As the year winds down, and I reflect on how I need to grow in Christ, I’ve taken some time to look back on the year and spot some weaknesses. It’s been quite helpful, not condemning at all. Growth in Christ is what brings us deep joy. The trouble is that many of us are so preoccupied with petty joys that we fail to slow down long enough to find deep joy. We’re moving too fast for joy, for intimacy with Christ. So where am I weak? Where do I want to grow? In wisdom.
I Want Wisdom
I’ve been reading through James in my daily devotions along with my Fight Club. A major theme that has emerged is wisdom. This is a dominant theme in the book (along with suffering, good works, our speech, and our wealth), but it is wisdom, in particular, that has my attention. On the threshold of a new year, a new decade, and my 37th year, I want to become wise. I don’t want just more knowledge; I want to use knowledge in such a richly applied way that it bears fruit in wisdom, that in turn nourishes others.
I don’t want just more knowledge; I want to use knowledge in such a richly applied way that it bears fruit in wisdom.
What is Wisdom?
As it turns out, biblical wisdom is very different from what typically comes to mind. The image that jumps to mind is that of a slightly older man, hair flecked with grey, who measures his words and offers advice from his years of living. While this can be helpful, it’s not the picture of biblical wisdom. Alternatively, we may think of words well-timed: “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word timely spoken” (Prov 25:11) Indeed, words can be wise or be foolish, but wisdom, according to James, goes even deeper.
James tells us that God promises us generous wisdom if we will ask with faith (1:5-6). Using the wrong notion of wisdom, I have taken this to mean that God will tell me what to do with my life, what decision I should make, what his will is for a particular issue. But wisdom is deeper than that. Reading this verse along with the rest of James, it makes better sense to read the promise of wisdom as a promise for God to reveal his character (not merely his “will”) in our lives. Wisdom is not just the revealing of God’s will, but the revelation of God in us.
Wisdom is More than Words
When we ask God for wisdom in life, we should be asking him: “How do you want to form Christ in me through my circumstances?” James says it like this: “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (3:13). In other words, wisdom is seen not just heard. It is visible in our conduct amidst life circumstances.
Those who are easily frustrated, embittered, or angered reveal their fundamental foolishness, a refusal to ask for character-forming wisdom in life. Biblical wisdom, however, humbly searches out God’s purposes to change us in life circumstances. It sees every setting, however difficult or delightful, as sovereignly arranged to bring us closer to Christ (in imitation & intimacy). We are given wisdom (how to change), when we humbly ask God what he is doing around us. In fact, what he is doing around has everything to do with what he wants to do in us. Wise people ask God how he wants to form Christlike character in us.
People who want wisdom ask: “How do you want to form Christ in me through my circumstances?”
How Can I Become Wise?
If wisdom is more than words, and our conduct reveals our wisdom-forged character, how then do we get wise? James tells us to pray. Not cheap, passing prayers, but real conversation with God. Actually, more than conversation, pleading or praying with faith.
Wisdom begins by slowing down enough to ask God how he wants to change us (Jas 1). We see how God wants to change us by humbly reading his Word and looking for what needs to change (Jas 3). Then, after seeing it, wisdom purifies us, it replaces impure motives with pure ones. It might expose an addictive pattern in social networking as narcissistic, lead you to repentance over self-worship, and into rest in God’s perfect approval and love. When wisdom operates on us at a deep heart level, it will lead to a real change in conduct. The reason for this is that the Spirit is the wisdom of God. We will be slower to seek the praises of men (checking social networks incessantly), slower to speak, slower to anger, prone to listen, serve, and endure. Wisdom so forms Christ in us that we don’t have to be right. It bring us so close to Jesus that we don’t have to be loved by everyone. It makes us into people who gently reason with others and are patient with those who “just don’t get it.” Wisdom aligns us with Christ.
Wisdom gets under our skin and changes us, purifies our motives, and brings us right alongside Christ.
Wisdom doesn’t come from old age; it “comes from above” where every good and perfect gift originates. Wisdom is: “pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits…” (3:17). Wisdom is more than words and deeper than direction; it is God revealed in us. Wisdom gets under our skin and changes us, purifies our motives, and brings us right alongside Christ. When God tells us to ask for wisdom, He doesn’t want to merely to give us “the answer”; he wants to give us himself.
I’m hopeful that God will generously give me wisdom in 2011. I’ll continue to ask those around me to pray for and with me, to encourage me to search for Christ-forming character in all my life circumstances, whatever the Lord appoints. Though perhaps not at the top of your list, I do hope that you’ll seek God for wisdom this year too.