As Christians, when we think wisdom we typically think: Proverbs. Rightfully so, and for many years I had a habit of reading the chapter in Proverbs which corresponded to the date, which meant I read through the entire book of Proverbs almost every month (some months don’t have 31 days…). It was a good practice and even though I read each chapter every. single. day., I still found unexpected nuggets of truth every time I read through a chapter. I never memorized the book by mere repetition – I repeatedly stumbled upon ideas I had not really digested.
Scripture is like that. The Holy Spirit is like that. By spending deliberate time in God’s word, the Spirit can open our hearts to see the areas where we still harbor idols, still live in shame, still insist on choosing our ways above God’s ways.
So when we want to understand wisdom, we head to Proverbs, right?
Proverbs is not the only place where nuggets of truth are tucked away.
Wisdom can be defined as “skill at living.” Biblical wisdom, then, is skill at living empowered and directed by the Spirit. The Bible tells us the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Job 28:28; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10; Psalm 111:10). And the Bible is full of instruction on what it means to fear the Lord, to know him, to walk in his ways, to grow in wisdom.
I have been personally convicted by the definition of biblical wisdom in the book of James.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. — James 3:13-18
Wisdom sows peace and harvests righteousness.
Do you see that? Wisdom sows peace and harvests righteousness. It follows that folly sows jealousy and selfish ambition and harvests disorder and vile practice.
If I have a choice between harvesting disorder or peace, I’d choose peace. If I have to choose between harvesting vile practices or righteousness, I’d like to choose righteousness. And the fruit of righteousness is wisdom: pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
I want to harvest righteousness. I want to be wise.
Wisdom must be cultivated.
It is not enough to throw down seeds of peace and walk away. We must choose a site well, tend the soil, water, and protect the tender shoots. We must weed out jealousy and selfish ambition that could choke wisdom before it grows to maturity. Then we need to take the fruit of our labor and choose another site, tend the soil….
Cultivating wisdom takes work, season after season. Cultivating wisdom requires understanding, perseverance, and tools.
Wisdom begins with an awareness of who God is.
If we want to find wisdom, it begins with the fear of the Lord. Wisdom begins with an awareness of who God is, but continues through intentional engagement with him through his word by his Spirit.
If we want to live in wisdom we need to recognize jealousy and selfish ambition in ourselves so we can turn away from self and turn to God. Recognizing our jealousy and selfish ambition begins by being aware of the passions that are at war within us (James 4:1) and continues through intentional engagement with our hearts as we submit to God, resist the devil, draw near to God, cleanse our hearts through repentance, and humble ourselves before the Lord (James 4:7-10).
Sowing peace begins with an awareness of ourselves and others.
And if we want the wisdom from above to bear the fruit of righteousness in our relationships with others – which is the field where we sow peace – it begins with an awareness of others, an awareness that is possible only as we remain open to reason, impartial, and sincere. Then the wisdom from above continues through intentional engagement with others as we sow peace, respond gently, extend mercy, and serve others with the good fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23).
Harvesting righteousness is the fruit of Relational Wisdom.
This, my friends, is the essence of Relational Wisdom: learning to live out the biblical framework of being God Aware, God Engaging, Other Aware, Other Engaging, Self Aware and Self Engaging.
There is no place in scripture that fails to call us to see and understand the heart of God without also calling us to honestly evaluate our own hearts with respect to God and others.
I’ve spent the last few months talking about the arena of emotions – understanding and learning to train the emotions God hard-wired into our lives through physiological chemistry.
Friends, understanding and engaging our emotions is only the first step to growing in relational wisdom.
If we aspire to live out the two great commandments: love God and love others (Matthew 22:36-40), if we are going to live according to the new commandment Christ has given us: love as I have loved you (John 13:34), we must see God, others, and ourselves with the eyes of the Spirit of God who lives within us and we must actively engage with what we find.
This idea is not new with me. This idea is not new with Ken Sande either, though he has done a fabulous job of articulating these biblical truths clearly through his ministry at Relational Wisdom 360. In reality, the entire Bible points to relationships as the proving ground of a heart submitted to God. From the garden in Genesis to the cross on Calvary to the wedding feast in Revelation, awareness of and engagement with God, ourselves, and others reveal the content and condition of our hearts.
So, are you brave enough to come on a journey with me?
Are you willing to look at the dynamics of biblical relational wisdom? Are you interested in learning how to use tools to sow peace in your relationships with God and others? Do you want to see victory over sin and live a life of repentance and righteousness?
The first part of our journey will be to explore a little more about what it means to be God aware and God engaging. Then we’ll take some time to look into understanding ourselves in light of the cross as well as opening our hearts to truly love others well. Finally, we’ll really get to work with some tools that will help us tease out how to practically apply the principles we see throughout scripture regarding the fear of the Lord and what it means to love God and love others as Christ loved us.
Comment below and let me know if you are ready. Invite a friend to come along.
It’s always easier to see success as you grow in a new skill if someone else joins you. All you need is a heart set on following Jesus where ever he leads… and to be subscribed to the JuliaQuillen.com blog.
Before we get started, if you’d like to review or catch up, here are the posts I’ve written about relational wisdom and emotions this year:
God Wrote the Book on Relationships
Emotions are Not the Enemy
We Were Created to Experience Emotions
Forever Starts Now
Emotions are Scary
Emotions Expose Idols
We Do What We Believe
The Truth Will Set You Free
Emotions move us somewhere. We have to decide if we are going to let them run wild and take us on a treacherous journey or if we want to invest the time and effort to train our hearts and minds to direct emotions on a constructive course. We need to decide if we are going to believe what our feelings suggest or if we are going to evaluate how we feel in light of what we believe. And, ultimately, we need to expose our hearts to truth if we want to be set free from the tyranny of the emotions lurking there.
Only the truth will set you free.
Learning to evaluate our emotions in light of what we believe gives us the power to choose where our emotions will take us. We must learn to shine external truth on our internal turmoil.
When we bring truth to our swirling emotions, we realize we have choices. Having choices gives us hope. Having hope gives us strength. Having strength helps us to find our footing – and even if walking the path to which God has called us feels like we’re trying to run through a riptide, our feet are on the ground and we are no longer being pulled under and gasping for air, controlled by the tides of my every changing emotions.
Truly, the truth will set us free. The truth will set you free, too. Free from the tyranny of fear, control, and idolatry.
Sometimes we are tempted by fear.
For example, when my husband needs to travel and I am afraid of being a widow with seven children (yes, I always have at least one moment of fear that he’ll die while he’s gone), I can choose to believe he’s going to die. I can become consumed by my fear, ask him to stay home and not honor whatever commitment we’ve agreed he will keep.
I can choose to believe what I know is true: God is sovereign and I can trust him with his sovereignty even if it means he walks me down the road of widowhood.
Ultimately I have to choose whether I will find my security in the presence of God or in the presence of my husband. The truth is, I am only secure in the presence of God, even if I greatly enjoy the presence of my husband.
Once I see my emotions are directing me to cling to a moving object for security, I can choose to place my hope in Christ, in God my Father. I can choose to trust that he loves me, takes care of me, and only chooses what is best for my good and his glory, even when my husband and I are separated by distance and his life is apparently in the hands of others (other drivers, pilots, angry pedestrians…).
Truth reminds me his life (and mine) are in the hand of God, and nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:38, well really all of Romans 8:35-39) or snatch us from his hand (John 10:29). It is this truth that sets me free from fear.
Sometimes we are tempted by anger.
Alternatively, when my anger rises because a child has locked us out of the car, I can choose to berate my child, shame my child, and/or condemn my child for his/her folly as I angrily get the spare key from the magnet box (getting dirty, too, mind you!)
I can choose to get the key from the magnet box while I speak words of grace to my child knowing I have the extra key because I have locked us out of the car before. I can remember that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1), and I can hold out the beauty of grace to draw my kids into Christ and freedom from condemnation.
I can choose laughter.
I can choose mercy.
I can choose to show how Christ cleans the sin from our hearts the way I clean the magnet-box grime from my hands.
I can choose to teach my kids to be responsible with the keys and to have a back-up plan. I don’t have to let my emotions drive my child away, I can steer them carefully to draw him in.
I don’t always do this well.
Sometimes I believe the lie that I am condemnable. I forget I am not condemned. I don’t live like I believe I have been set free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). I listen to the whisper that I must be perfect, and as a result I demand perfection from others as well.
But there is hope for people like you and me. We can learn to make godly choices when we learn to shine external truth on our internal turmoil.
What’s lurking in your heart?
What internal turmoil needs to be brought into the light of scripture? Are there emotions raging inside you are afraid to explore? Is there hidden shame (believing your value is tarnished by your sin)? Or guilt (honest recognition you’ve made poor choices, but you don’t want to admit it)? Are you justifying anger by looking at circumstances instead of your savior? Do you feel powerless to make different choices? Overwhelmed by the temptation to react in a familiar-yet-sinful way?
It may be time to pray, “Lord, help my unbelief!” It may be time to dig into what you are feeling so you can accurately assess and address pain, fear, and discouragement.
Your only hope is in the Truth. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Shining his truth into your hurt is the only way to freedom.
Do you want to be free?
I’d love to hear how God is working in your heart today. Please comment below and let me (& others) know how to pray for you!
I saw an info-graphic on Facebook a few years ago with a system to find happiness. It listed several things to tell yourself, like, “everything will be ok” and “things will get better” and “you are lovable” and “you are strong” and “you can do great things.” Then it summarized the concepts with “We believe what we tell ourselves.”
At first I skimmed past it. I’m not a big fan of positive-thoughts-are-your-salvation type thinking, but that last line caught me:
“We believe what we tell ourselves.”
It is similar to something we tell our kids all the time in the Quillen house.
When our kids are having a hard time obeying, we ask them to speak truth into the situation. God’s truth.
Speaking the truth into the situation requires training.
When our kids are having a difficult time accepting our answer, “No. You may not have candy at 7:28 a.m.”
Or obeying an instruction,”You need to put away your game and get ready for bed.”
Or finding confidence for a challenging task, like introducing themselves to a new friend….
In moments like these, we tell them to speak truth into the situation. We train them to know they will do what they believe to be true.
How do we train our beliefs?
Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.
These words are so incredibly helpful to me as a mom because they free me to begin teaching my kids things in areas I do not have proficiency without feeling like a hypocrite. If you want to train your heart and mind, begin with others (not on others, but with them). Find someone to join you in the process. If you are a mom (or a teacher!), your kids are right there under your care and keeping needing the same thing & make great accountability partners. If you aren’t a mom, you likely have friends, siblings, co-workers, employees, or potential friends you could invite into this training program.
Start early. Start often.
With our kids we start when they are toddlers by asking them to recite, “My mommy and daddy love me, they take care of me, they choose good for me, so I can trust them,” when they don’t like a decision we’ve made. (We didn’t invent this series of truth statements, we read them in a book – but I cannot remember which one to give full credit. I’ve scanned ever so many of the books we’ve read through the years – when I find it I’ll make sure I let you know. If you know, please let me know!)
Let the process mature.
When they get a little older, we ask them to fill in some blanks. “I know my mommy and daddy love me because they ________ . My mommy and daddy take care of me by ________. My mommy and daddy choose good for me when they ________. So I can trust them now that they’ve told me to ________.”
We get some pretty fun answers to fill in these blanks – it can be very instructive about what speaks love to your kids. We hear things like, “because she makes my dinner” (acts of service); “plays games with me” (quality time); “gets me fun toys” (gifts); “hugs me” (physical affection); “tells me I’m good at encouraging others” (words of affirmation).
This practice also reveals whether they are really doing the heart-work you’re targeting. If a child says, “I know my mommy loves me because she makes me say this stupid stuff,” your child probably isn’t working on their heart. You can meet them there, pray with them for a repentant heart, for eyes to see sin as God sees sin. The “stupid stuff” comments are a teaching moment, too. The “stupid stuff” moments are another opportunity to help kids through real-world moments they’ll encounter their whole lives. Because, let’s be honest here, how often do we express irritation and defensiveness rather than repentance when we are confronted with our unbelief?
Shift the focus to God.
As parents, teachers, or role models, our job is to lay the groundwork for living under authority so the kids in our keeping learn how to live under God’s authority. The reality is we really won’t be there forever. Kids grow up. They move out. They establish lives of their own. Even if your relationships are great and open and they respect and seek your input, they will do a lot of life without you. If Jesus tarries, death with ultimately force the issue.
So, as they get even older, we send them to the Bible to draw some conclusions. We begin to transition from us being their ultimate authority, to God as the authority.
Oh, we’ve told them all along that we are their authority by God’s design. They know we are under authority, too. We’ve taught them that God’s one instruction to kids is to obey and honor their parents, so disobeying us is disobeying him. And we’ve instructed them, verbally, how learning to live under our authority is preparing them to recognize and live under God’s authority. But at some point, we have to make a definite transition to focusing on God rather than us. It begins with changing the mantra to: “I know God loves me because he ________. God takes care of me by ________. God has chosen good for me before when he ________. So I can trust him and obey him now as I ________.”
And now we begin to see what they’ve learned about living the repentant life. Changing the proper noun engages their hearts in a different way. What they really believe to be true about God starts to influence their choices in a different way than when they focused on the steward rather than the king.
It’s an important shift.
Encourage independent dependence.
Then we need to remove the training wheels. Just like teaching kids to ride bikes, when the training wheels come off, we’re still there to help. The goal is for them to enjoy the joy and freedom of riding alone. As we enter the teen years, we need to help our kids apply their faith without us. We need to remove the training wheels, offer instruction, and be there to help with the accidents. Then we need to celebrate as they move from shaky, fearful autonomy to smiling, joyful, look-mom-no-hands stunt riding.
By the time you have teens, you are increasingly aware of the brevity of their time under your roof. Even at 13, it’s just five years until they are moving out into a world where they have to make decisions, fight with their own sinful hearts, deal with a fallen world without you being there. Do you remember how fast they went from birth to five? The days crept, but the years leaped, right?
Well, at 13 that’s how long you’ve got left. If they are going to own their faith, it’s time to help them practice ownership. They need to learn to wrestle with God. They need to learn to do battle with their own sin. They need to learn how to recognize the battle, identify the enemy, and follow the Victor. They need instruction, they need care after missteps. They need us to celebrate their fearful first attempts and to delight in their willingness to take risks for the kingdom.
You get that, right? There’s a danger in teaching our kids to say with Jim Eliot, “you are immortal until your work is done.” We need to teach them to have confidence in God and to take risks based on His ability, not theirs. But that means there will be stunt-riding.
They won’t get there if you do the work for them.
So, in their teen years, we often say things like, “What has God done that could encourage you to obey right now?” or “Where in the Bible does God promise to ________?” or “Does the Bible have anything to say about how God has provided for others in this way? How does that change your perspective on ________?” or “If you believe ________ about God, how does that inform your choices about ________ right now?”
You need this, too.
In reality, I have been training myself, too. I find I often need to remind myself, “My Father in heaven loves me. My Father in heaven takes care of me. My Father in heaven chooses good for me. [I’ll admit that part is often the hardest to see]. So I can trust him as I ________.”
That last blank can be filled with daily things, like, “I can trust him as I discipline my kids with patience and grace instead of yelling which I know will get immediate results, but not long-term, God-honoring results.”
That last blank can also be filled with monumental things, like trusting him with the death of a baby, or letting go of a dream, or being called to minister in some place/way I would never choose for myself.
We have been training our kids (and ourselves) to tell themselves the truth of the Bible so that they can make good decisions in difficult circumstances. We have been training them to choose what they will believe when they encounter their feelings and confusing circumstances.
It’s never too late to start.
When we started this process with our kids, oh probably 7-8 years ago, I was right there with my youngest kids. My heart was not trained to recognize my Father’s love, to rest in his providential care, to accept his choices as good, or to trust him with his sovereignty. I still struggle – which is why I keep training.
I’ve talked with a lot of adults who, even in their 70s and 80s, struggle to walk by faith because their hearts are not trained to rest in Christ. Harsh or absent or indulgent parents have left many adults crippled in their ability to see God the Father as good, loving, kind, and trustworthy. Far too many of us accept God is ABLE, but doubt he is WILLING to do good. Or simply fail to see that what he ordains is good because it’s different that what we’d hoped for.
Confidence in God’s sovereignty divorced from God’s goodness results in a lifestyle of duty driven by doubt that things will work out and fear of what God might do next.
Confidence in God’s constant presence, the goodness of his providential care, and his power to overcome sin and the effects of sin results in a lifestyle of faithfulness driven by gratitude and grace.
We must train our beliefs with truth if we want to act according to truth. We must cement truth in our minds and hearts so we will make choices informed by strong emotions that we have no reason to regret.
We do what we believe.
What we believe drives how we act.
Put another way, our actions reveal what we believe.
Writing this post has exposed a lot of areas in my own heart where I harbor lies, rehearse falsehood, replay failure, and live in fear. I need to repent. I need to search the scriptures to find truth. My heart needs to be reminded that God loves me, takes care of me, and is choosing good for me, so I will trust him in these challenging days.
What about you?
Take some time today to evaluate the choices you are making. What do they reveal about what you really believe?
Do you act as though speaking truth in love is God’s way to reach the hearts of your children? Or do you act as though yelling is the way to accomplish good behavior?
Do you view interruptions to your day as divine appointments to engage the hearts of others for Christ? Or do you become impatient with the people who interfere with your plans for the day?
Do you continue doing what you know you are called to do with a heart full of fear that God is just sacrificing you like he did Jesus? Do you struggle to see God’s good providence in your current circumstances? Or does your heart cling to the promises in scripture and count it a blessing that God includes you in his plan to suffer for Christ?
Where is God revealing your unbelief?
I’d love to begin this with you. Comment below or email me directly. Let’s re-focus our hearts on the truth we profess. Let’s train our hearts together.