Skill in the Art of Living

Our Need for Wisdom

Per the previous post, if we’re going to consider such things joy, and persevere through them, we’re going to need God’s wisdom instead of the wisdom of the world.

Wisdom, like faith, is a gift from God. In a real sense, to pray for wisdom reveals that God has already given you enough wisdom to pray for more, and that’s an encouraging thought indeed. And so, we must ask at this point, “what is wisdom”?

Ken Boa defines wisdom this way:

Wisdom has less to do with knowledge than it has to do with the application of knowledge in very specific ways. Wisdom is skill in the art of living life with each component under the dominion of God.

The Hebrew word for “wisdom” in the Old Testament is hokmah. In many places in the Old Testament, where you read the word “skill” or “wise” or “wisdom” it is the same Hebrew word, hokmah. Here are some examples,

  • Exodus 28:3 – Tell all the skilled men to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron, for his consecration, so he may serve me as priest.
  • Exodus 35:35 – He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers – all of them master craftsmen and designers.
  • Isaiah 40:20 – A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple.

Those italicized words rendered as, “skill” or “skilled,” are also rendered, “wise” or “wisdom,” elsewhere in the Old Testament. That is why Boa’s definition of wisdom carries the idea of “skill in the art of living.” It is the art of applying knowledge and understanding to concrete and specific situations we face in life. That is why I mentioned a couple of posts ago that wisdom assumes knowledge, even though it is not the same thing.

What are areas of life in which we need such skill for living – the ability to apply knowledge to concrete areas of our lives?

  • What job to take or whether you should start your own business
  • How to best prioritize the hours of your day
  • How to best encourage and/or discipline your children
  • Whether or not to lovingly confront, correct, or guide a close friend who is going down a bad path

Those are just a few very “real life” situations we find ourselves in every day. I’m sure you can easily think of many more. Asking such questions is easy. Discovering the right answers is far more difficult. Wisdom from God is required.

Pray for Wisdom

In the pursuit of wisdom, prayer is needed. Again, James reminds us to pray for wisdom because it is a gift from God. Whether your trial comes from outside yourself or an inner conflict from within, you must pray for God to give you the wisdom needed for the moment.

And so we pray because wisdom comes from God. However, we also pray because God wants us to pray. Such prayer shows dependence upon God. More than that, God doesn’t begrudgingly give wisdom. It actually delights God to give wisdom to his children. Look at what James says in verse 5,

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.

What James writes in verse 5 about wisdom is what Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:9-11, about all of God’s good gifts.

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

When you ask for the things God wants you to ask for, he is more than eager to give them to you. He wants to. Jesus promises that to us. And James repeats the promise, in the context of the gift of wisdom. In fact, James goes so far as to say “it will” be given to you.

In 1 Kings 3:1-15, Solomon was told by God to pray for anything he wanted. Solomon could have asked for power, money, or a long life. Instead, he knew he needed God’s wisdom to lead God’s people. This pleased God greatly. Thus, not only did God give him much wisdom, but he also gave him riches and honor. Praying for wisdom pleases God.

Pray with Humble Confidence

James tells us to pray for wisdom and that it pleases God when we do. Yet he also cautions us to pray in a particular manner.

But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1:6-8)

Half-hearted prayers will not be answered because they actually call into question God’s character. Why such strong words? Because, just from the texts we’ve already looked at in this post, we have observed that God is good and wants to give his good gifts to his children when they ask him for them. And wisdom is one of those good gifts.

James doesn’t have in mind here the intellectual doubts we all wrestle with from time to time. Instead, he’s linking “doubt” to the “double-minded man.” This person, according to Scripture, is someone who is divided between being “self-centered” and “God-centered.” That’s why James uses the idea of a wave in the sea which is tossed to and fro by the wind. In a similar way, the double-minded person is tossed to and fro between self and God. The double-minded person doesn’t pray with faith in God and in his promises.

In this case, doubting is more akin to trusting yourself more than trusting in God. It’s to offer a prayer that sounds a little like this:

Dear Lord, I know you don’t have time to hear me, especially when I’m bringing you something no more important than this particular issue. I mean, you have wars and famines you have to deal with and here I am with this small issue. Not only that, but I’m sure you would rather I figure things out myself than bother you with them. After all, that’s why you have given me a brain. But if you’re not too busy and you’re willing, I’ll take whatever leftover wisdom you may have for me. Thanks.

That’s not exactly a prayer that is oozing over with confidence in our great and loving God, is it? It doesn’t really capture the goodness of our Lord who wants to give good gifts, like wisdom, to his children. Instead, it pictures the image of “waves in the sea” that James wrote about. They are being blown here one moment and then another direction the next. James wants us to pray with the expectation that God will give us the wisdom we need – not begrudgingly – but lovingly, graciously, and willingly.

May this be the wisdom you expectantly, passionately, and humbly pray for and pursue, for God wants you to get wisdom.

Walking Points

  • Do you pray for wisdom? Why or why not?
  • Do you pray for wisdom the way James describes? Why or why not?
  • How would you describe the difference between wisdom and knowledge to a friend?
  • What are five of the most important and urgent areas of your life right now where you know you need God’s wisdom?
  • What is it about those five areas that leads you to believe God’s wisdom is needed? Take some time now and pray for that wisdom.

Get Wisdom

Facts, Information, and Knowledge

Are you able to answer these five questions, without doing an Internet search?

  1. What is the distance from the earth to the moon?
  2. How many people live in India?
  3. How many books did Herman Melville write?
  4. What is the fifth commandment?
  5. Are knowledge and information the same thing as wisdom?

It has often been said that we live in the “information age.” Our culture puts a high premium on knowledge and information, as well as easy access to both.

From “trivia” nights at restaurants to the game, Trivial Pursuit, to one of my family’s favorite gameshows, Jeopardy, our culture seems to love knowing facts about almost everything. And yet, all of the information we have access to at our fingertips does not necessarily make us wiser people.

Knowledge and Wisdom

Question number 5 above asked if information and knowledge are the same thing as wisdom. Scripture assures us they are not. To be sure, knowledge is a good thing. In fact, wisdom assumes knowledge. Yet, what God declares for us to do throughout Scripture is to, “get wisdom.”

  • Proverbs 4:5 – Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them.
  • Proverbs 4:7 – Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost you all you have, get understanding.
  • Proverbs 16:16 – How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!
  • Proverbs 23:23 – Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding.

James makes that same case in the book that bears his name.

Wisdom According to James

James wrote his letter to Jewish Christians who, like many Christians of that day, were undergoing intense persecution. He said in James 1:2 that they were “facing trials of many kinds.” And it is in that context that he said something that sounds almost absurd to anyone who operates only with worldly wisdom. In verse 2 he told them, that, as they are facing these “trials of many kinds,” to “consider it pure joy” or, as the King James puts it, “count it all joy.”

How can a person who is going through the pain and suffering of a trial consider it a joyful experience? That would be difficult indeed. However, that is not what James was saying. To explain what James was saying, let me remind you of something the Apostle Paul wrote. In Romans 8:28, Paul wrote these words,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Notice that Paul did not say all things are good. He was saying God can work all things (even bad things) for good. Good can come even from bad situations. James was saying something similar.

Here’s how Gandalf put it…

More on this later…