I’ve had the privilege of hearing John Maxwell speak and teach several times in person. As he speaks, I’m furiously trying to capture as many notes as I can. After the first time I heard him speak, I was blown away at the wisdom and depth of his teaching. I heard someone liken that lesson to drinking wisdom from a firehouse. There was no way to capture it all. I made sure that I had the opportunity to hear him at other events because there was so much to gain when he spoke.
Each of us have heard the story how Solomon famously asked for wisdom when God asked him what he wanted. God was so pleased that he didn’t ask for fame, riches or long life that He gave all of those things to him. I Kings 4 tells of how his wisdom spread and also of the things he understood. Then in the last verse it says, “And Kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon” (NLT). They recognized how much there was to gain from listening when he spoke.
In Proverbs 13:20 Solomon wrote, “Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.” He was letting telling us to look at who we are around and listening to. The people that we associate with have a lot to do with whether or not we are increasing in wisdom or not. Do the people around you add value to you? Are you learning from them? These are questions each of us should be asking ourselves.
I often tell people that it’s hard to soar with eagles when you’re walking around with turkeys. Are you looking for opportunities to learn to fly? Are you associate with those who are flying? Or are you grounded because the people around you are satisfied with staying on the ground? The ones we associate with determine how high we can fly. Choose to fly with the wise so that you can become wise. Your life will be better off and others will choose to be near you to hear what you have to say.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been taught that Solomon asked God for wisdom. I tried looking up the scripture where he asked God for “wisdom”, but the Bible doesn’t put it that way. In I Kings 3:9, Solomon asked God for an understanding heart so he could judge the people well. In essence he was asking for wisdom, but as I dug deeper, he wanted more than just wisdom. He wanted to do well in God’s sight and to care for His people.
When I looked up the word “understanding” as it was used in this context, it had three meanings. The first was to hear. Solomon wanted a heart that could hear not only God, but what others were saying too. He didn’t want to just rely on what his ears heard, he wanted to really hear what people meant. Wisdom comes in not just hearing what is spoken. It comes when we can discern the true intent of the words spoken.
The next meaning of “understanding” was to listen. Almost everyone is born with the ability to hear, but only a few ever learn to listen. I believe that God is always speaking to us. We hear Him, but we don’t really listen to what it is that He’s telling us or showing us. Solomon was concerned about the ability of his heart to listen to God. He wanted God to know that he understood the only way to truly govern the people well would be if He could listen to His voice.
The third meaning of “understanding” in this context is to obey. It’s not enough to hear or listen to God. We have to obey what He tells us. I’m sure that Solomon had been told of Saul’s disobedience and of God’s response in I Samuel 15:22. Obedience is better than sacrifice. God is more concerned with our obedience to His word than in our obedience to religious rituals. Anyone can walk through the motions of a ritual, but only the wisest among us obey a God at all costs.
Wisdom was a by product of what he truly wanted. Hearing the voice of a God, listening to what He really said and acting on it from his heart is what made Solomon truly wise. You and I can experience that wisdom. Solomon’s request for an understanding heart is one that you and I can ask for today. James 1:5 says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you.” God would love it if each of us possessed the wisdom that comes from an understanding heart.
Last night after church, I spent some time chatting with my pastor’s wife. Every time I have a conversation with her, I walk away thinking, “Wow! That was a lot of wisdom.” She often shares her thoughts on what they’ve learned in decades of ministry. When it comes to learning, you can go out and do it the hard way or you can find someone who’s been there and done that and listen. I try to soak in as much as I can when I’m around her because I know the best way to get wisdom is to be around wise people.
Most of us don’t take the time to stop and listen to others who have gone on ahead of us. We think we know the best way and that their way is outdated. The truth is, the trail of life is the same, just the scenery has changed. People are still people and do what they’ve done for centuries. Those who are older than us or who have gone down paths that we’re on have wisdom to share, but we rarely want to hear it.
I like to talk. Ok I love to talk and I’m not afraid to strike up an hour long conversation with a complete stranger. What I’m not great at is listening. I’m not sure how many of us really are. What I’ve learned is that listening is more important than talking especially when someone is trying to pour out wisdom into your life. It’s difficult for me to stay quiet and to not try to jump in when someone else is talking. I’ve noticed that when I do that, the conversation leaves it’s original intention and heads down bunny trails.
I don’t think bunny trails are bad, but when I cause them, I miss out on valuable insight from someone willing to give it. James 1:19 tells us we should be quick to listen and slow to speak. There’s a saying in sales that I love. It says, “No one ever listened themselves out of a sale.” Our mouths are what get us in trouble and keep us from learning. James understood that. He followed that verse up with the thoughts that it’s not enough to just listen. We have to go do what we’ve learned after we’ve listened.
Applying wisdom is another difficult thing. We have the mentality that our way is the right way. We think, “That was good for their path, but this is good for my path.” We have to learn how to take the wisdom that someone gives us and then apply it to our lives in a way that keeps us from learning the hard way. I’ve learned plenty of lessons from the School of Hard Knocks. I prefer the School of Shut Up, Listen and Learn. It’s a lot less painful.
Solomon said, “If you want to be wise, walk with the wise” in Proverbs 13:20. To me, that means we need to spend time with those who have more wisdom than we do. Take time today to think of someone in your life who has tried to give you wisdom, but you’ve failed to listen to or have distracted the conversation. Find a way to sit and spend an hour or so with them on a regular basis. Take notes on the conversation and write down questions instead of interrupting them. Your life will become better for it and I can attest that it will be a lot less painful.
I was reading this morning in Scripture where Solomon completed the Temple and held a huge ceremony to dedicate it to God. HIs father David wanted to build the Temple but was unable to. He had prepared everything for Solomon to build and complete it. Once it was done, Solomon had a 7 day celebration and offered sacrifices to God. II Chronicles 7:1 says that when Solomon was finished praying the dedication prayer, the glorious presence of the LORD filled the Temple.
It got me to thinking about what Paul said about us in the New Testament. In I Corinthians 6:19, he asks, “Don’t you know that your body is the temple (the very sanctuary) of the Holy Spirit Who lives within you?” Jesus made a way for God to live inside each one of us. Just as the Temple was dedicated to God, so should our bodies.
We don’t have to wait to be completed though before God moves into our lives. Each one of us is a work in progress. There is no one who has attained perfection and has the perfect Temple for God to live in. We can only dedicate ourselves to living for Him by trusting in His grace. Paul said it like this in Philippians 3:12, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection.” Paul is a man who wrote most of the New Testament and yet he still recognized that he had far to go.
I’m in that same boat. I have a long way to go to reach perfection. I don’t ever mean to imply that I have, but I sure want to press towards it. I want to live in the grace of God and live as much like Christ as I can. I will struggle each day to be more like him. The good news is that the grace He gives covers a multitude of sins. It makes up the difference in where I am and where He wants me to be. I heard someone describe God’s grace by asking the question, “On a scale of 1 – 100, how good would you say you were? What God’s grace does is make up the difference between what you are and 100.”
If I was a 5, and asked God for forgiveness, His grace would be 95 in my life. That is the awesome thing about God. He doesn’t care if you are a 1 or a 99. His grace is the great equalizer. It will make up the difference and allow you to be who God wants you to be. You are probably like me and have lots of room between you and 100, but God will continue to work with you to get there. I’m constantly under construction by God so I rely on Philippians 1:6 that says, “I am certain that God who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
I’ll never be perfect until He comes or I go, but I have the hope of a faithful God who will continue to work in me and build me as His Temple. I trust in His grace and His faithfulness. One day I will arrive and be made perfect. As I am, I am a work in progress and all of my short comings are not measured by this world’s standards, they’re measured by His. Thank God for grace that makes up the difference. It keeps me wanting to continue building this Temple for Him.