Humility is the first step towards wisdom. The bible often speaks of fear of God as being the path to wisdom, but what is fear of God but humility? It is a recognition that we do not have all the answers, it is surrendering pride, it is acknowledging that God is far more powerful than us. It is accepting that the error may well be on our end and not on His. Fear of God, as in recognition of Him with awe, tends to bring about humility.
All in good humor here, but I sometimes speak of beginning prayers with, Lord, I’m a moron. I do not know what I think I know. Help me to understand. I call that suspending disbelief. It is surrendering what you think you know with a humble spirit, so that you are open to what you need to know, to the answers you seek. That is the beginning of wisdom.
If you are fairly intelligent, intellectual surrender can be a real bugger. We will believe we already have all the answers, we will rely on our own intelligence to solve problems. There’s a saying, “the smarter we are the more able we are to think ourselves into a great deal of trouble.” Heck, we can think up problems that don’t even exist. Over and over in the bible we are told to not lean into our own understanding. We do not know what we think we know.
Suspending your disbelief or setting aside what you believe to be true, that is the first step to making room for the answers we seek, for wisdom.
People actually have the power to reason wisdom away. I know because I try to do this all the time. We will analyze, question, challenge, and doubt what is right there in front of us. We will even weave elaborate theories around trying to justify our own denial of what is wise.
God always answers me plainly, truthfully, and in half a dozen different ways so I am sure to get it, but still sometimes I resist, as in, “okay, I don’t like that answer, do you have another one that will be more convenient, perhaps one that fits in better with the way I need things to be?”
I don’t mean to be impolite here, but pride tends to render us dumber than a box of rocks. I’m not talking about simply feeling good about yourself or being proud of your accomplishments, but pride, part of that pride/shame dichotomy that makes us think we know what we do not know. The kind of pride that convinces us it’s a good idea to lean into our own understanding.
I don’t think it’s very popular these days to pray for wisdom. I think we much prefer to go to God believing we have accurately diagnosed the problem and are now qualified to prescribe the solution, which we have now chosen to pray rather desperately for.
Sometimes I wonder what it must be like for God to hear our desperate prayers, perhaps thinking, but that’s not what ails you! That’s not the problem, that’s not the solution, and in fact if I give you that, it will make everything worse!
Wisdom is not something we often pray for and I think part of that is because there’s a kind of sadness that comes with it, an awareness that what ails us is so simple, but putting the answer into practice, so challenging. Think of Solomon, “vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” There is a kind of grief that comes from wisdom, from seeing and knowing, a lamentation that you can feel crying out from those pages, how foolish we are, how wasteful, how unwise. Here beloved, here are the keys to the kingdom…. and yet we toss them down with contempt.
The book of Job is one of my favorites and makes no bones about it, “For vain man would be wise, though man be born like a wild ass’s colt.” But later we also have, “Who let the wild donkey go free? Who untied its ropes??
Luke 13:12 tells us Christ said, “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.” Loosed, set free, no longer bound. Jesus Christ came to set the captives free, but as Harriet Tubman once said, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”
Slaves to our own wisdom, consumed by our own vanities, possessing the keys to the Kingdom and yet rendering ourselves willfully blind. Now that is sad, downright pathetic actually. On the other side of wisdom comes a keen awareness of how steadfast God’s love for us is, how patient, how merciful, how in spite of it all, He sees what is good within us even when we cannot. That good, that human potential, has such worth and value to God, that He gave His only begotten son and laid down His life for us, “not to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”