If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking (James 1:5 NLT).
Plenty of very intelligent people have made a mess of their lives. Maybe you know that all too well.
Still, we’re often surprised when reasonably well-educated, successful, capable, put-together people do stupid things. Or maybe we’re not. After all, we’ve all done stupid things. We knew better, but what we knew somehow failed to translate into what we did. What we all come to learn (hopefully) is that there’s a big difference between being smart and being wise.
Being smart can get you into an ivy league school, earn you an advanced degree and land you in an enviable career. Being smart can make you savvy and successful in the world of commerce and business. But smarts alone will not help you live a life that’s meaningful and rewarding. For that we need something more. For that we need wisdom.
In his introduction to the book of Proverbs in The Message, Eugene Peterson explains wisdom with these words:
“Wisdom is the art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves. It has virtually nothing to do with information as such. A college degree is no certification of wisdom . . . Wisdom has to do with becoming skillful in honoring our parents and raising our children, handling our money and conducting our sexual lives, going to work and exercising leadership, using words well and treating friends kindly, eating and drinking healthily, cultivating emotions within ourselves and attitudes toward others that make for peace.”
A Short Prayer for Wisdom
Today we’ll focus on two questions regarding wisdom. First, what does wisdom look like? Second, how do we get it?
Let’s start with the question of how to get it. The New Testament letter of James wastes no time in giving us simple instruction that addresses this question. If you want wisdom, if you know you need it and sense that you lack it, then pray. Ask God for the wisdom you need.
I’ll get more specific. There’s a wonderful prayer for wisdom found in Psalm 90:12 – and it’s short. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
I’d urge you to memorize this verse of scripture. Repeat it often, but never mindlessly. Think about what you’re praying. If you do, here’s what you’ll notice.
None of us born innately wise. Wisdom doesn’t come naturally to some like athletic ability or being able to curl your tongue. Wisdom is acquired and usually it is acquired over time. But again, time alone doesn’t mean we’ll inevitably become wise. You can make it to a ripe old age and still lack wisdom.
Wisdom is passed on. It is taught. In the opening chapter of the book of Proverbs – the definitive biblical literature regarding wisdom – you can hear the way wisdom is passed from parent to child. Someone who has gained wisdom is speaking to someone who needs it. Yes, you can gain wisdom from experience. Experience is a powerful teacher. But it sure helps to have someone in your life who can share wisdom with you, or at least walk with you as you seek to acquire it.
Of course, when we pray, we’re asking God for the wisdom we need. “Teach us.” We’re pleading with God to use parents and mentors and scripture to teach us what wisdom is and what it means to live well.
Number Our Days
We don’t like this part of the prayer. The idea of numbering our days strikes us as depressing or even morbid.
The idea here is not that we should be overly concerned with knowing exactly how many days we have on this earth. We don’t need to know that. It probably wouldn’t be good for us if we did. However, what the Bible tells us repeatedly is that we are finite. When it comes to your days, you don’t need a precise number. You just need to know a number is there.
Newsflash people: You don’t have all the time in the world. Wisdom embraces this. As we number our days, we get clarity on our purpose and on our priorities. Perspective changes. Numbering our days doesn’t make us anxious. It makes us focused. It makes us grateful.
Heart of Wisdom
The final clause of this short prayer tells us where all of this is headed. We need to be taught to know the truth of our limitations so that we may ‘gain a heart of wisdom.’
The heart is where wisdom resides. Wisdom involves the mind and it requires you to engage your mind in clear thinking. But wisdom’s natural habitat isn’t in your brain. Wisdom sets up shop closer to the core of your ‘self.’ As we grow in wisdom God works on both the heart and the mind. The mind gathers knowledge and information. The heart is better able to grasp the insight that helps us know what to do with the information the mind gains.
So where do you need wisdom? What are you facing that has you stumped, or at least confused?
Do what James urges. Just ask. Pray. Look to God and seek the wisdom you need. And use the words of Psalm 90:12 to do this. God is a good and faithful teacher, and he’ll give what you need.
Generous God, our desire is to live well. We don’t always know how to do this, or what we think we know doesn’t lead us to the life we want. So give us the wisdom we need. Be our teacher. Help us to make peace with our limitations of strength and knowledge. Give us a heart of wisdom, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.