Who is this woman? I want you to meet my life and ministry partner. You will enjoy her. She’s peaceable, gentle, open to reason, and full of mercy and good fruits. Without her partnership, my life and ministry would have taken some very different turns. If you guessed my wife Peggy, you’re partly right. Who is this other partner? Her name is Wisdom and she’s stood behind my ministry for nearly fifty years.
What distinguishes this woman? Wisdom in the Bible is personified as a woman (Proverbs 1:20; 8:1; 9:1). Scholar Bruce Waltke describes her as a “unique woman who wears the mantle of a prophet, carries the scrolls of the wise, and wears a goddess-like diadem.” She is a “tree of life” and possesses riches and honor (3:16).
Unlike the other woman in Proverbs, the seductress who hides in dark corners luring men to her bed (7:6-18), Lady Wisdom stands in the open places, at the cross roads, by the city gates (8:1-3). There’s nothing hidden about Wisdom, she stands in the open, readily accessible to anyone wanting her help.
Why does the Bible personify wisdom? Why not refer to wisdom as a book to read or information to master? Pastor and author Eugene Peterson explained that when we personalize wisdom as a woman, “we find ourselves listening to a person rather than following a handbook of instructions.” Wisdom is not found in the accumulation of information but in the flesh-and-blood experiences and insight of people walking with God.
Unfortunately, wisdom seldom comes up as a topic of conversation when I talk with leaders today. You would think that the acquisition and practice of wisdom would be the number one task for leaders. I think we too easily outsource wisdom and look to training manuals or quick-fix solutions for our partners.
How do we out-source wisdom? Quick-fix solutions are designed by what I call “learning mercenaries” — the professional seminar leader or bestselling author who has done the learning work for us. Sometimes it’s more convenient to have someone tell us the answers than teach us how to discover the answers ourselves. When we outsource wisdom, we unknowingly choose expediency over the hard work of seeking wisdom..
Acquiring wisdom takes work; its like searching for hidden treasure (Proverbs 2:4). While wisdom requires effort it’s also a way available to everyone — anyone who struggles with rapid change, unexpected crises, or cultural challenges. Lady Wisdom invites us to her table (Proverbs 9:4-6), asking us to listen (3:3,4), and learn her ways.
How can we describe wisdom? Coming up with a tidy definition for wisdom is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. It’s easier to give a credible description to wisdom than trying to define it. Here’s my working description: Wisdom skillfully chooses what is good and right. It reflects a lifestyle, a way of living, than the Yoda-like advice of the sage.
When we speak of what’s good, we speak of God’s character. He’s a generous God who wants to bless His creation (Psalm 31:19). Choosing the good means choosing what gives life and nourishes others (Psalm 128:2), the essence of blessing.
When we think about what’s right, we consider what’s appropriate or the right thing to do. Doing the right thing is choosing a way that conforms to God’s righteous standard, doing what is just and fair (Proverbs 1:2; 2:20). Wisdom chooses the way that aligns with God’s moral character.
Wisdom teaches us to ask the questions: “What will be good for people (nourishes and brings life)? and What is right for people (just and fair)?” We think wisely about these questions with minds saturated with the Scriptures. Wisdom takes over when there is no clear biblical command or precedent, helping us choose the good and right for people and for situations.
Who are the wise people in our lives? The Bible makes wisdom flesh-and-blood through the personification of a woman. We touch and see and hear wisdom through wise people. A wise person who has enriched my life is Dr. Bill.
Dr. Bill is an experienced physician working at a major research university. Bill is also a committed Christ-follower. I call Bill a walking file cabinet of medical knowledge; his command of current medical research is amazing. At the same time he has soaked his life in the Scriptures.
There’s a way about Bill that draws me to him, and that way is his wisdom. He has insight and discernment in life and medicine, places where there are sometimes few fixed rules. He artfully blends together the bible with medical research and the experiential wisdom gained from years of treating patients. The Holy Spirit weaves all these paths into the way of wisdom and it’s from this wisdom that he practices medicine. Behind Bill’s medical practices stands a woman — not just his wife but Lady Wisdom.
We need wisdom today more than ever! Everyday leaders today face a barrage of new challenges. Some of the challenges can be met with clear biblical and moral imperatives. However, many challenges and the solutions we need have neither a biblical precedent nor a fixed moral command. We need Lady Wisdom’s insights — insights shaped by the Scriptures and life’s experiences; insights that enable us to choose what is good and right for the situation. We need this woman to stand behind our lives and ministries.
How about you? Do you need wisdom? In my next blog, I’ll describe a practical way to grow in wisdom that doesn’t require sitting in a classroom or paying to attend a high-priced seminar.
This blog is an excerpt from Bill Mowry’s upcoming book The Ways of the Leader: Bringing people together and breaking new ground. Check out the book page under “Books” at alongsider.com for additional details.