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Monday, October 10, 2011

Growing in Wisdom

Lately, spiritual growth seems to be a recurring theme on this blog.  I feel this is an important topic for the body of believers everywhere.  We are increasingly under attack in the world today, whether it is physical, verbal, or emotional persecution.  It doesn't matter where a Christian lives or who he or she knows.  Christians, because they are called by that name, will face trouble (Luke 21: 17).  This situation calls for wisdom, so believers today can handle trouble with grace and keep their faith strong under the battering ram.

The Beginning of Wisdom

It is easy to say that something "calls for wisdom," but in practice, it can seem very hard to acquire that wisdom.  What can I say?  Growing in wisdom (or any kind of positive growth) will necessarily be painful.  To achieve virtue, we have to put to death the non-virtuous aspects of ourselves.  To achieve wisdom, we have to put to death the foolishness in our hearts and our thinking.

Put to death?  That sounds pretty harsh, doesn't it?  Yet that is how Paul described it--like crucifying ourselves with Christ (Galatians 2: 20; 5: 24).  Wisdom requires that we not only identify what is foolish in our behavior, but also that we eliminate it, permanently, from our lives.  Cutting something out forevermore is as close to killing it as I think we can get with this metaphor.

Turning our back on foolishness is also easier said than done, but the Bible tells us how to do it.  To start with, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding," (Proverbs 9:10 NIV).  If we don't fear God--that is, if we don't have healthy respect for His lordship and judgement over how we live our lives--we will never be wise.  This is something that even Christians need to remember sometimes, so that we don't fall into the trap of believing that God is our "chum" and not our judge as well.  Yes, God is our friend, but He is also capable of disciplining us.  If we can't believe there are consequences for foolishness, then we will never be motivated to change.  This motivation is the first step of the process.

Ways of Getting Wisdom

God made many ways of acquiring wisdom available to us, and none of them require superhuman powers.  Remember, His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11: 29, 30).  Rather than threatening us with a vague feeling of doom at some future time, and no directions on how to avoid it, He sends people--yes, people!--into our lives to do the work of discipline and instruction all along the way.  It should start with our parents (Proverbs 1:8-9; 29:15), but if we weren't fortunate enough to have parents to faithfully teach us the wisdom of the Lord, God will send us friends and even strangers to correct us when we err. If we appreciate this when it happens, and recognize the lessons, we will grow wise.  A wise heart cherishes rebukes from God, no matter the method or the vessel.  As it says in Proverbs, "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses," (Proverbs 27:6 NIV), and in another place, "Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise," (Proverbs 19: 20 NIV).

There are faster, more painless, and more direct ways of gaining wisdom.  The first is to spend time reading the Bible and faithfully putting its teachings into practice.  It is preferable to learn something before punishment forces us to take it seriously, just like it was always better to truthfully answer "yes" when your mother asked you if you had cleaned your room, brushed your teeth, or taken out the trash.  I believe that studying the written word of God is what made Samuel a man of wisdom and a leader in Israel (1 Samuel 3: 19-22), since Eli, who was raising him, was not known to be a good parent who disciplined his sons.  We can benefit the same way today from just spending time reading the Bible daily and measuring our decisions by that standard.

The second painless way to gain wisdom is to directly ask God to give it to you.  This is like signing up for the accelerated course.  God can teach wisdom to any fool through discipline and from reading the Word, but it may take many repeated lessons before even the tiniest bit of wisdom is imparted.  Meanwhile, those who ask God for help in grasping the lessons will be given the ability to learn and understand more quickly.  What's the secret?  Human pride, which causes us not to ask for help when we need it, gets in the way of wisdom and shames us publicly through the necessity of repeated lessons (Proverbs 11: 2).  Humility, on the other hand, is rewarded by God.  Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, asked God for wisdom because he was already wise enough to understand the urgency of his need for wisdom as a ruler, and God granted it.

Growing in Wisdom

 So what can we learn from all of this?  As Daniel so wisely observed, God "gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning," (Daniel 2: 21b NIV).  Those who are wise will be given more, and those who persist in foolishness will continue to look foolish.  It is certainly better to grow in wisdom!

Today, let us yearn for that growth, because that is what God wants for us.  Let's go beyond the daily lessons and rebukes, and ask God to give us His wisdom.  We need it now, without further delay!  We need to learn from God's encouragement, rather than His punishment, because that is the best way.