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Unpacking the True Meaning of Wisdom in a Crisis

By Dennis Rainey

Have you ever spent time with a person who is absolutely brilliant? A genuine genius? A person with a photographic memory?

I have.

Years ago, while I was on a 10-day tour of Israel, I encountered Dr. Bruce Waltke. He was an Old Testament seminary professor and the Bible teacher for our tour. He was more than qualified with two doctorates … a ThD from Dallas Theological Seminary and a PhD from Harvard. Bruce was brilliant.

Location after location I was astonished at his mental acuities. He quoted large sections of books to give us the historical background of the Dead Sea Scrolls. At one point he squinted his eyes, rubbed his forehead as he recited some text which was etched on one of those ancient scrolls. All of this and much more … from memory.

I recall thinking, “This is what it’s like to go on tour with a man who is a human library.” He was Dr. Google before there was Google!

On day nine the temperature was soaring and I was hot so I wandered back to the bus. As I took a seat up front I looked to my right and there was Dr. Waltke.

After some small talk I pounced on the opportunity to ask a very naïve question. “Location after location you have amazed us with your knowledge of Israel, the Bible, and history.” I paused for just a second then asked my question: “Dr. Waltke, what is it like to be such a genius?”

Now you need to know that Bruce was a shy man. Humble and gracious. At first he looked away from me. I assumed he was embarrassed by my observation and question.

His answer to my question is still etched on my soul.

He looked back at me, smiled, and timidly responded, “Ah Dennis … I don’t know if you’ve noticed but our Arab guides are threatened by my knowledge. They are jealous because I know more about this land where they grew up than they do.” (This was four years after the “Six Day War” when Jewish occupation of the land was in its infancy. We had Arab guides because there were no trained Jewish guides.)

He went on to explain, “And back at the seminary where I teach there’s all kinds of competition between professors about how much they know about the Bible, the number of books they’ve written, and the papers they’ve published.”

He went on, “This strife occurs because knowledge can puff people up and divide … but … wisdom builds people up. It edifies and unifies.” Bruce paused then placed the cookies on the lower shelf …

“Because wisdom is godly skill in everyday living.”

That brief interaction over 50 years ago sent me off on a lifelong study of “wisdom”—what it is, how we acquire it and apply it, and how to experience its benefits in our lives. Here’s a small sampling of what I’ve discovered.

Seeing life through God’s eyes

I have discovered that true wisdom is living life according to God’s design. Wisdom sees the raw components of life through God’s eyes and asks Him to give us discernment and understanding about a crisis, a trial, or a person whose actions doesn’t make sense to us.

Isn’t that what you and I need right now? We need to truly understand God’s perspective of what’s taking place in our world and ask Him for wisdom to know how to respond to:

…perpetual lockdowns.

…loss of a job.


…conflicting world views at work, at the university or in politics.

…chaos among our leaders.

These are thorny issues, some of which have been around for a long time. We need to know how to address them wisely.

A couple of weeks ago I was praying for a friend who serves us all through his position in government. I thought of what he and his colleagues were facing. Relentless uncertainty. Chaos, confusion, bitterness, bickering, hatred and even violence. We see the result in …

A divided nation.

A divided government.

Divided churches.

Division between friends.

And even divided marriages and families.

From the top of our country to the bottom, we all need wisdom. Now.

Wisdom comes from God

Two passages of Scripture from the Book of James form a compass that points us in the right direction … IF we are teachable and willing to listen to what God says in Scripture.

First, the wisdom we all need comes from God, not from man. Take a look at what Jesus’s half-brother wrote in James 1:2-8:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

Let me make two observations from this passage:

1. You and I will have trials. Period. No one is exempt. Notice the Scripture doesn’t say we are to “count it all joy” if we have trials … no, it clearly says “when” we have trials of various kinds. The bottom line: Your faith will be tested all the way to the finish line.

2. You and I are to ask God for wisdom. James assumes we NEED WISDOM. Ask God for wisdom with faith and say “no” to doubt. Go to God and keep going to Him. Ask Him to give you His perspective for what you are facing, and the life skills you need to handle it.

But we all struggle with doubt, don’t we?

When I was a junior at university, a preacher by the name of Tom Skinner shared this quote about faith and doubt with me:

“I spent a long time trying to come to grips with my doubts when suddenly I realized I needed to come to grips with what I believe. I have since moved from the agony of questions that I cannot answer

to the reality of answers that I cannot escape … and it’s a great relief.”

If you want to receive wisdom, you have to determine who you trust and what you believe. Doubt creates a double-minded person, looking to the world for answers and not wholeheartedly embracing God and what He says in the Scriptures.

Your duty as a follower of Christ is to ask God for His skills to handle the various trials you are facing right now.

God is our hope

I recently wrote the friend who works in government I spoke of earlier. I emailed him to let him know I was praying for him. I shared a passage of Scripture that has been resonating in my soul for the past month.

The second passage where James speaks to us today. Notice how the words “wise” and “wisdom” are used in James 3:13-18:

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

I passionately believe that we ALL need “the wisdom from above.” Pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere … don’t you agree?

God sent His Son to redeem us from our selfishness. He also wants to be our friend, our refuge and our protector. He alone is our hope.

We ALL need to repent of our fleshly, arrogant “wisdom.” We need to surrender to Christ and get in the Scriptures daily.

The Apostle Paul admonishes us with yet another word about living life according to God’s design. He writes in Ephesians 5:15-17,

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

I’ll close with three action points:

1. Are you sitting on the sidelines throwing stones at those who are in the game? Surrender your life to the only One who is trustworthy to lead you and give you wisdom, Jesus Christ.

2. Ask Him to clarify your assignment. Become the “salt and light” this world needs right now. Your life matters. One assignment I am convinced God gives to all who follow Christ is … to sacrificially love one another.

3. If you have children, grandchildren or nieces/nephews, begin a conversation about wisdom. Talk about being wise and not a fool, and about courageously standing firm for Jesus Christ. Don’t assume they know what wisdom is or what wisdom does. The next generation needs to know their assignment too.

Are you in the game? Do you know your assignment? Are you a generational messenger, purposely transmitting the truth?

Lord Jesus, come quickly,

Dennis Rainey

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Psalm 90:12


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