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Prayer

Wisdom Wanes

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The current world that we live in seems to value intelligence, or maybe it would be more accurate to say that it values education.The difference can be as narrow or as wide as the individual is capable of maintaining.Intelligence might be safely considered to be the sum total of your acquired knowledge and skills (actually I borrowed that definition from my iPad’s built-in dictionary just now, but it will work just fine).Sometimes that matters, but in a lot of cases - especially cases like the starting of a new job - education is a little more important, because we most likely have a tangible representation of just how much we have been taught: a diploma or a degree.

But while such faculties are indeed valuable to a person, and by extension to the organization that employs such a person, there is another quality that is far more valuable, and yet far more difficult to quantify: wisdom.  Once again, my dictionary defines the concept of wisdom as “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.”  So a person can have education, but fail to carry over all of that knowledge into what we might define as intelligence, and a person with intelligence can lack the wisdom to know how to use the knowledge and skills he or she has developed.

The complete picture of man’s knowledge, skill, and experience is like a big funnel with education at the top, intelligence and experience somewhere in the middle, and then wisdom forming the bottleneck at the bottom.  And if you’ve ever worked with other people, no doubt you have experienced a tragic lack of wisdom in someone who was supposed to have a lot of education - a person who seemed very intelligent - and yet who made bad decision after bad decision.  That is indicative of a great lack of wisdom.  Chances are, you are familiar with several people just like this.  And the problem won’t get better in the short term.

True wisdom is excluded from almost all educational establishments in the developed world today, because - as the Bible tells us - “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10),” and yet most of the elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, community colleges, and universities in the western world today begin with the assumption that there is no God; and if there were, He wouldn’t deserve to be feared.  So they go on trying to instill so-called knowledge in their students - the ‘knowledge’ that says that the universe created itself when an infinitesimal part of it decided to blow up, and all of the intellectual bankruptcy that goes along with that idea - with no hope of ever being able to pass on real wisdom to their graduates.  Real wisdom starts with the fear of the Lord.

We are told that Solomon, son of David, King of Israel, was the wisest man to ever live - except for Jesus the Son of God, of course.  And Solomon obtained his wisdom not through universities, or online courses, or Wikipedia, but directly from God - the only source of real wisdom - and he obtained it through a most curious means: he asked for it.

“Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” (2 Chronicles 1:10)

And God was pleased with Solomon’s request, because he did not ask for great riches or victory over his enemies, or long life, and therefore God gave him the wisdom that he had requested, as well as all of the other things too!

Solomon’s wisdom was so great, in fact, that the Queen of Sheba came all the way to Jerusalem - with an absolutely obscene amount of money - just to hear some of this famed wisdom for herself:

“Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions, having a very great retinue and camels bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones. And when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. And Solomon answered all her questions. There was nothing hidden from Solomon that he could not explain to her. And when the queen of Sheba had seen the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, and their clothing, his cupbearers, and their clothing, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her.” (2 Chronicles 9:1-4)

It’s hard to imagine such a situation arising today.  We all seem to be so prideful about our own accomplishments and intelligence that we would almost never seek out those whom God has gifted with the ability to make wise judgments.  And yet we also live in a time when so many Christians wish that God would just give them the answers to tough decisions that they need to make.  Questions about which job to take, which person to marry, or which house to buy can bring many to a stumbling halt.  I’ve seen people open the Bible to a random page, hoping to glean some direction for a particularly difficult decision that they need to make, and there are whole study courses designed to teach Christians how to listen for the voice of God in helping make hard choices.

What we need is not some mystical experience where God whispers the right answer into our ears, but instead we need wisdom!  We need to be able to make the decisions ourselves, using our own God-given faculties, applying our own knowledge, experience, and good judgment.  But how do we get it?

We get wisdom the exact same way that Solomon did: by asking for it.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5)

We should not be trying to live out our days without regularly asking God for wisdom.  We already know from the story of Solomon that He likes it when His people ask for this, and this passage in the book of James tells us plainly that He gives generously to all without reproach if we but ask.

Ask for wisdom to make the hard decisions that come up in your life.  Ask for wisdom to understand the deep things revealed to us in the Scriptures.  Ask for wisdom about how to share the Gospel with your family, neighbors, and coworkers.  Ask for wisdom about how to exercise your spiritual gifts within the context of the local church where God has placed you.  We need all of this, and He has said that He will give it.

So don’t let anything hold you back.  Go ahead and ask for God’s wisdom right now.  There’s no reason to wait.

Asking for All of It

Throughout the course of our lives, we pray for all sorts of "big" things.  We might ask God to give us that job that we've been hoping to get so that our families could be better provided for.  We might ask Him to let that beautiful person fall in love with us so that we can spend the rest of our lives in happy fellowship with such a wonderful person.  We ask Him to miraculously heal others so that we don't have to stop spending time with them.  We might even ask for something as "small" as that amazing car that we want to drive.

Sometimes, though, we turn our attention to more 'spiritual' pursuits, and we ask God to draw us closer to Himself.  We ask Him to become more real to us, to fill our minds and our lives with love and devotion towards Him.  And when we pray for these things, it seems like we're not asking too much.  After all, don't we believe that God wants us to want fellowship with Him like that?  Aren't those prayers the kinds of things that He would rather us be praying for than some of those others - like a new car, or a pretty girl, or a better job?

Well, I'm not about to answer "no" to those questions, but I do think that we need to understand the magnitude of what we are requesting when we pray for God to give us more of Himself.  It may not sound like it at first blush, but what you're really asking for is actually the most valuable experience conceivable.

There was a time when mankind's first parents enjoyed an easy continual fellowship with the Almighty God in the Garden.  They were drawn closer to Him than we can even imagine.  He was real to them, and they had a love and devotion to Him that was as-of-yet unimpeded by any human sinfulness.  This was all exactly what they lost, however, when they disobeyed His direct command and ate that which they were forbidden to eat.

The story of the Older Testament of the Bible then progresses from that tragic moment through a series of events orchestrated by God to gradually draw man back toward Himself.  In that economy, however, a simple prayer of "Father, please give me more of yourself" wouldn't really go far enough.  To even draw near to the place where God had chosen to place His presence - the portable tabernacle in the wilderness wanderings, and later the temple in Jerusalem - required costly and bloody sacrifices and a series of ritual washings.  And that's not to even mention the fact that only a certain family could truly enter into the immediate vicinity of God's presence - and that only once per year!  Anyone desiring that kind of closeness to God would be looking at a very tall order indeed, and most would just have to settle for some degree of distance.

Why would there be so much difficulty involved in something that seems so noble, you might ask?  I mean, isn't it a good thing to want to draw near to God?  Doesn't He want His people to be close to Him?  To understand, we really have to get an accurate picture of God's holiness and man's sinfulness.

The Bible describes God as being 'holy' - often in triplicate just to impress on us how important this particular attribute is to His character!  To put it simply, this means that He is wholly different or set apart from everything else.  He is fundamentally different than anything and everything else.  One very clear and uncomplicated way to see this is in the fact that He created everything else that exists.  And so everything in the universe and anywhere else was created by Him and relies upon Him for its very being.  That is to say that literally everything is contingent upon God for its existence!  In contrast, God is the only being who is contingent upon nothing else for His existence.  He is because He is.  That's all there is to it.  See how different He is from everything else?

The holiness of God isn't simply about the metaphysics of existence, however.  It also refers to His moral perfection that actually gives definition to every single concept of right and wrong.  When we do something good, it is because we are acting in accordance with the 'good' as defined by God.  And when we do something 'evil', it is because we are acting contrary to His nature.  So we flit back and forth between good motives and evil ones, and all the while God stands as the very defining fiat of good.  That is very different from the way we operate.  It's like a completely perpendicular idea to that of our own moral nature.

In fact, this God to whom we would seek to draw nearer is so holy, so different from us in regards to the concept of morality that He cannot even look upon evil (Habakkuk 1:13).  This is the reason for His separation from man following the sin in the garden.  This is the reason for the secluded holy of holies in the tabernacle and the temple, filled entirely with the smoky covering of incense during those very brief moments when the one man in the entire nation of Israel was given permission to draw close once per year.

And that is the reason why it is such a tall order for us to ask to draw nearer to God - to feel closer to Him and to walk by His side.  We are stained with the filth of our own sin, and yet we seek fellowship with the most holy and pure Creator.  And to make matters worse, our sin and evil is not just a generic negative force clinging to us - as if it's just a part of who we are that we can't control.  It's not just that we've done some bad things in our lives that we are ashamed of.  No, the evil that we have done is only reckoned as evil because it is a transgression of God's Law.  He is the injured party in every single infraction.  In other words, when we ask to feel closer to God, we have to remember that we've piled quite a bit of disgusting disobedience between us and Him.

But the absolute wonder and glory of the Gospel revealed to us in Scripture is that God does allow us to draw near to Him!  He has issued a formal invitation through His Son Jesus to come right on in to the very holy of holies at the center of the temple, and He tells us that we can and should come in as often as we would like!  Hebrews 10:19-20 makes it clear that we have confidence to enter into the holy places through the blood of Christ, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain - that is, His flesh.  And so because of our Savior we are given the same dizzying privilege that was given to the high priest on the Day of Atonement: to enter directly into the presence of God.  But out position is actually much greater than his, for he could only go in once a year - and that with much preparation and sacrifice.  The astounding truth taught in the Gospel is that Jesus has made all of the necessary preparations for us.  His sacrifice was sufficient to perfect for all time those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14).

So the way has been prepared, and the invitation has been issued.  We can in fact ask for all of it! We can ask God to draw us nearer to Himself.  We can ask Him to become more real to us, and to fill our hearts and our minds with love and devotion toward Him.  We can even presume to walk right into the holy of holies - the way to which has been opened wide for us - and call the God of the universe, 'Abba': 'Daddy'!

To close, let me return for a moment to the idea that we may feel pretty good about ourselves and our noble intentions when we 'merely' ask God to draw us closer to Himself.  Firstly, I hope that we can all see just what a huge request that turns out to be.  But lastly, if God has indeed taken such steps through the work of His Son to open the way for us so that we can enter right into His presence, then how are we to feel about ourselves if we don't often take advantage of the incredible privilege?  Our Father has given us the most precious gift that can be given.  Let us not ignore it by being so wrapped up in the temporary pleasures of this fickle world.