In the 2002, the band Audio Slave released a song titled “Show Me How to Live.” It’s a soulful rock song that conveys a surprisingly philosophical message. The lyrics speak of being “built with stolen parts, a telephone in my heart. Someone get me a priest, to put my mind to bed. This ringing in my head; is this a cure, or is this a disease?” The singer confesses confusion about his existence, longing to find direction as to the “ringing” in his heart. The chorus culminates in the anguished request, “From my creator, you gave me life, now show me how to live.” To me (of course, my interpretation of the song could be wrong) it seems the songwriter cries out with the yearning all humans experience: we are given life, but how should we live?
How we answer that question is at the center of our existence. Yet, who/what source do we go to for a reliable answer? Whether we realize it or not, we allow a variety of competing voices to tell us how to live. Our values, goals, and ethics are often shaped by people and institutions we respect and admire. In our modern world technology and its promise of convenience and comfort is often the voice of dominance for many young people. Physical beauty (filtered of course) becomes more important than character; immediate comfort (barring lag in the internet connection) supersedes patience with your fellow man. The truth and knowledge we accept as ultimate influences how we interact on a daily basis.
The word we might use for this practical knowledge is an old but important one: wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge applied; the practice of your true beliefs. It is one of the four cardinal (coming from the Latin word for “hinge”) virtues which produce a successful and healthy life.
Thus, it should be no surprise that scripture has much to say about wisdom and its source (for it has much to say about how we should live). The book of James points believers in the appropriate direction for wisdom in James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” If you want to know how to live practically, knowledgeably, and successfully then go to God, the fountain of all true wisdom. This seems simple enough. Yet, this concise statement packs far more information than we might initially recognize. Here are but a few:
Humility before Wisdom. When James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom” he implies that the believer must recognize this about himself–something that is quite difficult to do. We don’t like to admit when we lack something. Whether it is good humor, workplace competence, beauty, or a reasonable personality, we often become defensive when others suggest we are deficient in any area. Yet there are certain things we cannot receive unless we first recognize our need. Just as the patient must recognize they are sick before they seek the aid of the physician, the Christian must recognize they are often foolish and stubborn before they go to the Great Teacher.
For, this is what it means to lack wisdom: we are ignorant, and apart from God and His revelation we make silly, stupid decisions which result in destruction for ourselves and others. Genuine humility (not the false kind) takes a sober look at our abilities and talents and, recognizing our shortcomings before an infinitely wise God, comes with willing hands to the throne of the Almighty (Rom. 12:3; Jam. 4:6).
Recognizing the Correct Source. Often, we like to think that Christians—as opposed to non-Christians—are the ones who make wise choices. If only this were true. God’s people have rejected Him as their standard for living time and time again. Instead of going to the fountain of living waters, they seek broken cisterns from which a plethora of spiritual diseases come (Jer. 2:13). James isn’t concerned with Christians being viewed as wise by the world; in fact, they were and he condemns them for this (James 4:1-4). Rather, he calls for them to seek the wisdom of the Spirit, revealed by God to His people in scripture (1 Cor. 2:6-7, 13).
The embodiment of this wisdom—that is, how God expects us to live with the knowledge and grace He gives—is witnessed in Jesus Christ. Paul refers to Jesus as the “wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). Following this wisdom will at times lead to the world scorning us. What sense does it make to love your enemies, to speak truth about human sexuality, to condemn cultural perversion, and to show grace to the undeserving? None of this is pragmatic because it doesn’t get you ahead in this world. Yet, if we are seeking God’s wisdom, our life is lived for the next; for within Jesus we see that ultimate reality is still to come.
Trust in God’s Love. There are some genuinely terrible fathers in this world. Men who don’t care about the success or failure of the future life of their children. They don’t take the time to discipline in love or train their children to think correctly about difficult issues. Because of this, the next generation often makes the same terrible choices as the previous and entire families are kept in a bitter cycle of poor choices. This isn’t God.
God wants His children to succeed in this life and in the next. He longs to give wisdom to those who seek it. He won’t discipline you for asking for too much and too often. Rather, he waits with unbridled joy for the humble heart of His child to seek his direction. Every good father I know is like this. They find great joy in their children coming to them and asking for counsel and advice–so too is God. I find great comfort in knowing that God looks forward to me asking Him for help and guidance in the most difficult moments of my life. To ask with child-like faith, “Father, I’m lost and need your guidance and direction. Bless me with the wisdom I need to live a life fully pleasing you in godliness and righteousness.” We must learn to trust the love that’s waiting on the other end of our prayers.
So, we discover that our Creator has not brought us into existence and abandoned us. Rather, He has shown us how to live and invites us to continually come to Him for guidance as we seek His truth in His word and request His help in prayer. Will you let Him be your guide? Will you let Him bring you into true life?