Wisdom and the Will of God

Knowing GodThroughout the years of ministry I have often had people ask me to help them in finding God’s will in different situations. It may have been about getting married, buying a new home or car, starting a family, or even which college to attend. Others have approached me about what they are supposed to learn while going through hardship. They are seeking wisdom to help them better understand what God desires for their life.

The Bible makes it clear we are to seek godly wisdom. The book of James tells us to ask God and He will give us wisdom freely. The wisdom of God gives us insight to weigh all the possibilities and then make a decision that best glorifies God. Too often we assume that God’s wisdom will give us omniscient understanding of all that is happening. This is not the Biblical definition of wisdom.

In his book, “Knowing God,” J.I. Packer gives a simple illustration which helps us better understand how godly wisdom works in our lives.

Packer writes:

If you stand at the end of a platform at York Station, you can watch a constant succession of engine and train movements which, if you are a railway enthusiast, will greatly fascinate you. But you will only be able to form a very rough and general idea of the overall plan in terms of which all these movements are being determined (the operational pattern set out in the working timetable, modified if need be on a minute-to-minute basis according to the actual running of the trains).

If, however, you are privileged enough to be taken by one of the higher-ups into the magnificent electrical signal-box that lies athwart platforms 7 and 8, you will see on the longest wall a diagram of the entire track layout for five miles on either side of the station, with little glowworm lights moving or stationary on the different tracks to show the signalmen at a glance exactly where every engine and train is. At once you will be able to look at the whole situation through the eyes of those who control it: you will see from the diagram why it was that this train had to be signalled to a halt, and that one diverted from its normal running line, and that one parked temporarily in a siding. The why and the wherefore of all these movements becomes plain once you can see the overall position.

Now, the mistake that is commonly made is to suppose that this is an illustration of what God does when he bestows wisdom: to suppose, in other words, that the gift of wisdom consists in a deepened insight into the providential meaning and purpose of events going on around us, an ability to see why God has done what he has done in a particular case, and what he is going to do next. People feel that if they were really walking close to God, so that he could impart wisdom to them freely, then they would, so to speak, find themselves in the signal-box; they would discern the real purpose of everything that happened to them, and it would be clear to them every moment how God was making all things work together for good. Such people spend much time poring over the book of providence, wondering why God should have allowed this or that to take place, whether they should take it as a sign to stop doing one thing and start doing another, or what they should deduce from it. If they end up baffled, they put it down to their own lack of spirituality.

Christians suffering from depression, physical, mental or spiritual (note, these are three different things!) may drive themselves almost crazy with this kind of futile inquiry. For it is futile: make no mistake about that. It is true that when God has given us guidance by application of principles he will on occasion confirm it to us by unusual providences, which we will recognize at once as corroborative signs. But this is quite a different thing from trying to read a message about God’s secret purposes out of every unusual thing that happens to us. So far from the gift of wisdom consisting in the power to do this, the gift actually presupposes our conscious inability to do it, as we shall see in a moment.

We ask again: what does it mean for God to give us wisdom? What kind of a gift is it?

If another transportation illustration may be permitted, it is like being taught to drive. What matters in driving is the speed and appropriateness of your reactions to things and the soundness of your judgment as to what scope a situation gives you. You do not ask yourself why the road should narrow or screw itself into a dogleg wiggle just where it does, nor why that van should be parked where it is, nor why the driver in front should hug the crown of the road so lovingly; you simply try to see and do the right thing in the actual situation that presents itself. The effect of divine wisdom is to enable you and me to do just that in the actual situations of everyday life. 

To drive well, you have to keep your eyes skinned to notice exactly what is in front of you. To live wisely, you have to be clear-sighted and realistic — ruthlessly so—in looking at life as it is. Wisdom will not go with comforting illusions, false sentiment, or the use of rose-colored glasses. Most of us live in a dream world, with our heads in the clouds and our feet off the ground; we never see the world, and our lives in it, as they really are. This deep-seated, sin-bred unrealism is one reason why there is so little wisdom among us—even the soundest and most orthodox of us. 

SOURCE: Knowing God (p. 102-104), Packer, J. I. (1993)  Intervarsity Press.

I Want a Pastor Who…

HeartI recently celebrated eight years serving as pastor of Living Oaks Baptist Church. My church family surprised me by having a party in place of our Sunday evening service. Folks shared testimonies of the many ways they had been blessed by God during our eight years together.

As I listened to their stories of appreciation for my service, a couple of things struck me. First, I was surprised at just how much they love me–more than I was aware. I never had a reason to doubt their love, support, or commitment; however, I had never really considered their feelings for me. I cannot begin to describe the overwhelming joy that filled my heart as I listened to their wonderful expressions of love.

I was equally surprised as each person shared how they had been touched by a specific event. It was surprising–I would have never guessed that those moments we spent together were so meaningful. As a pastor, you think you will be remembered for your powerful sermons, great vision, and strong leadership, and even though they were thankful for these, that was not their main focus. Late night visits at the emergency room, canceled family plans to be by their side after a loved one had died, calls offering help while their spouse was out-of-town, or just being available at their time of need were just a few of things they listed. I remember sitting there thinking, “God, I never realized just how much church members want a pastor, a shepherd, and a friend for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs.

I am thankful for the way God has gifted me with a pastor’s heart. I am thankful for the godly men He placed in my path to train me up in the proper ways of ministry. I am thankful that early on in my ministry I learned that “If you want to be a shepherd, you have to smell like the sheep.” That one statement alone changed my outlook on pastoring. I pray, study, and work hard to prepare sermons and provide direction and leadership for the church. However, none of those things are important if the members do not believe that their pastor loves them, sacrifices for them, and protects them like they are his own family.

I was reminded of these things as I read an article by Thom RainerTen Things Church Members Desire in a Pastor.” It is a simple list that should help almost every pastor in better understanding what our members really need from their pastor.

Rainer writes:

Many of my articles come from the perspective of pastors. That will not change in the future. I am an advocate of pastors and I desire God’s best for them. I have no plans to change my advocacy role.

As a change of pace, however, I recently asked a few hundred laypersons to write down what they desired of a pastor. Their responses were open-ended, and there was no limitation on the number of items they could list. Though my approach was not scientific, these laypersons did represent over sixty churches.

Here are their top ten responses in order of frequency. Since many of them gave one or more sentences as a response, I can provide a representative comment by each of the responses.

  1. Love of congregation. “If we know that our pastor loves us, everything else falls in place. If he doesn’t, nothing else matters.”
  2. Effective preaching. “I don’t have any expectation that my preacher be one of the best in the world, I just want to know that he has spent time in the Word each week to teach us effectively and consistently.”
  3. Strong character. “No pastor is perfect, but I do want a pastor whose character is above reproach on moral, family, and financial issues.”
  4. Good work ethic. “I don’t want either a workaholic pastor or a lazy pastor.  Unfortunately, our last two pastors have been obviously lazy.”
  5. Casts a vision. “Our church has so much possibility; I want to hear what we will do to make a difference in our community and the world.”
  6. Demonstrates healthy leadership. “Most of the pastors in my church have demonstrated a good balance; they have been strong leaders but not dictators.”
  7. Joyous. “Our current pastor is a man of joy. His joy and enthusiasm are contagious. I love him for that!”
  8. Does not yield to critics. “I know that every pastor serving today has his critics. And I know it’s tough to deal with them. I just want these pastors to know that we supporters are in the majority. Please don’t let the minority critics dictate how you lead and serve.”
  9. Transparent. “Every pastor that I have had has been open and transparent about the church and the direction we are headed. It sure has made our church healthier.”
  10. Models evangelism. “Our pastor is passionate about sharing the gospel. His heart and attitude are contagious.”

What do you think about this list? What would you add from the perspective of either a pastor or a layperson?

Source: “Ten Things Church Members Desire in a Pastor.”