Show Me the Wisdom

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Proverbs 2:1-2

Understand how to obtain wisdom.

My first job out of college was as a District Executive for the Boy Scouts. While that title sounds marginally impressive, it basically meant that I had to go to lots of meetings and deal with the three M’s of Scouting: Membership, Manpower, and Money.

Money, not surprisingly, was often the hardest of the three. While we could find kids who wanted to be members of Cub Scout Packs and parents who were willing to help lead them, shaking loose cash was tougher–tougher than doing it in church.

I remember a trainer who gave us his simple, two-step model for raising money:

  1. Find out who has the money.
  2. Ask them for some of it.

We laughed at that system at first, but then we realized it was amazing. How else would you raise money?

How do we obtain wisdom? The system should be very similar.

Find out who has the wisdom. That would be God. The world is full of people who profess to have wisdom, but God’s wisdom far exceeds that of the world.

Ask Him for it. It won’t suffice for God to just possess the wisdom if we don’t transfer it to ourselves. We do that by listening to God’s voice, by praying and asking for wisdom on particular matters and in general, by reading the scripture to glean wisdom there, and then by applying what we learn to our lives.

Wisdom is not in short supply. God has enough for all of us, but we can’t benefit unless we obtain it and use it.

  • What worldly sources of wisdom do you tend to trust? Do you ever trust them more than God?
  • When was the last time that you obtained wisdom from God about some specific matter? How did it happen?
  • Will you resolve to regularly read the wisdom of the Bible and pray that God will help you understand and apply it to your life?

Back to School

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Proverbs 3:16-18

Understand the benefits of wisdom.

A few years ago, I had a conversation with my older brother, Wayne. With a ten-year gap between us, we have never been extremely close, so the really meaningful exchanges we’ve had over the years are memorable. On this occasion, he argued that he didn’t learn anything of value in high school.

“You’re wrong,” I insisted.

He smiled and shook his head. “No, seriously. I didn’t learn anything in high school–nothing I’ve ever used.”

But he was wrong. Wayne has experienced success running his own business over the years. The things that he has managed to do could not have happened had his learning ceased in middle school. I tried to make my point clear to him: “You can’t point to anything that you learned, but you learned things you aren’t aware of. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to function like you do.”

Ideally, formal education impacts every part of our lives. Biblical wisdom is similar and it doesn’t depend on idealism. When we embrace Biblical wisdom, we reap benefits in our health and our bank account. We enjoy a happier, more secure life.

When I teach students to write, they often resist my modest wisdom on the matter. I want to shake them by the shoulders and say, “Trust me! I’ve been doing this since before you were born.” Then they’ll try something I suggest and marvel at the outcome.

If mere human wisdom, finite and imperfect, can yield such good results, how much more can we expect from the wisdom of the one who created the world and the rules by which it operates?

  • What aspects of your life are better because of your openness to God’s wisdom? What aspects are not better?
  • How do the benefits of wisdom–long life, wealth, honor, pleasure, and happiness–feed each other in your experience?
  • What part does learning about and praying for wisdom have in your devotional life? What can you do to improve that?

Knowledge without Wisdom

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Proverbs 4:7-8

Understand what wisdom is.

If you’d like to know about one of the books of the Bible, you could spend a few bucks buying one of the Anchor Bible commentaries. The volume for Song of Solomon is about 740 pages long and includes an index to the Ugaritic references in that book. Ugaritic? What’s that? And the bibliography spans 55 pages of text. This is a monumental work of scholarship, written and edited by Marvin Pope, a Yale University Hebrew scholar who has read everything that can be read on this topic. I guarantee that you do not now nor will you ever know as much about the Song of Solomon as does the man responsible for this book. Don’t feel bad. My level of knowledge will never approach his.

As impressive as I find Dr. Pope’s learning, I do not know that the man possesses true wisdom. The faculty offices at the old-line divinity schools of this nation–Harvard, Duke, Yale, and so forth–are full of really, really learned men and women. They know a lot. But do they possess wisdom? That’s a more open question.

Learning is a positive thing. Learning allows us to expand human knowledge, to achieve feats of engineering and medicine, to propose new legal and economic theories. But without wisdom, learning can be a dangerous thing, providing nuclear weapons without the sense to control them, providing novel financing tools without the restraint to use them ethically. Learning without wisdom believes that because we can do something, we may do it.

When our knowledge outstrips our wisdom, bad things follow.

  • In what area do you possess the most knowledge? Do you possess and use the wisdom necessary to use that knowledge?
  • Do you have pride in your level of knowledge in any area? How does that compare with your feelings about the level of wisdom you possess?
  • Do you, like Solomon, routinely ask God to provide you with greater levels of wisdom?

From the First Fruits

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Proverbs 3:9-10

Tend to your relationship with money

I have a confession to make. For years–decades even–I have been a decidedly imperfect tither. Throughout all of those years, I had perfectly good intentions, but somehow I had allowed my lesser self to control my better self, convincing it that I should do the old “tithe on the net” trick. You know what I’m talking about. For years, earnest Christians have asked themselves whether they should tithe on their net paycheck, what they actually receive, or the gross, before the government gets their mitts on it. I even conned myself into believing that if I tithed on my tax refund then I was all square. Frankly, I’m better at math to believe that!

I’d hate to become a stumbling block to anyone who is now, in good conscience, tithing on their net paycheck. It’s definitely better to give based on the paycheck amount than not to give. But I’ve become convinced that there’s no way that I personally can be a first-fruits giver, a giver in faith, if I don’t look at the total amount, before taxes, of my check.

God has given me what He has given me, and it is enough and to excess when I trust Him with that. Sure I can rationalize an after-tax tithe, but in my heart, I know that it’s all God’s money.

  • In what area of your life, including finances, do you struggle to trust God’s provision?
  • In what ways do your possessions own you rather than the other way around?
  • When you pray about your giving, does God give you peace about how you relate to your finances? If not, what will you do about it?

 

Introverts Unite!

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Galatians 5:13-15

Tend to your relationship with others

Are you one of those people who remembers almost everybody you meet? You know the names of people’s kids and their pets, when they had their bunion surgery, and how they order at Chipotle? I have to admit that if you’re one of those people, then you possess a talent that I do not. I’m not a natural networker. I’m an introvert. I don’t have dozens of people constantly blowing up my phone with texts and calls. I just don’t have that knack.

But then maybe the problem is not a lack of ability but a lack of desire or dedication. I do find myself capable of remembering a good number of things. Perhaps the reason that I don’t maintain those interpersonal relationships is not a lack of knack but a lack of want-to.

Honestly, I’m the sort of person who can operate in isolation and be fairly happy. If nobody comes over to my house this weekend, I’m good with that. But I recognize that God not only made us to be in relationship with Him but in relationship with each other.

To that end, even though it doesn’t come naturally, I try to make and maintain those relationships. And curiously, even though it runs against my nature, I find that these efforts almost always pay off in some manner.

Maybe there’s hope for the introverts of this world.

  • What relationships have you allowed to atrophy in recent days? What can you do to restore and nurture them?
  • What relationships would you be better off severing?
  • Do you pray regularly for God’s assistance in maintaining proper, healthy relationships?