Colossians 1:9-14 – Developing the Skill of Wisdom

wisdom quote

Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works.

 We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work.

 We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.

 God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating. (The Message)

 When I was younger, I played a lot of ping-pong.  I got good at it.  In fact, during a several months stretch back-in-the-day I had a record of 156-2.  Not bad, Tim.  That kind of record was only possible because of the two reasons that make any skill an accomplishment: knowledge and experience.  I learned the game of ping-pong and eventually knew it inside and out; and, I had hundreds (if not thousands) of hours playing and developing my technique.

When it comes to prayer, there isn’t a need to invent a new game; we just need to learn the one we’ve got.  Today’s New Testament reading is a prayer from the Apostle Paul to the Colossian Church.  His prayer for them was singular: To have wise minds and spirits, that is, to have knowledge of God – an understanding of his ways and how he operates.

Paul prayed this for a reason: so that we might live our lives in a way which pleases God and enables us to sustain a lifetime of spiritual growth.  As people created in God’s image and likeness, we are hard-wired with a spirit which needs strengthening and exercise.  That happens as we put in the constant repetitions of connecting with the divine and putting in the time on our knees – praying daily for ourselves and others to mature in faith so that we might all together act wisely and justly in this world, for the life of the world.

A good place to start is to use Paul’s prayer as our own.  Never has there been such a need than now for us to know how to apply wisdom in places and circumstances we’ve never been before.  For wisdom to happen, we must grow in our knowledge and put in the hours of prayer.  The skill of wisdom doesn’t magically happen; it is the culmination of acquired understanding and much practice putting knowledge into loving use.

Direct me, O Lord, in all my doings with your most gracious will and wisdom.  Further in me your continual help – that in all my work and in all I do and say, I may glorify your holy name; and, by your mercy, obtain the life that is truly life; through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

Psalm 19 – Living Wisely

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Most of life, as you well know, is lived in the mundane.  We drive the same well-worn roads to work; spend most of the time at our jobs doing routine ordinary things; repeatedly say the same things to our kids, day after day; engage in ordinary chores; and, worship in predictable ways each week.  Excitement is certainly to be had, but it is more the exception than the rule.  Yet, it is the patience, perseverance, and plodding that comes with living wisely which is the norm for realizing a thriving and flourishing spiritual life.

Psalm 19 is a celebration of God’s self-revelation.  Through both nature and law, the Lord has graciously made himself known to humanity.  What’s more, God’s moral and ethical teachings provide insight for living a good life.  This is to the benefit of the common good of all persons.

Wisdom in the Old Testament is the combination of knowledge and practice.  It is the application of God’s self-revelation to concrete situations in life.  We live wisely when we get to know the sovereign God of creation and use his revealed mores and ethos as our guide in daily experiences.

We need God’s gracious revealed law.  It’s not just for theology nerds or spiritual eggheads; God’s law is for everyone – the learned and the unlearned.  Every one of us needs the guidance and direction of God’s Holy Word, and the careful application of it to all our circumstances.  That’s wisdom.

You and I are shaped and formed as godly people as we allow God’s Word to awash us and seep into our souls.  Reading this psalm out loud slowly and contemplatively more than once is an opportunity to let our common ordinary experiences transform into divine appointments.

Self-revealing God of creation, your words are sweeter than honey and more precious than gold.  May I be humble and wise as I meditate and think about how you are the center of everything in my life; through my Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit; one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Proverbs 8:1-21

            Maybe you, like me, are wary of get-rich-quick schemes.  Those marketing strategies typically involve some path to becoming a millionaire in a short amount of time.  Sometimes it works.  If you look more closely to the success stories, you will almost always find a person who had a laser focus to acquire wealth, and a dogged commitment to seeing it happen.
            There is a get-rich plan in the Bible.  It’s called the book of “Proverbs” and it has something a whole lot more valuable than earthly riches.
“I can make you rich and famous, important and successful.  What you receive from me is more valuable than even the finest gold or the purest silver” (verses 18-19). 
 
Interested?  It’s a great headline.  It’s also very true – no scam.
            So, who can do this? How does it happen?
Wisdom is the genuine path to a wealth that transcends dollars and cents, stocks and bonds, cash and credit, gold and silver. 
 
Wisdom in the book of Proverbs, and throughout the Bible, is the ability to take the truth about God and his world and apply it to actual concrete situations in life.  Just think about that for a moment… Have you ever wondered what in the heck you’re going to do? Do you have times when you just don’t know what your life is supposed to be about?  Are you ever uncertain about how to deal with someone, or a group of people?  Wisdom has the answers.
            How do I obtain this biblical wisdom?  She speaks to that question:
“I always do what is right, and I give great riches to everyone who loves me” (verses 20-21). 
 
There you have it.  Consider that statement from Wisdom for a minute… When we love someone, we desire to spend time with them, to have an intimate relationship, to do anything for that person.
            There are 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs.  One way of moving through this book of Wisdom is to read one chapter a day for a month.  I do this exercise in reading at least once a year.  I typically pick out one or two verses a day to meditate and contemplate.  The goal is to simply let Wisdom have her way with you – into your heart, mind, and soul – so that she is with you always.  When that happens, you will find the kind of wealth and riches which are far beyond what you could ever dream.

 

Ever-Wise God, you call out at every crossroad and on every hill.  Yours is not a secret wisdom – it is for all to hear and learn from.  May Wisdom fill me to the full, so that I might live wisely, knowing how to live well; to the glory of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Purity

 
 
“The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure” (James 3:17).
 
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” –Jesus (Matthew 5:8)
 
            All of the New Testament epistles are letters written by Apostles to particular problems and situations within certain churches.  When the Apostle James sat down to pen a letter to the Jewish Christian churches in Gentile dominated countries, it was to address the state of their fellowship, their Christian lives, and the unhealthy church dynamic that was taking place.  The believers faced a great deal of adverse circumstances as Christians.  Sometimes they responded well, and sometimes they did not.  The problem was that they wavered between having faith in Jesus and relying on other things besides God to deal with their problems.  James labeled this kind of thinking that worked itself out in not-so-good behavior as “double-minded” (James 1:8).  The term I would use that reflects what James was getting at is “fence-sitter” or “fence-rider.”
 
            The church was vacillating back and forth between knowing that God loves them and wondering where he was in all their trouble.  They would look into God’s Word, but then would walk away and not do what it says.  They would claim faith in Jesus Christ, and then turn around and scheme about ways to cozy-up to the wealthy so that they could have a healthy church budget.  They would claim to have faith, but then sit on the fence and do nothing.  The church was straddling between the two worlds of God and Satan, the church and the world, heavenly wisdom and worldly wisdom.
 
 
 
            James sought to knock them off the fence, to cause them to quit being in two worlds at the same time with one foot in each.  He wanted to set them on a path of real faith and true wisdom to live their Christian lives in a difficult world.  Whenever a church or body of believers settles for fence-riding or fence-sitting, they are in need of attaining some solid wisdom for living.  Perhaps you are not a fence-rider, but we all deal with them – people whom claim faith in Jesus, but it is only marginal to their lives.  How do we navigate this world and exhibit real faith in all circumstances, whether good or bad?  James tells us that the foundation to living a wise and godly life in purity.
 
Godly wisdom is first of all pure.
 
            James was making reference to moral and ethical purity.  The pure person is one who has a singular devotion to Jesus Christ – he/she pursues God’s will and seeks to do it in God’s way in everything without exception.  Purity means there are no mixed motives, no hidden agendas, no secret desires that are self-serving. 
 
            Those who are pure have received and experienced the cleansing of Christ’s blood.  The pure have come to the point in their lives of seeing that they have one foot in the world, or their entire self is immersed in the world.  They come to understand that this is a foolish world to live in and that it will only result in relational problems expressed in the false wisdom of envy and selfish ambition.  Only chaos and evil exist in this world.  By contrast, the pure have become so through receiving Holy Spirit power to jump the fence into God’s big world of grace, love, and compassion.  They joyously roll in the green grass of forgiveness.  Without this purification that comes through repentance of the old world and embrace of the new pasture through the cross of Jesus, no wisdom could be possible.  Only through being graced with turning away from the world and its unrighteous ways, and committing oneself to redemption through Jesus can true wisdom become possible both individually and as a church.
 
 
 

 

            “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10) is to be the cry of every person.  As we draw ever nearer to the season of Lent, such a prayer can prepare and shape us for receiving God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  Oh, that the church might embrace this work of the Spirit!  Amen.

Proverbs 4:1-9

            “My advice is useful, so don’t turn away… Be wise and learn common sense.”  Wisdom is personified in proverbs as a sage counselor for whom we must pay careful attention to listen and heed.  Wisdom in the Old Testament is the practical application of knowledge and understanding.  It is the ability to take the knowledge of God and use it in everyday life in a way that leads to human flourishing.
 
            Thus, there are really two important aspects to wisdom.  First, the individual must possess some body of knowledge.  We cannot employ knowledge that we do not even possess.  So, it is absolutely imperative for us to seek understanding, to strive to see life from God’s perspective, and to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.  We must become readers, listeners, and devoted learners because without books, the ability to hear well, and the humble posture of discovery, we will never realize wisdom.
 
            Second, the individual must use knowledge in order to act, to live well.  Knowledge by itself, apart from relevant use, only produces puffed-up pride.  The reason for accumulating understanding is to use it for the benefit of others in love.  We have quite enough preening peacocks in this world with snappy opinions and answers for every earthly problem.  This world needs much less of them, and more of those who seek the humility that comes from biblical wisdom.  As the Apostle James once put it, we must be doers of the Word and not hearers only.
 
            When wisdom is realized, there is learning through both head and hands.  The book of Proverbs is perhaps the best place to begin constructing a life of wisdom.  Reading a chapter a day for one month will get you through the entire book.  Make a wise plan to carefully go through Proverbs sometime this spring or summer.  You will be very glad you did.
 

 

            Wise God, I love wisdom.  I desire it more than money, fame, or power.  Help me to use biblical common sense and learn the ways of Jesus through the enablement of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Proverbs 2:1-5

            It doesn’t take a genius to know that we are in something of a common sense crisis within our Western culture.  Suspicion, gullibility, and extreme vitriol now characterize vast quarters of America.  And we Christians even brazenly splash our ignorance across vast swaths of social media so that more and more people want nothing to do with neither the church nor Christianity.  What shall we do?
 
            “My child, you must follow and treasure my teachings and my instructions.  Keep in tune with wisdom and think what it means to have common sense.  Beg as loud as you can for good common sense.  Search for wisdom as you would search for silver or hidden treasure.  Then you will understand what it means to respect and to know the LORD God” (CEV).
 
            If we are going to raise our voices about something, then let us shout loudly in prayer for some basic wisdom and common sense from God.  Any fool can buy into a podcast rant or get sucked into a blogger damning all who are against his views.  But the wise believer will humbly cry out to God for the wisdom to live well and make good decisions with both mind and mouth.
 

 

            Wise God, you know all things and give grace to the humble.  I beg to see all things from your perspective so that I will speak as one who knows and loves Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray.  Amen.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

            I think most people can resonate with the wisdom from Ecclesiastes:  “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”  We intuitively know that there must be balance to life, and that there needs to be a sage approach to living-out all of the many responsibilities and duties of this present time.  The problem, it seems to me, is not that we don’t recognize the need for movement from one season to another; the issue is that we do not deliberately and intentionally stop one thing and start another – we just keep going.  We keep working when we should stop; we continue eating beyond what we know we should; we do not stop yelling, or being angry; we continue in abject furrow-browed seriousness with no end in sight; parents keep treating their adult children like little kids who need their constant guidance; and, churches ensconce a particular time in their history as normative even though it has outlived its shelf life.
 
            The Church Calendar is attentive to the movements and seasons of the Christian life.  We are now in the season of Lent.  This is the time for healthy soulful introspection, examination of the heart, and repentance which leads to the eventual new life of Easter.  It is the time to stop and question why we do what we do – why we cannot stop our compulsions and obsessive behavior.  It is the season to feel something of the suffering of Jesus Christ and discern that our salvation was obtained at a very steep cost.  It is the time to ponder why we even need deliverance in the first place, and what it is we need to be saved from.  Now is the moment for contemplation, fasting, and prayer.
 

 

            Eternal God, you are infinitely patient with my failings and foibles.  As I consider the cross of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit, lead me to Calvary’s mercy and sacrifice.  Grace me with the repentance which leads to life.  Amen.