Teenagers are awesome. No, seriously, I mean that. In my life, I’ve gone from admiring teenagers, to being a teenager, to working with teenagers in some capacity for over a decade now. I love them. Their sense of humor, their enthusiasm, their growth (hopefully) in maturity. Teenagers are great! In the years that I’ve served in youth ministry, I’ve watched teens grapple with major life decisions, generally for the first time. Where am I going to go to college? What am I going to major in? How will I ever be able to pay for college? It’s about this time of life that they fall in love with James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all men generously and without reproach.” “Wisdom,” they say. “Yes! That’s what I need right now, and God has promised to give it to me.” Like all of us adults facing big decisions, what they actually want is for a divine sky-writer to fly by and emblazon the answer on the horizon for them. However, that isn’t what God promises to give lavishly.
We generally define wisdom as possessing discernment and making good choices based on the knowledge that one has. I won’t disagree, but if that’s our complete definition of wisdom, we miss a lot of what Scripture has to say on the matter. Our sovereign Father is interested in more than good decision-making skills; He’s interested in the decision maker himself. The Bible tells us that wisdom is more than just good application of knowledge; it’s really about taking on the character of God.
An important foundation…
Psalms and Proverbs both tell us that the beginning of wisdom is fearing the Lord (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10). We must start here because nothing is more foolish than thinking that the creation is greater than the Creator. Sadly, though, that’s exactly what we do all the time. We admire the work of our hands, impressed at what we are able to make. If you’ve been on Pinterest or Instagram, you know what I mean. From perfectly filtered and edited selfies to immaculately decorated cakes to elegant compositions of music, to masterful displays of craftsmanship, we create pretty cool stuff. We finish, stand back, and say, “Aha! Look at what I have made! I am wonderful!” Creating is good, but only as it points us to the Creator. Likewise, we finish a complex project, graduate with the coveted degree, or attain a lofty goal, and we think, “Aha! Look at what I have accomplished! I am marvelous!” Achieving is good, but only as it points us to El Shaddai, God Almighty.
The point is that we don’t fear God very much. Our view of Him is scrawny and weak. We laud Him on Sundays but tend to live Monday through Saturday as if He’s a genie, a good-luck charm, or maybe a despot with lightning bolts just waiting to zap the first person to put a toe out of line. However, if we want to grow in wisdom, we must behold God on His throne, high and lifted up. We must drop to our knees in awe of Him, crying out, “Woe is me! I am undone!” Only when I am undone, will I grow in wisdom. Now we’re getting somewhere, but this is just the beginning of wisdom.
A helpful list…
I love lists. They’re organized. They’re concise. They’re just great. I mean, who doesn’t love a list? (Crazy people, I tell you.) When it comes to defining wisdom, Scripture gives a list that can be of some help to us. Check out James 3:17:
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” Wait a minute. This can’t be right! Something’s missing! Where’s the good decision-making and application of knowledge in that list? Not there. Weird, huh? I think what James wants us to see is that wisdom is much more about our character than our actions. That’s why it begins with the fear of the Lord. I’ll never be pure if I haven’t fallen flat on my face in the presence of the Holy One of Israel. I won’t have a clue about true peace if I haven’t gotten to know the God of peace (Rom. 15:13). My gentleness will miss the mark entirely if I don’t spend time with the God who gave up the glory of heaven and entered earth as a compassionate servant. After all, Jesus told us that seeing Him was seeing the Father. And how could I possibly expect to be full of mercy and other good fruits without staring into the face of the God of mercy who rescued me from the domain of darkness and lovingly, tenderly transferred me to the kingdom of His beloved Son? Unless God is my Rock, my unshakable fortress, I will waver and be unsteady in all my ways, like a wave tossed by the wind and broken on the shore. I must know the God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2) lest I become a hypocrite.
Wisdom isn’t just about good decision-making skills. It’s about taking on the character of God.
A prayer for help….
I’m not wise. I wish I were, and it’s an area of focus in my
spiritual growth (hence my need to write on the matter); but the truth is,
there is still a lot of foolishness bound up in my heart. That’s why I
love Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1:9-10:
For this reason also, I do not cease to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
At first blush, it seems that Paul is praying for the Colossians’ decision-making skills. After all, he does pray that they’d be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom. And when do we need to be filled with the knowledge of His will but when we have a decision to make? I might be inclined to agree, but verse 10 just won’t let me. If Paul wants the Colossians to marry the right person, buy the right house, or take the right job, why doesn’t he list those in the outcomes of his prayer being answered? Instead, the outcomes are character-based: walking in a manner worthy of the Lord, bearing fruit, pleasing God, and getting to know God better. That’s where true spiritual wisdom takes us. That’s the goal. If you, like me, find yourself hungry for true spiritual wisdom, make this your prayer for your own heart and for those in your life who need wisdom.
A final word…
While wisdom is about more than making good choices in life, it’s certainly not about less. It seems that we’re always trying to take the easy way out and get God to tell us what to do. (That actually sounds a lot more like lazy foolishness than godly wisdom.) The truth is, it matters very little to God where you go to school or what career you pursue or even whom you marry, as long as clear biblical principles aren’t being violated. It’s flawed thinking to believe that one profession is holier than another. Or that school x is more spiritual than school y. Or that one woman who loves Jesus with her whole heart will make a better wife than another. (Yes, preference does matter, but one choice is not holier than another.) What God cares about is the heart of the person making the decision. A wise person will make a decision that aligns with his character, which is growing in conformity to God’s character. That person won’t marry a godless spouse; he won’t pursue a career that shames the name of Christ; and he won’t abandon the faith no matter where he goes to school. It just won’t happen. If the decision maker has a godly character, the decision will be just what God wants.*
*A final thought: Sometimes we think that a decision that turns out to be difficult (a hard marriage, a dead-end job, a leaky roof) means that God was not in it, or that the choice “wasn’t His will.” This is not necessarily so. We must trust that God sovereignly places trials in the lives of His children because He’s concerned that they grow in conformity to Christ. But that idea is a whole post unto itself. In the meantime, check out Romans 8:28-30.