Becoming a leader who is wise is a noble pursuit. The complexity of leadership demands wisdom from above. But where to begin? How will I know if I’ve attained it?
It would seem that the place to begin is with the definition of terms. As we study the book of Proverbs (the book on the subject of wisdom), it becomes apparent that there are three words used frequently in connection to each other. These three are: knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. For a long time I searched for good definitions on these words and their interrelatedness, but was not able to discover it until a few years ago. Here’s what I currently understand them to mean and how they relate.
Knowledge is the accumulation of facts. It is the foundation from which understanding and wisdom arise. There is much knowledge in the world and today, and with the Internet, we have access to amazing resources for accumulating vast amounts of knowledge. Our challenge is how to keep from being overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge now available and how to search it and categorize it well, so that it becomes useful for us. Knowledge is helpful (especially for Trivial Pursuit games), but it alone will not help us in leading a life that is pleasing to God. An example of knowledge (facts) would be: We know that water is made up of two elements, hydrogen and oxygen. A water molecule is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.
Understanding is the ability to see the interconnectedness and relationships between a series of seemingly unrelated facts (knowledge). Once one has gathered a variety of knowledge, these facts must be connected in our minds to give us understanding of how things work or how they impact each other. Scientific research seeks to demonstrate this through repeatable experiments that demonstrate the relationship of various elements. Once this is shown to be repeatable, we arrive at understanding. For example, when we combine heat and water, we know that the water will boil at 212º F. By combining the facts we know about water and heat, we understand that by turning on a stove and applying heat to the bottom of the pan of water, it will boil at 212º F, given enough heat and time.
Wisdom is the application of knowledge and understanding to life. All wisdom is a gift from God that allows humans to live lives that are pleasing to Him. All humans have the ability to understand wisdom on some level. There is “common wisdom” and then, “spiritual wisdom.” All have access to common wisdom, but only those who have the Holy Spirit living within will have the ability to understand the deeper things of God and what I refer to as spiritual wisdom. This type of wisdom must be pursued, it just doesn’t happen by experience. We can ask for it (James 1:5) and it will be given to us by God. This wisdom is the secret to life and is the key to success in the eyes of God (I’m defining success as living a life pleasing to God). We can always grow in wisdom, for we are learning about God Himself, who is infinite, and therefore we will never exhaust the source of this wisdom.
An example of common wisdom is this, following our example above. I know and understand that water boils when heated on a stove and also that if I touch it, I will be burned. Then, if I’m in the kitchen heating some water, I decide not to put my hand in the pan of water when I see it bubbling. That would be a very wise decision!
Spiritual wisdom springs from the knowledge of God, His character, and His Word. This spiritual knowledge leads to spiritual understanding on how God works – the ways of God. And spiritual wisdom is the application of our knowledge of God and His ways into our daily decisions. It is this spiritual wisdom that God gives to Kingdom leaders to help us accomplish His purposes in us and through our leadership. We will continue this discussion next week.