Special photo: Susan Bennett
I like to talk about wisdom because I’m urgently in need of it every day of my life. And so are you – you don’t have to be a pastor to need wisdom.
Are you a parent or grandparent? Do you have a job? Are you part of a family? Part of a church family? Let me just ask – are you ALIVE, and do you ever have contact with other human beings? Well, then … you need wisdom!
True wisdom comes from God. Our human wisdom is a little weak, pretty complicated, rarely completely pure, and usually unreliable. It’s Godly wisdom we’re after. And yes, that can only come from God.
The epistle of James gives us a really good description of what true wisdom is and isn’t. First, God’s wisdom is pure, not complicated by our own issues or desires or biases. It’s peaceable – it doesn’t stir up conflict, and always works toward peace and reconciliation.
True wisdom is gentle and willing to yield – it’s never about ME or MY way. It involves careful listening and a willingness to understand one another deeply. True wisdom is full of mercy; the more we truly understand, the more merciful and compassionate we become.
There’s no partiality or hypocrisy in true wisdom. In God’s eyes, no one’s better than anyone else. This frees us to be honest and open about our own shortcomings and weaknesses, and develop true compassion for others. We’re all in the same boat.
This is a tall order! But remember – this is Godly wisdom, and when we ask for it, it comes from God. Being filled with God’s wisdom is a process that takes years, and God will use every experience we have in our lives to help us gain wisdom. And remember – the reason God gives us wisdom is so that we can love and understand people more deeply, with more compassion, and be better able to hear the Spirit.
So, what does true wisdom look like in our daily lives? A person with God’s wisdom listens more and talks less. That’s how we learn. It will humble us, which is always a good thing. And it will help us to see people with more understanding, and less judgment.
People with God’s wisdom pay attention to what’s happening in their lives and pray about it. They begin to be aware of what they say, to whom they’re saying it, and how it will be received. Part of true wisdom is to invite God into every area of our lives – the good, the bad, and the ugly! It’s never wise to ignore God, shut him out, or try to live without his guidance. It’s always wise to let God IN, and to be honest with him.
People with God’s wisdom learn to be honest with others, too. This DOESN’T mean that we go around telling everyone everything, all the time; it does mean we can learn to be humble enough to admit it when we’re wrong, to quit trying to pretend we’re perfect when we’re not. Believe me, folks know we’re not perfect! People with God’s wisdom say “I’m sorry” when it needs to be said, and mean it. And then we fix it, when we can.
People with God’s wisdom don’t have a need to get involved in competitions and one-upmanship. They’re not concerned with who’s “winning” and who’s “losing.” The only “side” they want to be on is God’s side.
Do you know where true wisdom starts? It has to start with humility. We have to be humble enough to admit we need help, and humble enough to ask God for it. Humility keeps us from doing all the talking; it insists we be honest with God, ourselves, and others. Humility wants peace and reconciliation, not contests and conflict. Humility is gentle and willing to yield, and is never hypocritical. NEVER confuse humility with weakness. It takes a strong and courageous person to be truly humble. And humility is foundational to receiving God’s wisdom.
People with God’s wisdom realize that gentleness and humility are true signs of strength. They’re not afraid to be both gentle and humble. They put others first, and pray for and work toward healing and peace – in relationships, at home, in church, at work, in the world. People with God’s wisdom have learned mercy and compassion. And because of that, God is happy to continue to give and deepen their Godly wisdom.
It’s a journey, and it takes a lifetime. We’re all in this together. And God is absolutely faithful to give us his wisdom, and continue to transform us into the image of his Son.
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.