We all make decisions differently. As I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve noticed a big difference between the way people in East Asia, Africa and some parts of Europe and Latin America make decisions, and the way we make decisions here in the U.S and Western Europe. Recently I was in Sri Lanka and India, and it was so obvious that people in those cultures make decisions collectively. In their collectivistic culture, the good of the society, the good of the family, and the good of the work is of higher priority than the needs of the individual.
Quite often, when they’re making decisions, they’re making decisions together as a community. Marriage, for example, is still often arranged by the family in that part of the world, and it’s done in community.
That’s different than here in the West. We do things individually. To us, the rights of the individual trump the rights of society, of family, of workplace. So in the Western individualistic culture, we think very differently. We celebrate and demand our independence and autonomy.
The thing about making decisions in either one of these contexts is that they both have flaws. When you make all decisions collectively, there’s a chance of something going wrong with those decisions. Our friends in Asia and Africa have shared with us openly that these cultures tend to deal with a lot of shame and rejection. Here in the U.S., because we’re so individualistic and we’re often making decisions in isolation, we suffer from loneliness and anxiety. We deal with great stress because we have to make every decision on our own, and there’s a lack of connection with others.
Somewhere between these two extremes is probably the right way to make decisions.We need wisdom to help us make good decisions without falling into either one of these two extremes.
Thankfully, the Bible has much to say about wisdom, but most importantly it teaches us that wisdom is found in God.
“But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell? No mortal comprehends its worth; it cannot be found in the land of the living. […] God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells. […] And he said to the human race, ‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.’” Job 28:20-28
God is the one who knows the way to wisdom, and his own description of wisdom is “the fear of the Lord.” The Hebrew word for fear, yir’ah, includes that sense of being afraid, experiencing dreadfulness, and scared of something because it is so much greater than we are. But, yir’ah also includes a reverence and its used toward God who is much greater than we are, much more knowledgeable, much more loving, much more merciful, full of grace, and much wiser than we could ever be.
A while ago, I got a good picture of what this looks like. When my son and his wife had their second baby, William, I got to babysit his older brother, Benjamin. He was a little more than a year old, and he got to stay with me for four days. Whenever Benjamin needed something, he came to me and he would raise his hands. He said “Nana” sometimes, but most of the time he just came up and raised his hands toward me. His actions were declaring, “Nana, I know everything I need comes from you. If I need food, if I need a hug, if I need to be put to bed, if I need a toy, you have it. I’m coming to you.” Instinctively, his first reaction is to put his arms up and ask. That’s how a child sees the parent or the grandparent.
That’s how we ought to approach God, because he has the wisdom we need. In Romans 11:33, we’re told about the depth of his wisdom: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” James 3:17 says: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” That is the kind of wisdom we need to make decisions. Peace-loving and considerate, submissive and full of mercy, decisions that bear good fruit, that are impartial and sincere. Don’t you want that kind of wisdom?
How do we get this kind of wisdom?
We come to God with whatever our problem is, whatever the decision we need to make, with whatever abilities we have, and we say, “I am just offering it all to you. I’m not going to follow the world’s wisdom or even my own limited wisdom. I’m going to seek your wisdom, O God.” Paul urges us to approach God with a posture of surrender:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:1-2
Notice that Paul says, “…but be transformed…” Do you notice that’s a passive verb? It’s not that we transform ourselves, but that God transforms when we make ourselves available to him.
When we turn to God, we shun the wisdom of the world, we seek his wisdom alone, and he strikingly, he changes the way we think. Verse 2 says: “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” That is remarkable to me. Imagine that! We get to “test and approve God’s perfect will?”
I took some time to study this, and do you know what I learned? In Greek, there are two words for will. One of them is boulema, which stands for commands and laws and rules. The other one is thelēma, which stands for desires. When we offer ourselves to God, he transforms our minds, and we understand his desire. We understand his heart. His heart is perfect and good and pleasing.
So it is clear that wisdom comes from God and we must seek it with a surrendered posture. But, practically speaking, how do we obtain wisdom from God’s own heart so that we can discern and make good decisions?
Here are four practical ways to acquire wisdom from God.
- God’s Word. First, we must be in relationship with God through his son Jesus. Once we submit to him, he helps us understand his desires and receive his wisdom. This means we have to spend time in the Bible, which testifies about Jesus (John 5:39). Through our reading and studying the Scriptures, God strengthens our relationship with him. It’s his revelation to us, his love letter to us. This is how we get to understand his heart, his commands and his desires.
- The Holy Spirit. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit in John 16:12-13, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” We are to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in a mysterious way, his wisdom changes us from the inside out.
- Prayer. Prayer should be a conversation, a time with the Lord where you build relationship. The Psalms is an extended book of prayers. In prayer, we build intimacy with God. Jesus tells us to pray with humility. John tells us to pray with boldness, with confidence. James tells us to pray without doubting. Paul reminds us we should pray all the time. Through prayer God increases our wisdom.
- Wise counsel. With others who also seek God’s wisdom, we can hear God’s voice. We can be in relationship with God through the wisdom God may give someone else. Community can give us wisdom in a fresh way and help us confirm or adjust our decisions.
Notice how you can apply these any time, any day, as many times in the day as you want. These are very practical ways to seek God’s wisdom and understand his desires.
Do you notice something about these four practices: the Word, the Holy Spirit, prayer, and wise counsel? They’re about connecting with God and with community. It’s about developing our relationship with God and trusting fellow believers. Notice that it’s both an individual and community effort. Godly, heavenly, wisdom helps us avoid both the potential pitfalls of isolation from Western individualistic culture and shame of Eastern collectivistic culture.
What if we lived according to God’s heavenly wisdom and not the wisdom of the world?
Through Godly wisdom, there is healing that can come into our lives and our communities: our family members, our co-workers, our church, our neighborhood, the world. When we make the decision to offer up ourselves as a living sacrifice and let God transform us, we can positively influence the world through his power and not our own. We can make good decisions and live without fear, through his wisdom not our own. What if we lived like that?
Today I’m going to challenge you to use these four points to let God transform your heart and mind. See what changes start happening and how God’s wisdom alters your life.