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The Path of Wisdom

7/30/23


James 3:13, 16-17 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.


My mind has been caught up in virtues recently. I’ve spoken on humility, and last week, discernment. This week I want to refresh our awareness of wisdom.


The Bible speaks much on wisdom. Of course, we remember that when Solomon was asked by God for whatever he wanted, Solomon asked for wisdom. Because he asked for wisdom, God also gave him wealth and fame. And yes, he ended up with great wealth and 700 wives and 300 concubines, which turned out not to be such a good thing.


His wives pursued their own religions and Solomon was swayed to worship some of their gods and turned his heart on the one true God, losing his spiritual way. In Ecclesiastes 2:11 he writes, “Everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”. At the conclusion of Ecclesiastes 12:13, we find wise counsel: “That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty.”


The fear of the Lord in the Bible means having a deep respect, reverence, and awe for God’s power and authority. It is not about being afraid of God, but rather it is about encountering the wonderment of His majesty, power, wisdom, justice, and mercy. The fear of the Lord is a combination of astonishment, respect, and reverence.


If we lose the awe and respect of God, we can lose all the gifts of God, including wisdom. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.” Part of wisdom, as Solomon ultimately learned, is being careful about what we wish for.


We all have some idea what wisdom is. It is knowing the right thing to do in any given situation and doing it. Wisdom is not just knowledge, but it is the ability to use that knowledge in a way that honors God and helps others. It is the ability to discern the good result of each situation and utilize the right means to achieve it.


Wisdom is the virtue of good judgement, rooted in moral perspectives, ethical interpretations, high values, and selfless courageous actions. It relies on extraordinary knowledge and extracts meaning and significance from information by understanding interrelationships and their implications.


Wisdom leads to a better life because it helps us make better decisions. When we have wisdom, we can discern what is right and wrong and make choices that honor God and benefit ourselves and others. At the same time, wisdom helps us avoid making foolish decisions that can lead to negative consequences.


When we apply to our lives the biblical wisdom that resides within us, we experience the blessings that come with it, such as peace, joy, and contentment. But if we ignore the wisdom, as Solomon did, and embrace the wisdom of the world, things can go poorly for us. We choose the path of wisdom, as we do every virtue.


Proverbs 11:2 teaches: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”


Proverbs 9:10 tells us, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”


Perhaps no greater prayer for wisdom can be uttered other than the Prayer of Serenity: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” To live in peace, to live in grace, is to live in wisdom.


We can learn wisdom through various means. Confucius offers this idea: “By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

The noble way to learn wisdom is from the Source, from Spirit, from the light of Christ within us. We can pray, and we can reflect attentively, yet peacefully on wisdom. God will open our hearts to the fact that everything we need to know is already within us and we can apply it. There is no wisdom without application; we must walk the path, not just observe the path.


We can also learn from those that are wise. Proverbs 11:14 tells us, “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.” As Confucius taught, we can copy others and learn from their mistakes and discoveries. This is easy: we watch and imitate the words and actions of Christ. By using the wise as models we can then learn the path of wisdom, although we must still walk it and get into action. We can learn through reading, listening, and paying attention and avoid some harmful mistakes.


But alas, many of us, including me, find that experience is the best teacher. It is an excellent teacher, but it is also the most painful. Watching someone burn their hand on the stove can teach us a powerful lesson. But many of us must try it ourselves and experience the pain first-hand before that lesson is absorbed.


Lao Tzu, the author of the Tao Te Ching wrote: “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” Knowledge comes from reading more, learning more, absorbing more. But wisdom comes from discerning, removing the erroneous, simplifying what we are seeing, feeling, and experiencing. Adding more peace to our life can come from removing stress, responsibilities, furniture, junk, and toxic relationships and influences. Wisdom often is about subtraction and cleaning out what is no longer needed or is useful, whether that is a philosophy, belief system, relationship, or physical object.


An important part of wisdom is paying close attention to ourselves, to others, to circumstances. Just because we have experienced similar situations in the past doesn’t mean that the present one is exactly the same. The unwise assume, rush in, and make errors. “Wisely and slow, they stumble who run fast,” said William Shakespeare. “Patience is the companion of wisdom,” said St. Augustine.


The wise person perceives the similarities and the differences in each situation. Discernment is an important component of wisdom. Wisdom tells us that we never experience the exact same person, people, dynamic, or circumstances twice. Although past experience may be helpful, it is wise to ask, “How is this situation different from anything I have experienced?”


So, it is my prayer that we follow the path of wisdom by learning from those that are wise, by studying the words, and actions, and teachings of Christ. I pray we seek the counsel of those we trust and are open-minded and willing to learn from our experiences and the experiences of others. I pray we practice wisdom, beginning with humility, discernment, and gratitude.


Last of all, and most importantly, I pray that we move into prayer daily and ask God for wisdom, then sit still, in the quiet of Spirit to feel the response. It is from this spiritual connection with God that we see past the illusions and temptations of the world. It is from the power of that stillness that we awaken to the Light of Christ and are freed from the delusions, misconceptions, and false beliefs we hold. “Be patient,” whispers our soul. “Be still and know that I am God. All you need to know is within you.”

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