As a college freshman, Scott Burns was my Resident Director. Scott was a 6’5″ man’s man who knew everything about hunting, fishing, poisonous insects, and indigenous bushes. When he walked the halls, guys flocked to him. But above all these things, “Burns” was known for one particular quality. I later heard that he had committed to pray consistently for this quality.
Two years later, as a junior, I first heard John Piper preach about the normalcy of radical gospel sacrifice. I was convicted and captivated. It was exactly the message I needed. But I also overreacted over the next 7-8 years and focused intently on radical notions of suffering and sacrifice while neglecting another essential quality which I desperately needed (and lacked).
Now I’m 35 with 4 kids. Sometimes I walk the neighborhood at night, praying in the darkness for my kids. I find myself asking God to grant them three main things: salvation, a godly spouse, and one precious quality that will affect every area of their lives, every day.
What is this quality that marked my first dorm leader, this quality that I desperately needed as a young man, this quality that I now ask my Father to give my growing children? To any young man who may be reading, this is my Christianly encouragement, my fatherly exhortation, and my older-brotherly advice: seek wisdom.
Seeking One Thing Among Many
You are seeking many things during these early years of life. You’re seeking an education, a degree, and grades. You’re seeking a job, a resumé, and a career. You’re seeking independence, direction, and maybe a wife. You’re seeking, seeking, seeking. This is good. These things are good. You were made to seek, and you were made to seek good things.
But in all your seeking, I urge you to seek this one essential quality and skill that will affect all your other seeking. Seek wisdom.
What Is Wisdom?
We could and should study חכמה and σοφία, their semantic cousins and neighbors, and the many laws, stories, prophecies, promises, and instructions that form the Bible’s picture of wisdom. But without diving too deep, what’s a working definition of wisdom? Wisdom is a Godward orientation that views all of life from his perspective and skillfully navigates the world by honoring diverse biblical values simultaneously.
Fundamentally, wisdom is a Godward orientation with eyes fixed on the sovereign creator who is our grand designer, gracious redeemer, and final judge. With his character and his Word as our lens for viewing life, we then seek to see all things the way he sees them. This God-lensed perspective helps us navigate all of life skillfully, not just honoring a few select values or verses, but honoring diverse biblical values simultaneously, especially in situations where those values seem to be in tension.
Of course, anyone and everyone should want this kind of perspective and skill. But where do we start?
Where Wisdom Begins
In an ideal world, Christians should know what we mean by “wisdom.” But in the real world, just like with philosophy or psychology, there’s no such thing as one agreed-upon “wisdom.” There are philosophies and psychologies — and there are many competing wisdoms. And with these diverse definitions of wisdom come diverse claims about where wisdom is to be found.
So where do we get the real thing? Where does biblical wisdom begin?
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom (חכמה) and instruction.
— Proverbs 1:7
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (חכמה),
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight (Proverbs 9:10).
— Proverbs 9:10
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (חכמה);
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
— Psalm 111:10
“The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom,” say Solomon and the psalmist. Like all proverbs, this saying is layered. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom in several ways:
1. The fear of God is the foundation of wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom like the foundation of a house is the beginning of the house. You cannot build a house without a foundation. You cannot build wisdom without fearing God. The strong structure and beautiful home of wisdom can only stand on the unshakeable foundation of godly fear.
2. The fear of God is the source of wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom like a spring is the beginning of a stream. The fear of the Lord produces wisdom like an apple tree produces apples. Put wisdom under a microscope and it has the same genetic code as the fear of the Lord. Fearing God generates and causes and creates wise choices, habits, and priorities. Godly fear is the seed; godly wisdom is the fruit.
3. The fear of God is the summary of wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom like love is the beginning of ethics. Fearing God is Wisdom 101. Ecclesiastes, a book of great wisdom, concludes this way: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Contemporary Christianity speaks little of the fear of God. So if you want to be wise, you’ll have to swim upstream. Fear God and you’ll find wisdom.
But there’s more. Because Proverbs doesn’t just tell us where wisdom begins, and Proverbs doesn’t just tell us where wisdom is found. Proverbs tells us to leave everything else behind and get in the hunt.
Defining the Search
This fatherly plea echoing through the first nine chapters of Proverbs is unmistakable: Please, son, if you do nothing else, get wisdom. Seek her. Find her. Treasure her.
But we rarely follow instructions we don’t understand. We ignore them, we grumble about them, we move on, or we ask for clarity, but we don’t act. So there’s no way we’ll seek wisdom if we don’t know what it means to seek.
What does it mean to “seek”? Seeking is the strategic pursuit of a valuable object.
(1) Seeking means strategizing. Seeking is not random, aimless, or haphazard. It’s a tactical missile strike, not a flyover. (2) Seeking means pursuing. Seeking is not passive, apathetic, or spectatorish. It’s the man in the arena, not the fan in the bleachers. (3) Seeking means valuing. Seeking is a treasure hunt, a romantic quest, an epic journey — all your chips to the center of the table. It’s giving anything or everything — whatever the search demands. And (4) seeking means targeting. If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time. But seeking sets its sights on a specific object, then locks in until it takes possession.
Joining the Search: Where Should Young Men Seek Wisdom?
So what are some practical ways that young men should seek wisdom? Where are those time-honored reservoirs of wisdom waiting to be tapped? What are the addresses of those ancient libraries that house the wisdom of the ages? Here are twelve:
1. Seek wisdom from holy Scripture. The Bible is the fountain of wisdom. It sources, filters, and purifies all other wisdom. You should personally seek wisdom from Scripture in four main ways: read, study, memorize, and meditate. Learn Scripture, and you’re drinking from the purest spring that can be found.
2. Seek wisdom from parental guidance. Whether they’re believers or non-believers, more mature or less mature, supportive or unsupportive, two things are usually true about your parents: they know life, and they know you. If they know Christ and the Bible and wisdom, far better — you’re beyond blessed. But either way, they’ve simply lived more years on the planet, which can’t be replaced or dismissed. So whether from your biological parents, your adoptive parents, or your spiritual parents — ask questions, seek counsel, and listen well.
3. Seek wisdom from older men. You will become like the men you admire. So follow the right kinds of leaders. Seek mentors. Be discipled. Watch them, listen to them, ask them questions, and spend time with them in as many different contexts as possible. Choose wisely, and don’t let their busyness slow your pursuit.
4. Seek wisdom from mature friends. Love everyone you meet and treat all people impartially, but choose your best friends carefully. Choose friends you would trust to give you good counsel about the most important decisions of your life.
5. Seek wisdom from situational counsel. Make it a habit and an instinct to ask for counsel when you have a big decision to make, a broken relationship to reconcile, a sin pattern to confess and forsake — or any other significant issue. Train yourself to seek wisdom from situational counsel, and the wisdom that compounds over time will be exponential.
6. Seek wisdom from broad reading. Your theology should be as narrow as the Bible but your reading should be as broad as creation. True wisdom doesn’t teach us to ignore the world but navigate it. Read broadly and gain insight.
7. Seek wisdom from diverse experiences. Sheltered lives are greenhouses for naïveté. Get out there. Take the mission trip. Do the internship. Study abroad. Join the ministry. Run the triathlon. Don’t overcommit. But don’t underexperience, either.
8. Seek wisdom from frontline risks. William Butler warned that the society that separates its scholars and its warriors will have its laws made by cowards and its wars fought by fools. So get to the frontlines and risk — for the sake of love, truth, and righteousness — and you will learn wisdom. Don’t go looking for a fight. But if you love Christ and his gospel and your neighbor, you won’t have to go looking. The frontlines will find you, and you’ll learn some lessons right quick.
9. Seek wisdom from committed ministry. You learn little from spontaneous, as-long-as-I-feel-like-it ministry. Why? Because you can avoid the hardships that would teach you most. But you learn much from committed, rain-or-shine ministry. Why? Because you have to show up no matter how you feel.
10. Seek wisdom from every trial. Wisdom is godly navigation, and trials force us to navigate under increased weight or decreased visibility or staunch opposition or other stressful conditions. God will make you weaker to make you wiser, so search for his wisdom lessons in your weakest moments.
11. Seek wisdom in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of wisdom. In him the wisdom of God dwells in fullness. When you have him, know him, watch him, and hear him, you will know wisdom. If you want to see how God’s wisdom walks on earth, watch Jesus. If you want to hear how God’s wisdom sounds on earth, listen to Jesus. If you want to have God’s wisdom embedded in your heart and life, follow Jesus.
12. Seek wisdom in humble prayer. James urges us to ask God for wisdom whenever we need it (James 1:5), and we never don’t need wisdom. And long before James, we see hard evidence that God answers this kind of prayer. Young king Solomon became the second wisest man in history, behind Jesus of Nazareth. How? He asked.