The world offers no lack of advice. When we need guidance, we can turn to self-help books on nearly any subject. We can find YouTube videos, blog posts, TedTalks, and tweets full of advice. Sometimes this advice is contradictory. Other times, it is simply wrong. As Christians, we are called to be wise. In this cacophony of voices, how do we recognize and desire true wisdom?
What is Wisdom?
As Christians, we want our wisdom to come from God. In the following passage, James gives us a glimpse of what godly wisdom looks like:
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
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. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”James 3:13-18
This passage tells us several things about wisdom. Mainly, it shows that wise people act in humility. As James stated above, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” Therefore, we can recognize wisdom by seeing if it’s rooted in humility.
Not All “Wisdom” is Wise
There is a kind of wisdom that the Bible does not laud. That is the focus of the second part of this passage. James 3:14-16 says, “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” Unlike godly wisdom, which is marked by humility, this “worldly wisdom” is marked by envy and selfish ambition.
What does this mean for us? James warns us against denying the state of our hearts. Accordingly, I recently tried to evaluate myself based on this passage. I thought that I was wise. After all, I’ve managed to avoid a lot of potential pitfalls in my life, and we often equate this with wisdom. But it’s not that simple. When I thought about it, I realized that this self-ascribed “wisdom” is rooted in pride, rather than humility. Much of the time, I am not submissive. I lack mercy, and I am not impartial. These actions do not come from humility-based godly wisdom, but from worldly wisdom. Selfish ambition and envy fill my heart. By myself, I am not wise.
How to Find Wisdom
So how do we become wise in the way God desires? James tells us exactly how:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” James 1:5-8
Finding godly wisdom is that simple. We ask God to give it to us, then trust that he will fulfill his promise. And we can continue to search for wisdom. It is good for us to look for wisdom by reading Scripture and even through self-help books or other sources. But we should go to God first and ask him to help us find wisdom.
Often, I don’t want to seek out wisdom. Desiring godly wisdom isn’t something that we can do on our own. To find wisdom, we must depend on God. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
Rather than relying solely on ourselves to desire and recognize wisdom, we need to lean on God. No matter what confusing advice the world gives us, God’s guidance will always be reliable.
Sarah Howell is an eighteen-year-old, homeschooled deep thinker. She loves enjoying and creating beauty of all forms. She focuses on writing speculative fiction but also writes articles and blog posts. Throughout her teen years, Sarah has struggled with doubt and with trusting God with her life and her trials. This has taught her that struggling doesn’t make her any less worthy of love- “wilted is not worthless.” Her goal is to encourage other young women in the same struggles.