I sat in a meeting talking about how we might be able to help women in hard places do women’s ministry. The thing is, I’m sitting there thinking, This is crazy! What have we got to say? What can we do? We don’t have anything to offer. What if they ask questions we don’t know the answer to? I’m not experienced enough, wise enough, or capable of doing this. I don’t voice this though—I just sit and think about Proverbs 17:28, “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent…”. So I have all these thoughts running round my head, and it’s not until later in the day that I sit and reflect.
The thing is, it’s not like it’s a new thing; I get asked questions a lot. I’ve had texts asking, “Can you send me any Bible verses you can think of for someone who is struggling with . . . depression, grief, kids misbehaving, drug abuse?’ The list is endless. Or my email inbox pings with another email asking me what I would do in this or that situation—what wisdom could I shed? I mean, what do I know? I’m a screwball! What have I got to offer that makes any sense? I can barely work through what’s going on in my own ministry and life, never mind thinking through how to advise someone in Africa or America.
If I were careless, I could treat God’s Word like an encyclopaedia or a catalogue of special verses for particular issues and situations. I don’t want to just chuck a few verses at someone or email a few trite lines. Plucking verses unthinkingly out of the Bible can be a dangerous and glib method of giving counsel. When we try to do this, we are in danger of making Bible verses slot in and fit the situation—interpreting the Bible through the lens of our life instead of interpreting and seeing our life and situations through the lens of the Bible. I need to be mindful that my words (even in a text or email) have weight, and I want to point them well to Christ, who actually knows everything and can really help.
So how much do you have to know to be able to speak well and wisely into someone’s life?
Surely I can’t be the only one who asks questions like this. Do you have to be some sort of super-smart concordance of God’s Word or have attended seminary to speak well and wisely? How much do I have to know? The older I get, the more I realise I know nothing!
To be able to answer this coherently, we have to start thinking about the difference between what we know and what is godly wisdom. You might be the most educated person in this room, but does that make you wise? I was reading an article by a guy called John Bettler, and in it he talked about four classes of people. It was actually helpful. Here’s my condensed version of his four classes:
Dumb Yet Dumber
You remember the film from 1994 (well, actually some of you might have been just born in 1994—feeling my age). The story was about two sweet-hearted guys who basically were as thick as two short planks. So Dumb yet Dumber is the type of person who isn’t the brightest spark and doesn’t learn from his mistakes or life’s experiences. He’s a dumb fool.
Smart Yet Dumb
You know the type, really smart yet no common sense at all! My son is one of those weird kids that has a calculator for a brain. And yet, in his second year at school, he was failing maths. I genuinely was stunned, so I asked his teacher, “Is he actually getting the wrong answer?” His reply was hysterical. He said to me, “No, he’s getting all the right answers, but that’s only worth one point. The thing is, he gets two points for his working out and there isn’t any. He needs to show his sums and working out.” The plank was failing maths because it was too boring to write down all the workings on the paper. Smart yet dumb.
Dumb Yet Wise
In fact, ‘dumb’ is an overly harsh and completely incorrect term because this person is street-smart and savvy, they just might not have a tonne of exams to show it. They might lack professional qualifications, but if you’re stranded on a desert island, you want them on your team because they are just good at everything. For example, this may be an unchurched believer who doesn’t know anything about church history, hasn’t sat in a systematic theology lecture, and thinks the guy called Calvin is famous for his boxers. Even though they may not be very academically educated, they are properly wise when dealing with people and give great advice. They might not be that au fait with the pillars of the theological Reformation, but they know the Lord, speak his Word well, and point everyone to Jesus. We love this guy!
Smart Yet Wise
I’m not too sure there are that many ‘smart yet wise’ people out there. These are the people that know a lot and they live it out. You know, that person in church you always go to ask the hardest question, but they not only have the answers, they live them out in their lives as well. These people are walking, talking ‘James 1:22s’—not only hearers, but doers of the Word.
As I start to think through Bettler’s four classes, I can identify people that actually fit into each category, and I think it makes lots of sense. The thing is, I can’t get away from Psalm 1, which is niggling at the back of my head. Psalm 1 has a simpler approach to people than Bettler. Psalm 1 basically describes only two categories of people: ‘The Fool’ and the ‘Man of God’.
So what’s my point in all this, and what does it have to do with how much wisdom we have to share with anyone?
I want us to recognise that the source of our wisdom has to be God. Without God, we are fools—it’s as simple as that. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.” (Psalm 14:1). He is the source of our wisdom and helps us to speak well and wisely. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: We have nothing to bring to the table except Christ. He is enough for any situation we are dealing with. We need to lean on Him and trust Him and His Word; it is Him that we need to point people to.
“The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.” (Isaiah 50:4)
Wisdom is defined as “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement; the quality of being wise”. God is infinitely wise. He doesn’t make smart guesses and he doesn’t have theories—he just knows everything. He knows stuff before we even know that we need to know it.
He is “the only wise God (and to him) be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Rom. 16:27)
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Rom. 11:33–36)
This God is who we need to rely on for wisdom when we are speaking into people’s lives (as well as our own). This is where we start—relying on God and his wisdom when we speak into any situation. James reminds us in James 1:5 of our source of wisdom. He helps us to understand the situation with the right perspective, seeing through the fog of confusion.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)
When it comes to speaking into difficult situations, we have two choices: we can be a plank who doesn’t engage our brain and spouts off heaps of unhelpfulness (the fool), or we can be the person who trusts and relies on God and not our own understanding. I know it can be scary getting involved and speaking into someone’s life, and we can use lots of excuses not to, but if we believe his Word is true, powerful, and relevant for today, we must help others to see that too as we point them to Christ.
So if we go back to our original question—how much do you have to know to be able to speak well and wisely into someone’s life?—would we answer it differently than before?
Here are some things we need to remember:
- Rely on God’s Word – God’s Word is true and relevant for today.
- Fear the Lord – We need to keep our minds fixed on him and the fearful prospect of what life would be like if we stopped trusting and depending on God.
- Humility – We must humbly recognise our dependence on God, knowing we aren’t the answer, but Christ is. Therefore, we must always point in word and deed to Him.
- Obedience – Wise people follow the truth. They are not only hearers of the Word, but doers of the Word also.
- Submit and Trust – They are trusting and completely relying on Him, no matter the circumstances.
- Pray – You should pray for wisdom. Pray that you submit to, love, and trust the Lord, asking for his wisdom to guide you in any conversation and situation of life.