Ever notice that when we desperately need something, when we have a problem to solve, God always and never gives us what we pray for?
A couple weeks ago, I had some things on my mind, some decisions to make, and my heart just needed God’s help in general. So I decided to do the spiritual thing and ask my heavenly Father for wisdom–not just for things to work out how I wanted, but to know God’s will in the matter. You know, the kind of prayer that we’re supposed to pray.
But If you’re like me, praying for wisdom is kind of a funny thing. It’s the one request we all know we should be able to ask with confidence; in fact, we’re a little scared not have confidence when we pray for wisdom. James 1:5 rings in our ears with its promise that God “gives [wisdom] to all liberally and without reproach,” free for the asking, while James 1:6-7 nag at the back of our minds with the firm statement that we won’t get it if we doubt. Remembering the times we never saw that generous bestowal of wisdom, we concede that we must have doubted too much when we prayed. So we hastily squelch all thoughts of, “What if God doesn’t answer?”, mumble some reassuring phrase about a mustard seed, and muster up all the faith we can as we ask God to show us what to do.
Then we wait. We sit quietly, listening for that still, small voice.
Nothing really comes.
With a small sigh, we’re forced to admit to ourselves that extra-biblical, personal revelation from God was a pretty unlikely scenario. So we open our Bible. The 66-book tome that supposedly has the answer somewhere. Only problem is, we don’t know exactly where and don’t have a year to read through the whole thing to find the right verse. Our earnest hope is that we will providentially fall to a clear command in of the -ians books that will just tell us what to do. If that fails, maybe there’s an obscure story in the Old Testament in which some Bible character with a three-syllable, consonant-filled name had to make the same decision we’re facing. If the choice he made ended in the Lord killing him, we’ll do the opposite; if his decision ended in “long life and many days,” we’ll try it.
No such story or command appears. Maybe we should try the book of Proverbs?
I hope some of you are smiling right now. Not because looking for wisdom is an amusing thing, but because you’re relating to my method and realizing with me that we’ve got to be missing something.
As I prayed for wisdom a couple weeks ago, I opened my Bible to my daily reading, asking God to use His Word to show me how to handle my situation and give me wisdom. The passage I read had nothing to do with my situation; as I read the chapter headers, my first reaction was an inner groan. However, God knew what He was doing. He didn’t show me the answer–He changed my perspective.
Isaiah 37. A distressed king, a cocky, over-confident enemy, and a faithful prophet. A “typical” Bible story of God fighting for His underdog people; nothing new. But verses 15-20, and verse 16 in particular, really grabbed my attention. Hezekiah, in the face of possible total destruction by his enemy, goes to God for help. But he doesn’t start by asking for help. In fact, most of his prayer isn’t asking for help. He starts in 37:16,
O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.
I had been thinking of wisdom in terms of, “What should I do?”
For God, all wisdom hinges on a proper view of Him. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).
So when I asked God for wisdom, He said, “Look at Me.” Briefly in Isaiah 37:15-20, then again more fully in chapter 40, He directly pulled my attention to Himself. Chapter 40 starts with the bold declaration to a weary, worn-down nation, “Comfort, yes, comfort my people!” The tenor continues to build, racing across the wilderness, plowing new roads, running through every country, until it reaches a resounding climax at the top of the mountains in verse 9, “Behold your God!”
Not, “Look at Me and listen as I tell you all you want to know.” Just, “Look at Me, the One who knows.” Not, “Look at Me because I want to tell you that you can do it.” Just, “Look at Me, the One who did it.”
When we gaze on God, we remember again that all of life–mine, yours, the world’s, everything–is about Him. We catch a glimpse of things from His perspective. All-consuming questions become less important, and fears about what’s going to happen dissipate as we remember the power and wisdom of the One who cares for us. And that “What should I do?” question is answered with a purpose statement in 37:20,
Now therefore, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the LORD, You alone.
What should I do? Look to God. Trust Him. He may not show me exactly what to do, because He may be planning on doing it Himself. He may in time show me specifics. I don’t know how He’ll handle my situation. But the point of the problem is not to solve the problem: the point is to know and show that He alone is Jehovah God, the King of nations, our Savior. If that truth is being established in my life and/or the lives of those around me, then I’m gaining and sharing true wisdom.