In my current season of life as an undergrad, the Book of Proverbs has been my go-to book of the Bible. One passage in particular that I go to again and again is Proverbs 2:1–6:
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (NIV)
I notice two principles in this passage. The first principle is that true wisdom comes from God (Pr. 2:6), which is easy for me to remember. The second principle is that we are to actively pursue wisdom (Pr. 2:1–5), and this is a principle I am prone to neglect.
Wisdom Comes from God
Proverbs 2:6 teaches that wisdom comes from God: “The LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” There is an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in every Christian: He helps us live in the truth and fills us with God’s wisdom (e.g. John 14:16ff; Col. 1:9). So if you want wisdom, you must ask God for it, and he will give it to you by the Spirit.
That is why James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God.” That is also why Paul speaks in condemnation of the “wise men” of this world in 1 Corinthians 1:20ff and Colossians 2:8.
This is not hard to understand, and as a young man trying to find his way, I am often asking God for wisdom because of these verses.
Actively Seeking His Wisdom
But the second principle in Proverbs 2:1–6 is that we ought not be passive receivers of wisdom. We ought not be waiting around for God to magically pop wisdom into our heads like Neo downloading Kung Fu skills in The Matrix. We ought not be like Eve in the Garden who thought she could have wisdom in a bite and in that bite made fools of us all.
By some direct and spontaneous work of the Holy Spirit, God certainly can give us wisdom in an instant—to preach the gospel effectively, for example (Eph. 6:19), or maybe to handle a difficult situation. Normally, however, we attain wisdom through a process and by several different means or methods he has given us.
Some of these means include prayer (see above), life experience (Pr. 16:31), reading the Bible (Ps. 19:7; Rom. 2:20), hearing your pastor preach (2 Tim. 4:2ff), and getting wise counsel from other Christians, too (Pr. 11:14; 15:22; Col. 3:16).
While I do often pray for wisdom, I do not always add to my prayers the other means listed above. James 1:6 warns against being a double-minded man who prays but doubts. In a sense, I am a different type of double-minded man who prays for wisdom but does not actively seek it. I think the words of James apply: “That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does” (James 1:7–8).
How to Actively Seek Wisdom
The activity of gaining wisdom is deeper and more intense than a quick, routine prayer of “Lord, grant me wisdom today” (however valuable that prayer may be). According to Proverbs 2:1–6, gaining wisdom is an activity of transformation, deliberation, zeal, and persistence:
- “Accept my words and store up my commands within you” v. 1
Gaining wisdom is a transformative activity. The words of God are not merely to tickle the rims of our ears, but they are to enter into us and become part of us. Like John and Ezekiel eating the scroll, we are to “ingest” the words of God, taking them deep within us (Rev. 10:9-10; Eze. 3:3; cf. Jer. 15:16). If we want to be wise, we must not only pray for wisdom but also read, study, memorize, and internalize the Scriptures.
- “Turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding” v. 2
It is a deliberate activity—thoughtful and intentional. To apply your heart to something requires thoughtfulness. To turn your ear to something requires intentionality. Yes, we all gain some wisdom in our lives without even thinking about it. But Solomon exhorts his son to go beyond that and make gaining wisdom his conscious ambition.
- “Call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding” v. 3
Gaining wisdom should be a zealous activity. There have been times in my life when I have wanted to take this verse literally. I have wanted to actually cry out at the top of my lungs for God to give me insight and understanding. I even went up on the sea wall one morning in West Palm Beach (pictured above) and spread out my arms to cry out in prayer for wisdom. (But of course, I probably would have woken some people up and maybe somebody would have called the police if I was screaming on the sea wall in the early morning. So it ended up being a much quieter prayer!)
At any rate, the loudness of your prayers is not the point here; rather, Solomon is developing the image of somebody who is full of zeal for wisdom. Perhaps we are supposed to envision somebody who is aching from the pangs of his own foolishness and is dying to be free from it all and cannot help but cry aloud for the wisdom of God. Or maybe it is a more positive image of somebody who has tasted the joy and sweetness of the Lord’s wisdom and is dying for more of it.
Either way, the point is that we are to be zealous for the wisdom of God. We are to pursue wisdom with passion because we know how valuable it is and how desperately we need it.
- “Look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure” v. 4
Lastly, attaining wisdom should be a persistent activity. We are not just asking for wisdom, but we are searching for it. We are not just searching for it, but we are searching for it like we would a treasure. It’s not like looking for my 25 cent ballpoint pen I misplaced before an exam. It’s not like looking for my glasses or even my keys or my wallet. This is a search for treasure.
I know Solomon wasn’t thinking of today’s mythos of pirates when he wrote about wisdom as a hidden treasure, but pirates are certainly a good illustration. Think of all the adventures and hardships they have to endure—all the sailing, storms, battles, and trickery—just to find the buried treasure.
Or in a more contemporary American context, think of businessmen trying to make a million, and all the years and years of diligence, risk-taking, negotiating salaries, establishing credibility, working overtime, moving to new cities, climbing the corporate ladder little by little to get to the American treasure of being a millionaire.
If we truly desire the wisdom of God, we must value it like that, working and searching for it persistently through every trial and adventure, never ceasing to look for it till we have found it.
Yes, pray for wisdom, because of James 1:5 and Proverbs 2:6. Recognize that wisdom comes from God’s grace, since the Scriptures teach that. But also be deliberate, zealous, and persistent in searching for it, letting the word of God transform you, since the Scriptures teach that also. When you have found wisdom, store it up within you and do not ever let it go (Pr. 4:13):
Hold on to instruction, do not let it go;
guard it well, for it is your life.