Seeking Wisdom from God
As we welcome Josh Bond into his new role of Pastoral Resident on the Church on Mill staff, we also welcome his writing. Here, he has explored the topic of wisdom, why it is so precious, and how to seek it.
We face thousands of decisions to make every day. We want to make good decisions. We want to live in such a way that benefits us, that makes us happy, that sets us up for success, that provides for our families and loved ones, that promotes our well-being and fulfills us. But of course, it’s often unclear which decisions will do that for us. Should I take the new job or stay where I’m at? Should I get married or stay single? Should I go to college or just get a job? Should I spend my mornings before work exercising or reading? How should I parent my kids? Should I save, invest, or donate my extra income? The list goes on!
Do any of these questions have a right or wrong answer? These issues lie in a gray area in between right and wrong. It’s always right to love God; it’s always wrong to sin. But deciding to move houses or change majors? That’s more complicated, right?
It’s the business of wisdom to navigate these dilemmas. In order to choose good decisions among many options, the Bible exhorts us to “buy wisdom,” “seek wisdom,” “find wisdom” from God (Prov 1:7; 23:23; 4:5; 3:13). So, what is biblical wisdom, and how do we seek it from God?
What is Wisdom?
We often equate wisdom with knowledge—as if to say being wise simply means possessing a lot of information. But let’s reconsider wisdom according to how the Bible uses the word.
In the Bible (especially in the Old Testament), wisdom includes knowledge, but it finally aims at action. In this way, wisdom in the Bible is a skill, an art, a technique. The Old Testament frequently uses the word for “wisdom” to describe the skill of craftsmen—like sailors or blacksmiths—in executing their crafts (see Exo 31:1–3). When the Bible refers generally to wisdom, it has in mind the living of life itself.
So, we can give a working definition of wisdom: Wisdom is the skill of living well. Wisdom includes both the knowledge of what living well means and the ability to act accordingly: wisdom results in doing.
Who doesn’t want to live well?
What’s God Got to Do with It?
Ask yourself where you turn for wisdom. Think of a pivotal decision you’ve made in your life. What influenced you to make your decision? Did you consult your spouse or friends for advice? Maybe you acted according to the example set by your parents and family. Maybe you conformed to cultural norms or maybe you looked to experts on the topic you were considering. The Bible would not say that all of these approaches are necessarily wrong but even still, Scripture points us to a different starting point when it comes to wisdom.
The book of Proverbs is all about wisdom. An introductory poem in the book explains in no uncertain terms that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (1:7). In other words, if we want to live well, we should begin by revering God.
But what does that have to do with the situations we face everyday? What does fear of the LORD have to do with our finances, our marriages, our career, our parenting, and so on? Let me suggest that if we have doubts about God’s involvement in these intimate details of our lives, we should reevaluate the scope of God’s own wisdom and sovereignty.
On the one hand, we should seek wisdom from God because he is supremely wise. God is the creator of everything that exists. That doesn’t just mean God created every thing, but also every principle, rule, pattern, and process which the universe runs by. God actively controls everything in the universe (Job 38:4–38; Col 1:17). He likewise created humankind (Gen 1:26–8) and intimately understands every human individual (Ps 139, Act 17:28) and human society (Dan 2:31–45, Rom 13:1–7). Proverbs describes the way God made the universe and humankind by saying that God used wisdom to create the world:
The LORD possessed me [Wisdom] at the beginning of his work
The first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first before the beginning of the earth.
In other words, God created the universe in such a way that every aspect of it is interwoven with his understanding and character. God knows how things work. We live and act in God’s world. So, if we are seeking to be wise in any area of life, we should go to God, the creator of the world who is infinitely wise!
But it’s not just because God is wise that we should go to him for wisdom. God is not just our wise creator—he is also our sovereign Lord. As God’s creatures, we’re not free to live in whatever way we please. One way of understanding this is to return to our definition of wisdom: the skill of living well. What does it mean to live well? Many modern Americans would probably say that living well means pursuing your own happiness in a way that doesn’t hurt anybody else, or living a morally good life. But Scripture reveals that we are not free to define what living well means. We are bound to live according to God’s definition of living well because he has authority over us. As far as the Bible is concerned, any wisdom that does not begin with the fear of the LORD is no wisdom at all.
So then, what does God say living well looks like? Scripture, we have seen, says that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the LORD, but what is the end of wisdom? It’s the same end as the end goal of all of our Christian lives:
. . .we know that when he [Christ] appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
—1 Jn 3:2
The life well lived according to Scripture is a life that ends in us conforming to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29) and thereby discerning the will of God for our lives (Rom 12:2). In that sense, true, biblical wisdom is not a matter of us mastering a skill to make “right” decisions for our personal gain. Instead, it’s a gift from God by which we learn how to live how God created us to live. By the Spirit’s help, we become the sort of people that make decisions according to the will of God.
Seeking Wisdom from God
So how do we translate that truth into our concrete, everyday dilemmas? How do we live life well and make wise decisions? Let’s finish by considering four ways which we can seek wisdom from God in our lives.
- Fear the Lord
We must take seriously what Proverbs says about wisdom beginning with the fear of the LORD. We fear God by taking seriously his authority as Lord of our lives. If we’ve embraced God’s lordship through Jesus, we can seek wisdom fearfully by prioritizing God’s wisdom above the other sources of wisdom. If we come to a decision in life and we don’t even consider what God has to say about it, we’ve not taken his authority seriously in our lives. If we prefer the wisdom of our culture, family, feeling, etc. above the wisdom of God, we have failed to fear the LORD.
- Seek Wisdom in God’s Word
The Bible is full of God’s wisdom. Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes together are called the “wisdom books.” If you’re looking to grow in wisdom, they’re a great place to look. Proverbs in particular is full of general wisdom principles relating to every topic under the sun. Let those books ‘soak into your mind’ before you’re faced with big dilemmas in life in order to prepare.
- Pray for Wisdom
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God…and it will be given to him” (Jas 1:5). Pray for wisdom in general. Pray for wisdom in specific situations. Pray confidently, knowing that the Holy Spirit dwells in you. Pray for him to show you his will, and conform you to the image of Jesus. Ask brothers and sisters in the church to pray for you. If you think you have prayed enough, pray more.
- Cling to Christ
Finally, remember that wisdom is not something we seek in order to earn God’s favor. Our sin clouds our judgement—it makes fools of us (Rom 1:21–23). Apart from the renewing of our minds in Christ, we can’t acquire or buy wisdom. In fact, Jesus is the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:18–31) and he is the perfect embodiment of a human living wisely. (If you want to look further into this idea, read Proverbs 8 and compare Wisdom to the Word in John 1!) God has declared that living well means living in union with Jesus and being conformed to his image. Cling to Jesus, the wisdom of God, and find life in him.