At the Corner of Wisdom and God
Topic: Wisdom Passage: Proverbs 4:911–4:19
At the Corner of Wisdom and God
Pastor Allen Snapp 9/21/14
If you’ve ever played Spider Solitaire at some point you probably found yourself using the “undo” button. For those who aren’t familiar with the game, if you choose to move a card and then regret that move, there is an “undo” button that allows you to turn the hands of time back a few seconds and it’s as if you never made that move. By hitting the “undo” button over and over again you can even undo a whole series of choices that are sequentially built on each other. I have found that there is usually a pivotal play that locked me in the direction of losing, and if I go back to that pivotal play and replay it differently, I can then go forward and win the game.
The thing is, when I do win that way, I don’t really feel like I’ve won legitimately. The legitimate way to win is to try to make the right moves the first time, but live with the consequences of your choices either way. That’s really the way life works. There is no “undo” button in life that we can hit whenever we make a choice we regret making or do something we regret doing or say something we regret saying. We have to live with the consequences of the choices we make and sometimes those consequences are pretty serious. There are “pivotal plays” in life that, when played wrong, can end up doing real (and sometimes irreversible) damage to relationships we care about, or collapse our future right before our eyes. But there are also innumerable smaller, less consequential moves we make every day that have an effect, either for good or for bad, on our lives.
The Bible offers us something that helps us make better choices going forward, both in the smaller, daily choices we make, and at those “pivotal play” moments in life. And while the Bible doesn’t offer us an “undo” button, it does offer us a path that can redeem even the past choices that we regret and help bring something good out of those choices. That something is called wisdom, and the Bible says it is more precious than silver and worth being prized. It is very valuable because it teaches us how to live well. There are countless verses on wisdom in the Bible, but let’s begin by turning to Prov. 1.
Last week we began a series called At the Corner of Life and God and we’re talking about how God wants to intersect with our lives – not in an “one hour every Sunday” kind of way, but in a day by day, hour by hour kind of way. God wants to intersect with our lives where the rubber meets the road, where our lives are the realest, and often where they are the messiest. The Lord wants to enter into those rooms of our lives that we close off from everyone and don’t want anyone to know about, not in order to humiliate or hurt us, but in order to bring healing and real change to our lives.
One real practical way the Lord does that is by helping us grow in wisdom. Wisdom is all about how we live our lives. One writer calls it the art of living skillfully. When you think of wisdom, don’t think of “old” because, while wisdom can certainly come with age, it doesn’t necessarily come with age. Someone can grow old without growing wise. And young people can possess wisdom far beyond their years. Daniel was a young man in the Bible who was wise beyond his years and because of that wisdom every choice he made was met with success. As a very young man, and a brand new king, Solomon asked God to give him wisdom to rule his kingdom. God gave it to him, and it’s his words we read in Prov. 4.
The Bible often pictures life as a series of paths that we can take or avoid. Some paths lead to life and health and all good things. Some paths lead to sorrow and regret and even death. In this passage we are encouraged to take the paths of uprightness and avoid the paths of wickedness, but Proverbs warns us about other paths too. It warns us of the path of anger. And the path of hastiness. The path of greed. The path of laziness. The path of adultery. The point is, there are many paths that can look attractive at the beginning but lead to deep regret and death. Here’s the point: these paths lead somewhere. We end up in life where we end up because of the paths we choose.
Have you ever met someone who seems to be constantly putting out fires? Their lives go from one crisis to another, one emergency to another, one conflict to another. I’m not talking about someone who is facing a string of trials – sometimes God does allow us to go through seasons of hardship and trial for His own purposes in our lives. Job comes to mind. I’m talking about someone who is constantly putting out self-imposed fires in their life. Relationships seem to start off well, but more often than not they come crashing down over time. Maybe career doors start to open, but time after time they find themselves at odds with their boss and those doors quietly close. Often such a person has a hard time making a connection between the paths they choose and the destinations they arrive at. In their mind the reason they have so many relational conflicts is that they are surrounded by idiots. The reason they are in trouble at work is because their boss has it out for them – he doesn’t treat them the way he does everyone else. Wisdom would be to pause and take an honest assessment: is there a connection between the paths I chose and the destination I keep arriving at?
Wisdom helps us discern the right paths from the wrong paths so that we can take the right paths or leave the wrong paths and move over to the right paths if we get on the wrong path. And what verse 18 and 19 tells us is that the more we choose the right paths, the brighter and clearer the right path becomes. And the more we choose the wrong paths, the harder it becomes for us to see that the path is wrong. Life gets brighter and clearer for the wise. Life gets darker and more mysterious for the foolish. Such a person asks “why does this keep happening? Why am I here?” but these questions don’t lead to answers, they don’t know over what they stumble.
I want to share four components the Bible says is essential to wisdom. This isn’t exhaustive because wisdom is as expansive and varied as life is expansive and varied, but these four things will help us grow in wisdom.
- Wisdom begins with aligning our lives with God’s will
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom - Prov. 9:10
Wisdom begins with God because life begins with God. For the Christian the fear of the Lord is a good kind of fear –it’s not a terror that drives us away from God, because we know that Jesus has already taken our judgment on the cross, it’s a fear that drives us to God. We live out our lives in the sight of God.
Carved on my father’s gravestone is a verse from 1 John 2:17: whoever does the will of God abides (lives) forever. Life comes from obeying God’s will. Sometimes that will is very clearly laid out in God’s word and we are given clear and absolute directives. Do this. Don’t do that. As we stand at the beginning of a path that clearly leads to disobedience to God’s word: a temptation to steal from the company we work for, flirting with an adulterous relationship, lying to someone to spare us embarrassment, instead of thinking, “no one will know. No one will see.” we realize that the Lord sees. We get away with nothing. We want to live in God’s blessing and we fear His discipline so we refuse the wicked path.
But in other decisions and considerations in life, aligning our lives with God’s will isn’t so much a directive as it is a direction. God’s word is a lamp to our feet leading in the direction of a life submitted to God, a life aligned with God’s will.
A light to light our path(s)
Years ago when we were living on Long Island, I decided to take a walk in the woods with Jenn and Jared. It was a beautiful Easter Sunday, Janice was on the phone with one of her sisters, and as we waved goodbye we thought we were just going out for a short adventure in the woods across the street from our house. Jenn was only about 7 years old and Jared was about 4 so they were both quite young. At some point we got off the trail and got completely turned around and I could not find the way back to the trails. After a while it started to get late, Jared was now too tired to walk so I had to carry him, and I began to get concerned because I knew that the woods stretched on for miles and miles and if we went in the wrong direction we wouldn’t make it out of the woods before nightfall.
After panicking slightly – running (with Jared in my arms) in this direction looking for a path, then running in that direction, but finding no path, I realized that I needed to stop trying to find a specific path and instead determine which way was the right direction and go in that direction. So I thought about the layout of the woods and realized that the only direction that would get us out of the woods in time was to head south, so using the sun I determined which way was the right direction and we set out in that direction. After about 20 minutes of walking I remember the relief I felt as I could see through the woods signs of civilization and we came out on a street not far from our home. Here’s the thing: the sun didn’t direct me to specific trails, what it did was give me an absolute direction and then I chose the paths I wanted using the sun to guide me in the right direction.
I think that’s often how God guides and leads us. Through His word, and by the leading of His Spirit, He guides us in a direction more often than down a specific path. There are things that the Bible gives us very specific direction about. If you’re wondering if you should commit adultery or do something illegal, the Bible gives very direct instruction: don’t do it. Those are paths that will lead to deep regret and disgrace. But there are many decisions in life that don’t have a specific Bible verse attached to them. Should we buy or rent a home? Should I take this job transfer? Should I marry this person? How do I deal with that argumentative person at work? How do we help our rebellious teenager? How can my spouse and I work through our relational conflicts? And on and on.
Certainly there are principles that we want to consider in these decisions: will I be going into a burdensome degree of debt if I buy this home? Do I know the character of this person I am thinking of marrying? Do they have a strong Christian faith? And there are practical considerations: what will be the pro’s and con’s of this job transfer, so on. But even after we have weighed those principles into the equation, we may not have a clear answer. And that’s just it: God doesn’t want to give us a formula: do this, then do that, then do the next thing. He wants to give us wisdom: a sense of discernment and sound judgment that gives us a fix on the right direction, though maybe not the specific path.
There might be some here this morning that are in that place and I want to give you this counsel: don’t get all hung up over whether you’ll make the wrong decision or not. Just submit your decision and your heart to the Lord and then proceed in the direction that you have peace in. That you have faith in. If the Lord has another direction for you, He’ll shut the door. The important thing is to walk towards the light of the fear of the Lord.
Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord, aligning our lives with the will of God.
- Wisdom admits how small our lives really are
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12
It might seem counterintuitive to think that recognizing how small and brief our lives are here on earth would lead us to live life more skillfully, but it’s actually really good for us to keep in mind. It helps us “get a heart of wisdom”. In context the Psalmist is contrasting God’s greatness and infiniteness with our smallness and temporariness. This isn’t saying that our lives are worthless or unimportant, but it’s seeing our lives in the right proportion to who God is. There is a strength that comes from knowing that we aren’t the strong ones, God is. That everything doesn’t depend on us, it depends on God.
- It helps our hearts cultivate humility
We are coming to the final days of what’s been called the “greatest generation”. There are not many left who lived through WWII. They truly were a great generation, but one characteristic I’ve noticed that is very prevalent in that generation is a quiet and unassuming humility. They did great things but they weren’t impressed with themselves. There seemed to be a deep undercurrent of humility – it wasn’t a false or superficial humility, it seemed to bubble up from a deep undercurrent that ran through their character. To live our lives aware of our smallness and God’s bigness will lead us to a deep undercurrent of humility which is a part of our hearts “getting wisdom”.
- It advises us to invest our numbered days wisely
If this life is brief, then we want to invest it wisely, not fritter it away in worthless pursuits. Our priorities are reordered when we recognize the brevity of life and the eternalness of Jesus’ kingdom. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. It’s about priorities and Jesus is saying that what is eternal should be our highest priority.
- Wisdom looks beyond the immediate to the future
Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” Luke 7:35
The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty. Prov. 22:3
Wisdom looks beyond the immediate to the future. Wisdom looks ahead. It sees good in the future and accepts present sacrifice to get that good. It sees danger down the road and gets off the road.
There is often a tug of war between the immediate pay-off and the delayed pay-off. Folly often has an immediate pay-off. Wisdom often has a delayed pay-off. It’s not always applauded in the moment, its vindication is often a generation down the road. The rightness of a decision often has to be judged over time, not in the moment.
Think about what regret is: it’s rarely the product of doing something you don’t want to do or mean to do. It’s often the product of doing something we want in the moment only to find the long term results break our hearts. Get in the habit of thinking about the consequences of your actions and choices. Don’t want something so badly that you put blinders on and ignore the inner warnings that this will not go well. Hold to God’s way and will even when it costs and hurts, and there will be eternal good that will vindicate your wisdom.
Wisdom looks beyond the immediate to the future.
- Wisdom comes to Jesus
Finally, the most important step to take to get wisdom and grow in wisdom is to come to Christ. Wisdom comes to Christ. John Piper says this about Jesus: Solomon spoke God's wisdom. Jesus is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30). Others had spoken truth; he is the truth. Others had pointed the way to life; he is the way and the life (John 14:6). Others had given promises, but "all the promises of God find their yes in him" (2 Corinthians 1:20). Others had offered God's forgiveness; Jesus bought it by his death. Therefore, in him are "hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3).
I began this message saying that life doesn’t have an “undo” button. Actually in a way Jesus does offer us an undo button. By his blood our sins are covered as if we had never committed them. For those who trust in him he promises that even our greatest regrets and heartaches will work together for our good. Jesus takes those wrong choices, even those “pivotal plays” that we so wish we could have back, and does something better than undo them. He redeems them.
If you have never asked Jesus to be your Lord and Savior, I want to invite you to do so this morning. It will be the wisest thing you could ever do. Let’s pray.