Today we're beginning a new series called "Get Smart." This ten part series is about living a success life, about getting it together and keeping it together. There's only one way to do that successfully over the long haul; we have to develop wisdom. We will look at ways we can apply wisdom to basically every area of our lives: our spiritual life, our job, our friendships, our finances, and on and on. Our source for this series is the book of Proverbs.
About ten years ago, a young man named Adam Brown was preparing to go to college. His dad, H. Jackson Brown, decided to write down the most important things his son would need to know as he prepared for life in the "grown-up" world. He put this advice in the form of a little booklet, and eventually the booklet was published under the title Life's Little Instruction Book. You've probably heard of it; it sold millions of copies.
Approximately three thousand years ago, King Solomon did the same thing. He was the wisest man ever to live (more about that in a minute), and he compiled a collection of the wisdom he had accumulated over the years and presented this collection to his son, to help him "attain wisdom and discipline" and acquire "a disciplined and prudent life." (from Proverbs 1:1-2) This collection of wisdom is the book Proverbs. It is the original Life's Little Instruction Book, and it contains advice for getting life together and keeping all areas of life together.
In the book of I Kings, chapter three, there's a story about Solomon. God appeared to him in a dream and said, "Ask for whatever you want me to give you." Solomon said, "Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people, and to distinguish between right and wrong." In other words, Solomon asked for wisdom. The Bible says God was pleased with Solomon's request and said, "Since you have asked for wisdom and not for a long life or wealth or power over your enemies, I will give you what you asked for; plus, I will give you what you didn't ask for—wealth, honor, and a long life." So God gave Solomon wisdom, and he passed that wisdom on to us in the book of Proverbs.
You see, Solomon realized that when we have wisdom, we can have anything. If you have wisdom, you'll not only be able to make money, you'll know how to keep it. If you have wisdom, you'll be able to find and develop lasting friendships. If you have wisdom, you'll know what to say and when to say it. If you have wisdom, you'll know how to avoid a lot of the misery that people bring on themselves, and you'll know how to maximize your personal happiness. If you have wisdom, you'll be able to raise your kids the right way. If you have wisdom, you'll be able to sleep at night because you won't be dreading the consequences of your actions. When we have wisdom, we have everything.
So, where do we get wisdom? Obviously, the Bible is the best source. We can look for wisdom elsewhere, and our luck with it will be "hit and miss." When we get our wisdom from the Bible, however, it will prove to be right every time. The Bible draws a clear distinction between God's wisdom and human wisdom. Proverbs says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end, it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)
In one of my favorite episodes of Seinfeld, George Costanza decides he is tired of being a loser. He is in his mid-thirties, he's unemployed, he's broke, he's desperately single, and he lives with his parents. As he is sitting with his friends in the coffee shop, he realizes that he has gotten into this shape by following his natural instinct, and his natural instinct has brought him nothing but misery. So he decides that from now on, he's going to do the opposite of his natural instinct. In fact, he says, "I normally order tuna on white bread. Today, I will do the opposite. I'm ordering salmon on whole wheat." Throughout the episode he does the opposite of his natural instinct, and by the end of the show, his life has turned around. He is dating the woman of his dreams. He has a job with the New York Yankees, and he moves out of his parent's house into an apartment in Manhattan. All this happened because he stopped following his natural instinct and started doing the opposite.
Now, this is a sitcom. It's silly, and it's supposed to be. But there is a hint of truth here. Proverbs 14:12 explains that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”
Our natural tendency is not toward wisdom. It is towards foolishness. If you follow your natural instincts through life, you'll find that many of the things that seem like a good idea at the time prove to be miserable choices.
In order to succeed in life, we need wisdom. Proverbs show us how to get it and how to apply it to our lives on the most basic level. We will spend the next ten weeks in this book, and you will love it. There are no abstract theological concepts in the book of Proverbs. There are no obscure philosophical ideas. There are no "begats" in the book of Proverbs. It is simply with verse after verse, page after page of plain, straightforward, practical wisdom. Today, we'll open this series with a look at what wisdom is and how we can get it working in our lives.
Wisdom is the ability to make good decisions about what to do and what not to do.
What is wisdom? Here's a definition. Wisdom is the ability to make good decisions. Period. I have a friend who lives to challenge everything I say, and when I gave him this definition, he said, "No, that's not it. Making good decisions isn't enough. You also have to act on them." I said to him, "Once again, dear friend, you've missed the point. Whether or not you take action is, in itself, a decision. A wise person will not put off the decision to take action."
Wisdom is the ability to make good decisions, about what to do, about what not to do, about what to say, about what not to say, about when to take action, about how to take action. Wisdom is the ability to make good decisions. If you know the right thing, you're intelligent. If you know the right thing and choose to do it, you're wise. As we develop wisdom, the difference it will make in our lives is that it will give us the ability to make good decisions.
Wisdom has ten benefits.
A minute ago I touched lightly on the benefits of wisdom. Let's look into that a little further. Don't panic, but this part of my message has ten sub-points. No need to worry, though. I'll only spend about five minutes on each one, so we should be out of here in a couple of hours.
Proverbs says a lot about the benefits of wisdom and what having wisdom will do for us. In the first nine chapters of Proverbs, there are at least ten benefits that I have found, and I'm going to go through that list right now. So, get out your bulletin and write these down. Here are ten ways we'll benefit from wisdom. Miraculously, they all start with the letter "P".
1. Perception. Wisdom gives us an accurate perception of life. Proverbs 2:9, 10. “Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.”
2. Prevention. Wisdom will prevent us from engaging in self-destructive behavior. Proverbs 2:12. “Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men...” Proverbs 2:16. “It will save you also from the adulteress...” Proverbs 3:23. “Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble.” Wisdom prevents us from doing self-destructive things.
3. Wisdom will prolong our life. Proverbs 3:1,2. “Keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years.” Proverbs 3:8. “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” Proverbs 3:16. “Long life is in her right hand. ("her" refers to wisdom) Proverbs 9:11. “For through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life.” Now, people ask, "How will having wisdom add years to my life?" One simple way is that it reduces stress and undoubtedly it lowers blood pressure. Having wisdom adds years to our lives, and as the cliché goes, it adds life to our years.
4. Peace. As we develop wisdom, we will enjoy a life of peace. Proverbs 3:17. “Her ways ("her" refers to wisdom) are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.” Proverbs 3:24. “When you lie down, you will not be afraid. When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”Wisdom brings peace of mind.
5. Prosperity. Proverbs 3:2. “[Wisdom] will prolong your life many years, and bring you prosperity.” Proverbs 3:16. “Long life is in her right hand, and in her left hand are riches and honor.” In fact, Proverbs says so much about the connection between wisdom and wealth that we will spend an entire week looking at this subject.
6. Poise. Have you ever seen someone who is at ease in every situation? I'm not referring to cockiness or arrogance; I'm referring to a quiet type of confidence. Wisdom gives us that. Proverbs 3:26, 27. “Have no fear of sudden disaster...for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your feet from being snared.”
7. Protection. Wisdom will keep us safe. Proverbs 4:6. “Do not forsake wisdom and she will protect you; love her and she will watch over you.”
8. Precision. Wisdom gives us the ability to take the right number of steps, in the right direction, at the right pace. Proverbs 4:12. “When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.”
9. Prudence. If it weren't for former President George Bush (or Dana Carvey's impersonation of George Bush) this word might not be recognizable. But of course, we've all heard the phrase "not gonna do it...wouldn't be prudent." The word prudent or prudence appears more than a dozen times in the book of Proverbs. It means "caution" or "discretion" or simply, "good sense." Wisdom helps you exercise caution when you need to exercise caution; it gives you the sense to hold back when you need to hold back. Proverbs 8:12.“I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence. I possess knowledge and discretion.”
10. Wisdom Pays! Proverbs 9:12. “If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you.” Now Just think about it: peace, confidence, a longer life, prosperity, understanding, good sense, a sense of direction, a sense of protection, and on top of that, more rewards besides. Wisdom is worth having! I mention all of these benefits because I want you all to say, "I've got to have wisdom!" And I want you to know that wisdom is available to anyone who wants it. How do we get it? Well, of course, it's a process, but here's how we get started.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Proverbs 9:10. We start on the path to wisdom by putting God first. The wisest thing we'll ever do is give God the place he deserves in our lives. When I say, "put God first", I mean specifically that we choose Jesus to be the Lord of our life. That is where the path to wisdom begins.
There are three things we can do to put wisdom to work in our lives immediately.
Now, the last thing I want to talk about today is what we can do today to put wisdom to work in your lives. When you hear the term "wise man" what do you think of? Most people think of someone old and gray, weathered in time, with decades of experience behind him. Guess what? You don't have to wait till you're old and gray to become wise. You can become wise now, even if you're young and green. Granted, developing wisdom is a process that grows over the years, and the older you are, the wiser you can become. However, you can also benefit from wisdom right now. Even if up to this very moment, you have been an absolute fool, you can start putting wisdom to work in your life today. If you've started on the path to wisdom by putting God first in your life, here are three things we can all do to put wisdom to work right away.
First, we must believe that thoughts and behavior have consequences and produce corresponding results. When you got up this morning and made coffee, why didn't you mix in a little poison with the sugar and cream? Because you know better. You know the consequences of drinking poison, so you very wisely chose not to put arsenic in your coffee. Congratulations, you've taken the first step in putting wisdom to work in your life. That same belief you have in the consequences of drinking poison can be applied to the other areas of your life.
The reason we do some of the stupid things that we do is because we don't believe in consequences. We think we'll get away with it. We think we can eat pizza and ice cream without gaining weight. We think we can smoke two packs a day without losing a lung. We think we can yell and scream at our kids and still be a positive influence on them, but it simply doesn't work that way. Our actions have consequences. In the last couple of years, we've seen that even the President of the United States isn't immune to consequences. Solomon made reference to this foolish disregard of consequences when he said in Proverbs 6:27, “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?” Of course, the answer is obvious. Fire burns. That's the inevitable consequence. Proverbs is a book of consequences. The message you will hear repeated again and again throughout the next ten weeks is that behavior produces corresponding results. You must realize and believe in consequences.
When I say believe in consequences, I'm not just talking about the bad ones. I'm talking about the good ones too. All behavior produces corresponding results. Good behavior produces good results. One of the reasons we don't do some of the things that we know we should is because we have a what's-the-use mentality. We've been told that no matter how hard we try, we'll never get ahead and things like that, but Proverbs teaches the opposite. Proverbs teaches that we can count on consequences. Behavior produces corresponding results. Here are a couple of examples.
Proverbs 13:11 tells us that “He who gathers money little by little makes it grow.” That's the consequence of saving. Keep saving a little, and eventually we'll have a lot.
Proverbs 13:18 warns us that “He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame.” That's a consequence.
Proverbs 14:23 shows us the results and the contrast between work and talk. “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Those are both consequences we can count on. Do nothing but talk, and we’ll end up poor; put some actions behind our words, and we'll be able to build something for ourselves. If we want to put wisdom to work in our lives, we must believe that everything we do creates a corresponding result. Believe in consequences!
Second,we canlearn lessons from the positive and negative examples around us.
We don't have to graduate from the school of hard knocks in every area of life. We can learn lessons from others.
On the first day of our honeymoon my wife and I were having breakfast at an International House of Pancakes. She took a drink of her milk, made an awful face, and said, "This milk is sour." I reached for her glass and said, "Are you sure?" I took a drink, and sure enough, a foul-smelling lump of curdled milk slid down my throat. Of course, I coughed and sputtered and gagged. I will never forget the look she gave me. We had been married less than 24 hours, and now she was thinking, "What kind of idiot did I just agree to spend the rest of my life with? I told him the milk was sour and he just took a drink!"
We don't have to learn every lesson in life by personal experience. Learn from others. Follow their example. Get their advice. We can surround ourselves with people who are wiser than we are. In fact, Proverbs says a lot about this subject. We will spend an entire week on the art of getting good advice. Solomon said in Proverbs 13:20, “He who walks with the wise grows wise.” To put wisdom to work in our lives, we can tap into the wisdom of others.
Third, we can immerse ourselves in God’s wisdom. How do we do that? Read his Word. In fact, since we're doing this series, I would recommend we begin with the book of Proverbs. Read these words day after day. They will seep into our consciousness, and make a difference in the decisions we make.
Here's what I do. I read the Bible just about every day. I try never to miss doing this. Also, just about every day, I listen to tapes. I listen to preachers, teachers, and other speakers whom I respect and enjoy. I will often listen to the same tape a dozen times. I also listen to Christian music. My favorite is scripture songs. My goal is to surround myself with wisdom, through others, through the Word, through music, and, ultimately, through my own thoughts.
We've covered a lot of territory today, and we've laid a good foundation for the next nine weeks. The book of Proverbs shows us how to get it together and keep it together. It shows us how to make good decisions. Good decisions are easier to make when we recognize that every decision we make and every action we make produces a corresponding result. We can begin to put wisdom to work in our lives today if we put God first, believe in consequences, and start surrounding ourselves with wisdom.
Steve May has been a pastor to pastors for more than 20 years, helping preachers and teachers to become more effective communicators of the gospel.