once we have a good amount of experience in a particular subject.
This is why we often think of older people when we think of wisdom. They’ve walked through life and had so many experiences, that they now have the wisdom they didn’t have in their youth. In fact, the Bible even talks about the foolishness of youth, and instructs the youth to listen to the instructions of their elders (Proverbs 4:1). The older generation teaches the younger generation because they have more life experience, otherwise known as wisdom.
In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, white belts that are just beginning often look to the upper belts because of the years of experience they have. A black belt is highly respected because he or she should be a wealth of wisdom and knowledge when it comes to Jiu Jitsu. If you were a white belt, and you wanted to become a better juijiteiro, you would ask for an upper belt to impart some of their jiu jitsu wisdom to you. Although it takes about 10 years on average to achieve the rank of black belt, you can become more adept in your jiu jitsu skills if with the guidance of a black belt.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)
Likewise, just because you have life experience, doesn’t automatically make you a wise person. The passage here in James talks about a different type of wisdom – a spiritual wisdom – that doesn’t necessarily come with experience – but it is more like a gift.
You don’t have to wait until you’re old to be wise!
Both of my children had to read “The Giver” by Lois Lowry in middle school, and in it, the main character, Jonas, is selected to be the new “Receiver of Memory.” Every day, Jonas goes to the Giver’s home to receive memories of the world that no one else in the protected community would ever know. The Giver imparts his knowledge and, therefore, his wisdom to Jonas, which causes Jonas to mature rapidly. He came to the Giver as a typical teenager, and the more memories he receives, the more he matures. The Giver is known and revered as the wisest person in the community, and soon Jonas will take his place. Jonas will not have to wait to be older to become wise, because the Giver is imparting his wisdom to Jonas while he is still young.
According to James, we don’t have to wait until we’re older to become wise, either! Wisdom is yours for the taking right now. In James 1:5, it says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
If you want wisdom in a particular subject area, you ask someone who is wiser than you for advice, just like in jiu jitsu. So if you want spiritual wisdom, which is the type of wisdom James is writing about, you just have to ask God for it.
For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:6)
So what is all this wisdom good for and how do we recognize it?
The wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:17)
Spiritual wisdom is the kind of wisdom we need to get through life and all the hardships that it brings. It helps us in our relationships, decision-making, and everything else in between. Life is tough and God wants us to come to him and ask him how to handle it.
Five Practical Steps to Becoming Wise
1. Ask God for wisdom.
This is step one for good reason. We are to do anything and everything by first taking it to God. In Philippians 4:6, Paul tells the Church of Philippi, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Then he goes on to say in verse 7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
So step one – take it to God. A lot of times we do everything else, and come up short, and then remember to pray. How much better would it be if the first thing we did in every situation and every trial we go through is pray? If only we would just take everything first to God, then we could experience his peace. Recently, I read a quote about hope that seems very fitting here.
Hope is a song sung when everything else says you shouldn’t be singing.
Padraig O Tuama, In the Shelter (178)
This is a hope that only comes from God. When everything seems to be falling apart, and we turn to God, we can have a joy and a hope and a peace that doesn’t seem to make sense. This is what it means by a peace that “transcends all understanding.” The only explanation that makes sense is, it’s a God thing.
2. Read the Bible.
One of the many ways that God answers our prayers is through his Word. The Bible is the actual, literal word of God. This means that whatever is in it is from the mouth of God. If it wasn’t from God, then it wouldn’t be in the Bible. I like to think of the Bible as one HUGE letter from God to us. The New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs are great places to start if you’re new to this. Again, I can’t stress this enough, as you read the Bible, ask God to guide you in what to read, and ask him to help you understand what it says.
“Let your heart retain my words; Keep my commands, and live. Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.” (Proverbs 4:4-5)
The Bible talks a lot about wisdom. I could go on and on about all there is to say about it, but instead, I highly encourage you to take the time to find out for yourself! If you’re new to studying the Bible, this is a great topic to study.
Here’s some direction for where to look for more about wisdom in the Bible:
- The books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament
- The book of James in the New Testament
- Do a topical / keyword search for “wisdom”
3. Ask others for advice.
Seek guidance from people who have walked this road before. You are not alone in this world and you are not the first person to go through this. God didn’t intend for us to get through the trials of life on our own. We are not an island. Get advice, weigh it and determine how you will apply it to your specific situation.
4. Practice being wise.
It’s not enough to collect wisdom, you have to put it into practical application. You have to take what you’ve learned from the Bible and others, and then use it. Knowing isn’t enough, and knowing isn’t doing. In fact, knowing and not doing is worse than not knowing at all.
James 1:22-24 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”
You wouldn’t look at your face in the mirror, see food in your teeth, and then walk away without removing the food from your teeth would you? James is saying this is exactly like what we do if we read God’s word, but then don’t do what it says.
In verse 25, he continues, “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”
So in all your wisdom-getting, make sure you also do, and then wait for the blessings to unfold.
5. Put the results in God’s hands.
This is a tough one for most, if not all of us. Relinquishing control of the situation and the outcome to God is definitely easier said than done. But that is what we MUST do!
God’s way is always the best way.
It says in Proverbs 16:9, “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps;” not because he is a mean God or a controlling God – no, just the opposite. He cares so much for you and only wants what is best for you.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
God just knows so much more than we do about a situation. He knows our inner being, and everyone else’s, too. And he ultimately wants good for us. Paul tells us in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
So trust God and do what he says, again, and see what happens. I know you won’t be disappointed.
My challenge to you this week:
Wisdom is something we all need and something we will all gain as we walk through the circumstances of this life, but you are not alone – you have God – through prayer and scripture – and you have others. So this week, with any difficult situation you encounter, first turn to God, and then to others.
Pray first. This is the practice part. Grab onto a verse that brings you promise of joy, peace and hope, and memorize it. Write it on a card and keep it with you until you have it memorized. Ask God to bring the right people into your life to walk with you through whatever stage of life you’re dealing with. Realize, that in the end, God is all-knowing and all-powerful. If, even after following all the above steps, things aren’t going well, just know that God is still in control and he does have a plan.
How has the wisdom of the scriptures or others helped you through a difficult situation? Please let me know in the comments section below.