When you think of someone who is wise, who comes to mind? If you struggle to come up with a quick answer, you’re not alone. The truth is wisdom is not often valued in our culture. In fact, at times, it seems that our culture celebrates foolishness.
But Proverbs 3:15 speaks of wisdom’s worth as being more precious than rubies — one of the most valuable objects known in the ancient world. So if wisdom is this valuable, wouldn’t it make sense to invest our lives in intentionally pursuing it?
Not only do we undervalue wisdom, we greatly misunderstand it. We have these myths about wisdom:
- “Wisdom is the same thing as being smart.”
- “Either you’re born with it or you’re not.”
- “Only old people are wise.”
- “Living a life of wisdom means living a life of boredom.”
- “Becoming wise ‘just happens.’”
But none of these are true. A simple definition of wisdom is this:
Wisdom is learning to do the right thing at the right time for the right reason.
Wisdom doesn’t simply mean you’re smarter than others, and it’s never acquired passively. Nobody drifts into a life of wisdom. It takes intention, purpose and a proactive mindset. Rather than acquiring it in some one-time magical moment, it grows slowly over time in the quiet and ordinary moments of an average day.
Even if I’ve convinced you that pursuing wisdom is worth the effort and that it’s a continual process, the idea of growing in wisdom can still feel a bit too nebulous. First, it’s important to avoid pursuing it with a rigid and legalistic checklist. Instead, it’s best to think carefully about the pursuit of wisdom in terms of intentional rhythms and purposeful practices. With that in mind, here are nine ridiculously practical ways to cultivate wisdom in your life.
1. Take inventory of who you spend the most time with.
Research shows you will most likely become like the five closest people in your life. When I was in high school, an older gentleman shared something with me that I still think about today: “Show me your friends; I’ll show you your future.” Consider the people whom you spend the most time with and ask yourself, Are these the kind of people I’d like to become in the future? If not, it may be time to pursue other healthier relationships.
2. Reflect on how you spend your time.
Self-assess how you’ve spent your time over the past seven days and ask yourself the following questions:
- Where have I invested my time this week? Where did the time go?
- When was I intentional and purposeful with my time? When was I mindlessly spending my time?
- How do I feel about how and where I have invested my time?
- If I shared the breakdown of my time with wise people I know, how might they respond?
- How much time have I spent in front of a glowing, pixilated rectangular screen?
- What’s most important to me? Did my day reflect my priorities?
- Have I invested my time in people, activities and projects that will matter in two days? In two years? In two decades? In eternity?
- If I were to invest my time next week in the things that matter the most, how would the next seven days look?
3. Seek out a mentor or older friend who embodies a life of wisdom.
Many young adults I know desire to have a mentor, which is admirable, but this passive posture leaves them disappointed. Mentors hardly just show up and knock on the front door; we must proactively pursue them. Make a list of older, wiser people you know who model traits of the kind of life you desire to live. Treat one of them to lunch or coffee and pick his (or her) brain. Honor him by sharing what you see in his life and ask him what he knows now at his age that he wishes he knew when he was your age. And go even further: Ask this person if he would be interested in pursuing an intentional, intergenerational spiritual friendship where you can meet regularly and learn from him. Sure, it will take some intention and courage to ask, but think of the benefits it could reap in your life.
4. Read broadly and deeply.
Virtually every wise person I know possesses a humility that cultivates an almost insatiable desire to learn and grow. And one of the most practical and accessible ways they do this is by reading regularly. Certainly, there are many times when it’s easy to reach for our favorite magazines, log onto our bookmarked websites or spend thirty minutes scrolling through our social media feed. There’s a place for that (like this website, of course!). But, more often than not, wise people read broadly and widely, purposefully choosing topics, authors and subjects that are stretching, engaging and challenging. Over the next few months, consider picking up a biography of a wise leader, a history or leadership book or even reading a classic book written by someone who is dead.
5. Regularly study God’s Word.
Wise women and men of God purposefully include Scripture in their regular reading diet. Spending frequent and unrushed time in God’s Word is a wise investment of time. If you don’t know where to begin, start by reading the book of Proverbs. In fact, some wise people I know make it a practice to read one chapter of Proverbs each day. Since there are 31 chapters in Proverbs, they read the chapter that corresponds with today’s date (i.e. reading chapter 14 on the 14th day of the month). In the New Testament, consider reading the book of James (often described as the Proverbs of the New Testament).
6. Engage in undistracted reflection.
Wisdom isn’t merely the acquisition of knowledge or about acting upon what you’ve learned. Wise people engage in a healthy balance of both action and reflection, thinking carefully about why and how they live before going and living it. Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Another translation starts the verse this way: “Teach us to realize the brevity of life.” In other words, wise people don’t mindlessly go through their days; instead, they carefully consider how they live them. In this Psalm 90 posture, ask yourself these questions:
- Where do I want to be when I’m 70?
- What do I want to be known for?
- Where have I seen God at work in my life the past few months?
- What am I most thankful for?
- Where have I seen beauty this week?
- Where have I experienced or where am I currently experiencing joy?
As you reflect on these questions, consider journaling, spending time in silence for a brief period of time (it doesn’t have to be long) or leave your phone on the kitchen table and go for a walk around the block (being away from your phone for a few minutes won’t kill you, I promise). Be purposeful with thinking about how you live your life — and then live it.
7. Do hard things.
“Do hard things” sounds like a pithy inspirational quip on a chic wooden sign sold on Etsy and hung over the mantel. But there’s much truth to it. Our natural tendency as humans is to make decisions based on what is easiest or most comfortable. Modern conveniences can provide wonderful benefits to our everyday lives, but if we’re not careful we will find ourselves making decisions based more on convenience and the path of least resistance than on what is wise or right. Stretch yourself by working toward accomplishing a personal goal you’ve been putting off for a while. Set the alarm a little bit earlier to get up and out the door to work out at the gym. Make that difficult phone call you’ve been putting off for a week. Load the dirty dishes into the dishwasher, even though it’s your roommate’s responsibility. Spend 30 minutes reading that biography you got from the library instead of instinctively reaching for the remote. Commit to doing focused work for another 15 minutes rather than logging onto your Instagram account. Make a commitment to do hard things every day, especially in the mundane, barely recognizable and seemingly insignificant times and spaces. More often than not, the hard thing can be the wise thing.
8. Before making decisions, ask yourself these significant questions.
Since wisdom is about doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason, learn to ask yourself a few questions before acting:
- Is what I’m about to say or do considered wise?
- Would this decision honor others?
- Would Jesus be honored in this decision?
- Will this decision matter in five hours? Five days? Five weeks? Five years? 50 years? In eternity?
- What would the wise people in my life say about this decision? What might they do right now if they were me?
These questions are important to ask when making significant life decisions, but it would also be wise to ask yourself these questions in reference to smaller decisions. Consider writing a few of these questions on a sticky note and putting it on your bathroom mirror or the dashboard of your car. They can be helpful reminders as you navigate your day.
9. Pray for wisdom.
The book of James offers us an extremely practical way to pursue wisdom: Ask for it — “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (1:5). When you lack wisdom about a decision in your life, ask your heavenly Father for it. As a good Father, He’ll keep His promise and give it when we ask for it. Can it be any clearer than that? To be even more practical, memorize James 1:5. You might be surprised how often this verse comes to mind when you need it most.
Remember that no one drifts into a life marked by wisdom. Not a single person has woken up one day shocked and bewildered by how he got to be so wise. Living a life of wisdom takes intention, focus and commitment. But as any wise person will tell you, it’s worth the effort. Yes, the path of wisdom is narrow and less traveled, but I’ve yet to meet a wise person who looks back on her life and regrets purposefully pursuing it.
Pursue wisdom. It’s available and accessible to those who truly desire it. And there’s no better time to begin the pursuit than today.
Copyright 2018 J.R. Briggs. All rights reserved.