“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
These familiar words, often seen on plaques, were written by the American theologian, Richard Niebuhr, and is commonly known as “The Serenity Prayer.” They speak to challenges we all face in life. But the ability to properly deal with our ever changing and often unexpected circumstances hinges on wisdom.
Wisdom is different than knowledge. One may have learned a lot of facts about a variety of subjects, but lack wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to apply one’s knowledge in a given situation. It involves understanding. Perception. Insight. And analysis. Then it exercises sound judgment and judicious discretion in its application.
Anthony Douglas Williams was partially right when he wrote that “Knowledge comes from learning. Wisdom comes from living.” Indeed experience is a great teacher. And, if we are good students, we develop wisdom over the course of time.
But, the Bible tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Solomon, universally heralded as one of the wisest men who ever lived, began his reign as King by admitting he needed God’s guidance (1 Kings 3:6-9). He confessed his inability to judge the people and discern right from wrong. So, he humbly prayed for wisdom. And God graciously granted his request.
When you read the book of Proverbs, you see the incredible wisdom of Solomon in his simple, succinct, yet sage sayings regarding many of life’s daily experiences. He urges his readers to “Get wisdom.” Believes that “wisdom is the principle thing” in life. And asserts that “wisdom is better than rubies,” or the riches of gold or silver (Prov. 8:11; 16:16).
To gain wisdom, we must learn the lessons that life teaches us. Mark Twain once quipped that “Good judgement is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgement.” If we learn from our mistakes, we can grow in our wisdom. The key is to learn from the past, not live in the past.
Like Solomon, we must pray for wisdom. The Bible says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (Jas. 1:5).
We gain wisdom by seeking the counsel of godly people. Isaac Newton is credited with the quote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Older pastors and preachers with a good reputation who’ve demonstrated sound judgment and exercised wisdom in their lives, can speed up the process of gaining wisdom. And save us the heartache of foolish and impetuous decisions.
Sometimes we can even gain wisdom from people in the world. Jesus said so in the parable of the unjust steward (Lk. 16:1-13). Of course, it requires discretion and prudence to know what and when to apply the wisdom from “the sons of this world.”
Bible study can obviously provide a solid basis for growing in wisdom. However, if we only read to acquire knowledge, our spiritual acumen will not increase. As D. L. Moody once commented, “The Bible was not given for our information, but for our transformation.” Or in the words of Howard Hendricks, “The goal of Bible study is not to make us smarter sinners, but to make us more like our Savior.” Wisdom grows through self-examination and personal application.
It is the wisdom to apply what we’ve learned that will improve our decision making, enhance our relationships, and protect us from foolish choices that often bring embarrassment and sometimes destroy our influence and ruin our lives.
Parents need to pray for wisdom to raise their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4; Col 3:21).
Pastors need to pray for wisdom to shepherd the flock of God with integrity, compassion, and servant-leadership (Ax 20:28; I Pet. 5:1-2).
Preachers need to pray for wisdom to preach what is needed. When it is needed. And in the way it is needed (2 Tim. 4:1-4; Eph. 4:16; Col. 4:6).
Husbands and wives need to pray for wisdom on how to love, respect and respond unselfishly toward each other in their relationships (Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Pet. 3:7; 1 Cor. 7;1-5).
All Christians need to pray for wisdom to ennoble their behavior morally and shun the lusts of the flesh (Titus 2:12-14; Rom. 12;1-2; 1 Jn 2:15-17). My friend, Gary Henry, correctly observed, “If wisdom doesn’t elevate our conduct to a higher, nobler plane, then we’ve not gotten its best benefit.”
In the final analysis, it may be said that “the door to wisdom is knowing yourself” as you really are. And as God knows you.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman