The Takeaway - Wisdom
Today we’ll be focusing on the wisdom of God as fuel for our lives—and we’ll explore how we can begin to understand and apply God’s wisdom in our lives. Spoiler alert: it’s not by learning more. Listen in.
“Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes, most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.”
The first verse of this hymn is a string of superlatives. To the relief of grammar nerds everywhere, we finally get to a subject and verb in the last phrase. God is all-knowing and wise (among a host of attributes) and worthy of our praise.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines wisdom as experience and knowledge with critical or practical application. That’s experience plus knowledge plus application—it’s a whole lot more than being “smart”! In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for wisdom is hokmah, meaning skill, wisdom, shrewdness. And in the New Testament, the Greek word for wisdom is sophia, meaning good judgment, understanding, and wisdom.
What do the Scriptures say about God’s wisdom?
In the Old Testament, wisdom is seen in the everyday—the skill of craftsmen, government, and general cleverness. Wisdom belongs to God, and is present in creation, the temple, the Torah (law), and God’s people.
Beginning at the beginning, God’s wisdom is revealed in and through creation and recreation. And the human desire to be wise was present right there in the garden; it’s why Adam and Eve ate the apple.
Throughout the life of God’s people, wisdom (and folly) are manifest in the leadership of the kings. King Solomon is remembered as the wisest king—not a surprise. At the beginning of his reign, he asks God for an understanding mind. (1 Kings 3.9)
Wisdom is so important in the Scriptures that there are entire books devoted to the subject: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, parts of Daniel, a few Psalms, and Revelation. These books are collectively known as “Wisdom Literature.” In Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a woman, revealed in and through creation and daily life. In the book of Job, Job’s friends try to offer wisdom for his tragic situation (and none of it is very helpful). Job digs in his heels and claims that God alone is the source of wisdom.
In the New Testament, Jesus is the source of Holy Wisdom. In the words of John, Jesus was there in the beginning with God, and “all things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” (John 1.3) During his ministry, Jesus is addressed as “rabbi,” or teacher of wisdom. His wisdom is greater than that of Solomon (Luke 11.31). When Jesus teaches in his hometown synagogue, the hearers wonder, “where did he get his wisdom?” (Matthew 13.54)
The Apostle Paul refers to wisdom throughout his letters. In First Corinthians, he encourages us to turn to the Holy Spirit to help us access God’s wisdom. And in Ephesians, he prays for wisdom at the beginning of his letter: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.” (Ephesians 1.17-18)
So what? How can you and I participate in God’s wisdom? How can we lean into it? How can we draft off of it? How can we fill up with God’s wisdom in the fuel tanks of our lives?
Not by being perceptive. Not by zeroing in or fine-tuning our insights. Not by trying to read more, notice more, or learn more. True wisdom does not come from human sources of understanding—it comes from God.
The quest to be perceptive or enlightened is the quest of Enneagram fives, known as “The Investigators.” Recall that the enneagram is a personality model that describes how we see and interact with the world—and how we grow into our true selves. The divine attribute that fives most reflect is God’s wisdom. The most common way they get sidetracked in life is their need to understand. In order to meet this need, they put their mind in overdrive, using their understanding as a shell to protect themselves from the world. In so doing, they hold tightly to the resources that they have—time, energy, and relationships. They get tripped up by their own sense of scarcity, which leads to avarice.
Fives are perhaps the most misunderstood type on the Enneagram because much of their work is done in private—they value independence & solitude; they desire to observe rather than participate, to respond rather than react.
The way ahead for all of us in growing in wisdom, and not just for Enneagram fives, is to be generous. To grow in generosity—in mind, heart, and body—is the antidote to a scarcity mentality. Giving is a way to test out the scarcity hypothesis—and to find it not entirely true.
There are three dimensions of growing in generosity, and therefore wisdom: mind, heart, and body.
To become generous in your mind, acknowledge that God is the source of wisdom. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3.5-6) Be open to mystery. Be open to learning new things with joy. Loosen scarcity’s mental grip on you through the mantras: “I know enough, God is enough.”
To become generous in your heart, put yourself out there. Connect and engage with others, share more of yourself, build community one relationship at a time. And begin to connect with your own feelings in real time—don’t just withdraw to process.
Finally, to become generous in your body, trust yourself, others, and God by offering gifts of your time and energy, little bits at a time. And lovingly care for your body—through sleep, food, and exercise—to maximize the energy that you bring to the table. Act instead of just observing—do the next right thing, even if you don’t have it all figured out.
These three paths of generosity in mind, heart, and body will lead you to true self, you’ll be in your right mind.
And then you can then begin to ask yourself the question: “how can I draw on God’s wisdom today, instead of leaning on my own ideas?” Growing in wisdom happens through the backdoor of growing in generosity.
As we turn to God in prayer, we’ll use the words of a Prayer Before Reading Holy Books by St. John Chrysostom, an early church father from the fourth century known for his eloquent writing and preaching.
Let us pray.
Master, Lover of humankind,
Make the pure light of your divine knowledge shine in our hearts,
And open the eyes of our mind to understand the message of your Gospel.
Implant in us the fear of your blessed commandments,
so that, having trampled down all carnal desires,
we may change to a spiritual way of life,
thinking and doing all things that are pleasing to you.
For you are the illumination of our souls and bodies, Christ God,
and to you we give glory,
together with your Father who is without beginning,
and your all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit,
now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Until next week,
Open your mind to the wisdom and mystery of God.
Open your heart to your own feelings and to the people around you.
Open your hands so that you might give of your time and energy.
You know enough, and God is enough.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, world without end, Amen.