The Inner Game of Wisdom

One of the incessant prayer requests that I have is for is wisdom, especially when I’m going through circumstances which are ridiculously confusing, disheartening, or deeply painful. I don’t think this comes merely from a sense of need or inadequacy: God has promised to give wisdom to those who seek it out and to those who ask for it in faith, and we are commanded to counsel each other with all wisdom. It may be important to us, but it is even more important to the God who loves us and whom we love in return.

Yet through my own prayers, I sometimes betray a misunderstanding of what wisdom is and how it is received. They’ll go something like this:

Dear Lord: dang it, I’m going to have to make a decision, and I am at my wit’s end. I don’t know which way to go. I have not obeyed your Spirit by disciplining my mind or the habits of my heart to faithfully discern your will or way for my life. Please zap me with secret knowledge so that I can make the perfect decision. Or, if possible, take this awful decision from me and clearly arrange the circumstances of my life for me. I pray all of this in the Name of Jesus who lived the most perfect life ever. Amen.

Without question, we need to pray to the Lord for wisdom, but let’s be honest: the biblical concept of wisdom is at once far more robust, far more organic, far more divine, and far more human than what these last ditch prayers would seem to suggest.

The concept of wisdom that we find in Scripture is richer than the anemic exposition above. In the Old Testament alone (which is not only full of wisdom literature but in fact shot through with the themes and motifs of wisdom), there is a whole range of words used to describe the concepts related to wisdom: knowledge (da`ath), understanding (binah), instruction (torah), discipline (musar), prudence (`ormah), discretion (mizmah). But the actual word for wisdom itself (chokmah) in the Hebrew Scriptures is an intensely practical word relating to the skill of an artisan. The wise person is like the MVP pitcher who pitches a perfect game, or the virtuoso violinist who receives a standing ovation, or the architect whose arches last a millennium. Wisdom may involve insight into the world and understanding of reality, but we cannot limit wisdom to knowledge and insight. Wisdom always manifests itself in skillful, beautiful living. So how then do we become skillful, beautiful livers?

Back when I was regularly studying and practicing violin, a music instructor recommended that I buy and read The Inner Game of Music, a musical spinoff of the book The Inner Game of Tennis. The thesis of this book was at once intuitive and instructive: the musician is at his best when the technical aspects of his craft have been completely rehearsed, practiced, and mastered before the performance, consequently allowing the creative and aesthetic core of the musician’s expression to come across flawlessly and effortlessly.

As long as the musician is concentrated on hitting all the right notes in all the right order with correct precision and execution, he will be creating sequential sounds, not music. However, when the musician is so prepared that he has stopped being concerned with these technical elements, he is then finally able to open himself up completely to express what he desires through the medium of music. Only then is he an artist, and only then is his craft truly art.

Here’s where a parallel can be drawn with the technique of musical performance that I described above, what we might call “The Inner Game of Wisdom”. To become not just a master of my instrument but a performer whose artistry would transcend mere technical mastery, I had to take time every day to practice meticulously the music of the day: note-by-note, section-by-section, piece-by-piece. Similarly, if we desire insight, wisdom, and expertise in beautiful living for the glory of God, we must discipline our lives hour-by-hour, day-by-day, month-by-month, and year-by-year. As we practice walking with God in Christ, coming before him in worship, trusting his promises, following his commandments, drawing close to him in prayer and worship, and showing his love in tangible ways to those around us, we become like Christ, the Power and Wisdom of God, whose skillful and beautifully lived life knows no equal.

It is hardly wrong to cry out to God for insight and guidance when we are feeling confused and helpless: he desires and commands us to do exactly that! But we can miss the heights and depths of the life of wisdom that God has for us when we equate God’s momentary direction and providence with the wisdom acquired through a lifetime of walking with him. As followers of Jesus, let’s delight in the daily discipline of drawing close to him, seeking first his Kingdom and his Righteousness, so that, among all these things, his wisdom may be added to our lives.