Reformed Quarterly Volume 10, Issue 1
“I can’t decide!” How many times has this been your lament? Life-changing decisions, especially concerning careers, are not easy to make. They require real wisdom — a commodity seemingly in short supply today. Some writers contend that the world has grown greatly in knowledge, but not at all in wisdom. Some still appeal to the ancient writers to find the necessary wisdom for the complexities of life.
In any case, one fundamental principle concerning wisdom seems to have endured the ages. Wisdom is not exhausted on one individual. A wise person seeks wisdom in a multitude of counselors. For the Christian this is particularly true. It is within the body of Christ corporately, not in the isolation of individual decision-making, that wisdom is found.
Sometimes, however, the corporate body fails to ascertain the mind of God in a matter. William Carey would have never gone to India if he had succumbed to the declarations of the body politic. Nevertheless, even Carey was not alone; others supported him in his sense of calling. Wisdom, then, does not listen simply to popular opinion but is attentive to the leading of the Spirit which comes through the corporate hearing of God’s Word.
Not every critical decision in life grows out of a crisis situation. My wife and I were living in Hong Kong when we received the invitation to come to RTS. We had intended to finish our term in Hong Kong and return to our work at Missionary Internship in Farmington, Michigan. It had been a satisfying twenty years teaching and helping missionary appointees. How should we decide between two options which were both satisfying and challenging? My wife and I began to pray concerning this decision; our prayer was a prayer for wisdom.
For the Christian, the important determination is not simply how to plan his life, but how to glorify God in the pattern of choices which will direct his existence. Fundamentally, the wisdom he seeks is not of this world but from God. Proverbs 8 describes this godly wisdom and where we can find it.
WISDOM IS A WAY
Proverbs 8:2 tells us that wisdom takes her stand where the paths of life cross. Wisdom, therefore, is present in the transitional experiences of life. The prayer for wisdom seeks to discern the pathway one is to travel. Perhaps you have traveled a certain path for several years and now wonder whether you should move in a different direction. A new path crosses in front of you. Should you make the turn or continue on in the direction you are headed? At these points in life, Proverbs teaches, wisdom places herself in a position to be called upon.
But frequently we do not listen to her counsel. We can’t hear her gentle instruction because we are too distracted by listening to the world’s wisdom. There is the story of two men riding down the freeway at 70 miles per hour. The passenger says to the driver, “We should stop and turn around. We are going in the wrong direction!” The driver responds, “Let’s not. We are making such good time!”
If we are traveling down a particular path in the wrong direction, it really does not matter how efficiently we are moving. The world values size and speed. Listen to the language of our culture — bigger is better, faster is better. But the Lord constantly turns the values of this world upside down. He tells us that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. The call of Christ is not to high status, but to compassionate service (Matthew 20:20-28). We cannot discern the pathway to follow Christ by looking at the world’s symbols of success.
WISDOM IS TRUTH
A pluralistic society finds tolerance very appealing. Referring to some “born again” friends, an unbeliever once said, “Hey, if that meets their needs, it’s fine with me.” Whether or not the doctrine of regeneration was true did not matter in the slightest to this fellow — only whether it bore functional value to an individual.
Proverbs 8:7 teaches that wisdom is truth; she never chooses a course of action because it is popular. The will of God many times leads into paths of life which involve difficulty and sacrifice. A friend of mine is a well-known mission executive who has spent many years in evangelism among Muslims. In his university days he was well-recognized for his scholarship and leadership abilities. One of his former classmates, who is now president of their alma mater, inquired about my friend recently. “Is he still a missionary? If he had stayed in the university, he would be sitting in this office instead of me!”
The wisdom of the world will offer many alluring opportunities to rationalize God’s truth, and Christians are not immune to accepting such lies. We are, according to Luther, simultaneously justified and sinful. I hear Christians who are struggling with the choice of changing jobs say, “If there’s a salary increase, I’ll know it is the will of God.” But when I read the New Testament, I am more often confronted with the call to “deny oneself, take up the cross, and follow Christ.” Wisdom tells us to avoid allowing the patterns of this world to mold us like jello. The wisdom of God often leads us into lifestyles which are counter-cultural. Therefore, following Christ will often bring us into conflict with popular wisdom.
Being honest with ourselves is hard; rationalizing our decisions is so easy. We must analyze our bottom-line values carefully and truthfully. We see, then, that wisdom is necessary to guard us against ourselves. For this reason the writer of Proverbs emphasizes its true value:
Choose my instruction rather than silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her. (v. 10)
WISDOM IS LIFE
All too often I am asked, “What should I do with my life?” The question comes not only from young people trying to discern a career path, but also increasingly from people who have had careers, both successful and unsuccessful, and are now trying to figure out what life is all about. The hectic existence of a successful businessperson has brought financial security, but no peace of mind. What, they begin to ask, does it mean to live? The Bible speaks of people being physically alive, but spiritually dead. To be alive, then, means more than having physical life. The real question confronting our society is, “What gives meaning and purpose to life?”
Proverbs draws a compelling picture about the nature of true life. Here is a picture of an individual whose bottom-line values are synchronized with the values of the Kingdom — a life dedicated to offering spiritual sacrifices to God. We are to seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness (Matthew 6:33). The writer of Hebrews says that the sacrifices which please God are praising His name, doing good deeds, and sharing our possessions (Hebrews 13:15,16). This, then, is true living. The writer of Proverbs says it well:
Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For whoever finds me finds life…(vv.34,35)
A number of years ago a group of North American mission leaders were in San Jose, Costa Rica, for a conference on Latin American missions. At the final meeting, Costa Rica’s president addressed the group. He was an active layman in the Catholic renewal movement and regularly attended Bible study. He began by saying, “What you accumulate in life has no enduring value — only what you give away.” Wisdom is accessible to both presidents and children. Both must decide if they are ordering their lives according to the values of the Kingdom of God.
The writer of Proverbs describes wisdom as a way, as truth, and as life. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Jesus is the wisdom of God (I Corinthians 1:30). The invitation of Jesus is to all who are weary and heavy laden to take His yoke (Matthew 11:28-30). The writer of the apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus speaks of taking upon oneself the yoke of wisdom (51:26). In taking the yoke of wisdom, therefore, we are to learn of Christ. Wisdom begins by offering our heart to God promptly and sincerely. So it is that the reverence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).
The prayer by God’s people for the will of God is a prayer for the mind of Christ. The prayer for the mind of Christ is the prayer for wisdom. The prayer for wisdom is a prayer for a demonstration of the power of the Kingdom of God. When we ask for wisdom, we discover how liberal God is. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
Everyone confronted with a decision wants to choose wisely. Why, then, are there so many regrets connected with life’s decisions? The answer is quite simple. Instead of correctly discerning the mind of Christ in our decisions, we often allow them to be shaped by the values of our culture. True wisdom is desiring and choosing the things that Christ values. Frequently, the wise choice will not lead to ease and satisfaction; in fact, sometimes the call of Christ will lead us into suffering and extreme difficulty. However, the life that is dominated by the values of Christ guarantees a joyful life that is well worth living.