Archive for October, 2013

Wisdom and Understanding

I was recently forced to upgrade to a new cell phone.  My trusty Blackberry Torch went to its grave when I sent it skidding across the floor at Subway.  Expensive lunch.  I have now, or so I have been told, entered the world of “real smartphones” with a Samsung Galaxy.  I must admit that it is capable of doing some pretty cool stuff.  The software system on it is complex and I can do anything from calendars to messaging, apps, videos, pictures, music, and believe it or not, phone calls.  Yep.  I am techy now.  Or at least in my imagination.  Figuring out how to use it is a whole ‘nother story.

My cell phone woes aside, this scenario provides a modern-day illustration for an important Biblical concept.  There is a huge amount of potential in the system of principles (software) in my phone, and in my knowing that they exist.  But knowing about the features of the phone is not the same as being able to use them.  This picture illustrates the difference between wisdom and understanding.

The Hebrew word that we often translate as “wisdom” is essentially the complex network of principles that God has woven into the universe.  Principles appear everywhere around us, whether in the forces of nature, our relationships, or my new cell phone (who is named Liddy).  Principles are universal, non-optional, cause and effect relationships.  Gravity is one of those non-optional relationships.  The Hebrew word that we often translate as “understanding” means knowing how to USE the principles.  This is where you take what you know and put it into practice.  You try it.  You take the principle beyond mere head knowledge.  My knowledge of Liddy’s features is necessary, but it does little real benefit unless I learn how to use them.  She will just placidly blink her little blue eye at me and chirp at all odd hours of the night if I don’t convince her that some of us need to sleep.

The difference between the two words is crucial, and even more so, the reality that knowing the principles does not automatically produce fruit.  Many times we get caught up in the idea of having wisdom and we assume that it also means we will know how to use it.  According to Scripture, that is not the case.

To further illustrate this point, let’s look at the imbalances that can happen between the two concepts.

If I chose to go on simply knowing about Liddy’s features, I am never going to experience the actual benefits in my life.  She will keep all her resources locked up inside her touch screen.  The same kind of thing is true for us.  The fruit in our lives is directly impacted by the principles we actually use.  There are many people who have a great wealth of wisdom but never take the time, the energy, or the risk to practice using it.  An extreme would be the genre we often refer to as “the ivory tower” – those who are locked away thinking great thoughts that never get tried by the fires of reality.  In my work I often encounter people who want everything I know, but their lifestyle and maturity reveals that they are not actually using many of the principles they gain.

What I described above are examples of people having more wisdom than they have understanding.  Generally speaking, the American church falls into this kind of imbalance.  We often chase after the next new thing before the last has even had time to cool, let alone be eaten and digested.  Heaven forbid we miss something!  But we just end up with a storehouse of truths we don’t know how to use, and the world is no better off for our having them.

Now the imbalance can work the other way around as well.  You can have a high level of understanding that operates off of a limited supply of wisdom.  A friend of mine owns a shirt-tail relative of Liddy’s, a little flip-job with real buttons and Atari like icons.  The friend doesn’t know anything about Liddy’s bells and whistles, but she can work her little phone like a pro.  Her level of wisdom is minimal – she doesn’t know all the vast technology that is available (nor does she care) – but her understanding is higher than mine.  If we go to an extreme, we could look at the life of a street crook.  Generally speaking, he’s not overly educated nor does his lifestyle portray an abundance of wisdom.  But what he does know, he has to use, and use it well.  He has to keep himself alive and out of jail.  A life of crime requires you to deal with some unforgiving realities.

Clearly the imbalance in either direction is undesirable.  So, then, it would follow that our ideal is to have a high level of both.  We want to avail ourselves of as much of God’s wisdom as possible, and we want to practice what we know.  What does that look like in real life?  There are two descriptions I would like to explore.

The first is resourcefulness.  This is a person who has a broad supply of wisdom, and is also accustomed to putting that wisdom to work in different situations.  My Dad is resourceful.  I asked him to build me a 4 foot square oak tap dancing floor that I would bring back to California with me.  To solve the problem of size on the plane, he hinged the floor in the middle and put handles on it so I could carry it through the airport.  My boss, Arthur Burk, is resourceful.  He flies a LOT.  There were glitches on a recent flight and he called me at the office immediately to sort it out because the attendants at the airport were swamped.  In both cases, the men had knowledge of resources available, and understanding of how to weave them together to match the scenario.  Wisdom and understanding working together.

The second description is ingenuity.  This involves resourcefulness, but takes the idea to the next level.  Ingenuity means that you are creative and clever in your approach, creating some new kind of configuration.  One famous example in the office is when Arthur solved the problem of a missing part on a light we needed for the studio.  It was one of those big box lights and we couldn’t fasten it to the stand so that it would stay upright.  Arthur came into the room, looked at for a minute and disappeared.  He came back shortly with a broom.  He put the broom side up, supporting the box, and the handle on the ground to keep it stable.  Problem solved … and with a rather unique configuration of principles!  My Grandfather was a master of ingenuity.  He built all kinds of gadgets and could be depended upon to fix just about anything.  Perhaps one of his best creations was his set of home-made hearing aids.

In both of these descriptions I have used primarily hands on illustrations, but the concepts apply in all areas of life, whether you are talking about building a dance floor or ministering to someone’s spirit.  Your level of wisdom and how well you use it will have a direct effect on the results.

Since we generally find the imbalance on the side of wisdom, what are some tools for building our understanding?

One foundational tool is to relentlessly ask “why”.  This question will increase your wisdom and help you drill down to the root cause of a scenario.  Once you know the root cause, you are well positioned to practice what you have learned.  You will also gain knowledge of a principle that can be used in other situations.  Take the idea of generational defilement.  What are you doing and why does it work?  What is the spiritual structure involved?  In this case the principle is a legal one.  Somebody sinned somewhere, giving a legal right to the enemy, and it is through the legal act of repenting, renouncing, and restoring that the family line is cleansed.  So what else can you use that principle for?  You can use it with land.  Organizations.  Cities, nations, people groups, etc.  The “why” question is an invaluable tool, affording you more wisdom and applications for practice.

Use the tool of developing pictures.  Much of what we learn is given to us in abstract concepts.  So, take what you just learned in church and put it into a real life scenario, with real people.  How would it actually play out?  Where in history have you already seen it?  What Bible character lived it?  Put some flesh and bones on the wisdom you have gained so that you can more easily bridge the gap between knowledge and application.

A major tool is practice.  Practice, practice, practice.  Experiment with what you know.  Put some hours into it.  Liddy and I have spent some serious quality time together these last couple of days.  We even had a special session with the sales rep at Best Buy (one of the resources at my disposal) because Liddy and I weren’t quite seeing eye to eye on a certain matter.  Find someone or something you can use for a guinea pig.  Find out what it actually looks like on Monday morning to nurture the spirit, or cleanse the land, or unpack your redemptive gift.  Find out what it means to sanctify time every day, or to lead someone through generational healing.

The beautiful thing is that you will become part of a spiral of growth.  Practicing what you know will send you back to God for more wisdom.  Gaining more wisdom will give you more things to practice.  You will learn and grow and grow as you learn.  It’s an exquisite dance of discovery and implementation.

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When I was kid there was a book called “The Bridge” that I read over and over again.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  Now I understand that it fed my spirit.  It said something about God that moved me out of the realm of the soul and into something eternally powerful.

The story was about two kingdoms on either side of a river.  The larger of the two was called Folger, and it fit the sound of its name to a T.  The smaller kingdom was called Bracken, and its persistent prosperity drove the larger kingdom into a fury.  The lord of Folger wanted to swallow Bracken like a snake swallows a frog.

Invasion, however, was tricky business because of the river.  It was wide and swiftly flowing, so the only tenable point of access was a large wooden suspension bridge.  For many years, the bridge was successfully guarded by the smaller kingdom.  But one grim night, through an act of betrayal, the guard was compromised and the enemy stormed the castle.  A large invasion of thousands of soldiers was to follow.

The story follows the adventures of the Princess, who through the ingenious and sacrificial strategy of her father’s advisors, escapes.  By a providence much kinder than her spoiled disposition deserved, she connects with a wise woman who has more than patience, she has a key to victory for the little nation.

The key is in the form of a song.  It was a ballad sung by the castle guard of Bracken for hundreds of years, but out of tradition, not an understanding of the meaning.  Here are the words of the song:

“Come war, the soldier earns his trade.
Beat the drums; my heart inspire.
Bring me my iron blade,
My helmet rivet on.
Bring me the prancing horse
Gird on my sword of fire.

Nay, come there many boots,
On cobblestones that ring?
Disarm me where the waters course.
My iron helm unhinge.
A riverboat shall be my horse.
One axe shall overthrow a king.

In the night the soldier creeps,
Midway from shore to shore.
High above the murky deep
He finds a slender wooden floor.
‘Twill one man safely keep,
Whose axe shall end a war.”

The song was about the bridge.  It spoke of a soldier who discarded his armor and horse when he realized that the army was advancing over the cobblestones of the bridge.  He goes instead to the river, to a place halfway in-between.  There he ascends above the water to do something to win the war that only requires the power of one axe.

When they follow the instructions of the song, they discover a hidden platform with a single small beam.  When chopped through, an entire section of cabled suspension was weakened.  No way could it hold the force of an army’s marching feet.

And indeed, it did not.  When the full invasion came, the bridge collapsed.

The beauty of this story is that the builders had planned ahead.  They knew the lay of the land and the nature of the two kingdoms.  They knew the day would come when the smaller kingdom would be faced with utter defeat.  So they built into the bridge a mechanism for overthrowing the strength of the enemy and securing the victory.

It is this picture that so captivates my spirit because I see a reflection of the nature of God.  The enemy often shows himself so powerful.  He rages against us and he can wound us deeply.  But God is out ahead of him.  God is the master strategist, planning and placing leverage points throughout the structure of time, in anticipation for the day when they will be revealed, like the meaning of the song.  Our God doesn’t do blocked.  He doesn’t do defeated.  God is a God of victory and He builds triumph into the timeline of our lives and of all mankind.

For us individually, time and again, we discover some unscathed piece of design that spoils the enemy’s attempts to utterly crush and destroy.  A partial victory is never safe for him because God can suddenly uncover a piece that was there all along, or give us some truth that turns things right side up, and the enemy’s strategy disintegrates.  Throughout history, from Adam and Eve, to Moses and the Hebrews, to Reese Howells and his intercessors, God has demonstrated His incomparable skill of triumphing over the enemy with a plan that was set in motion before the crisis came.  The greatest illustration is the person of Jesus Christ whose incarnation was built into time before man was even made.

Everywhere around us are these masterfully designed bridges, waiting for the moment of use by our undefeatable God.  We may not see them because we are limited in our view of time.  But they are there.  They are in our lives, and sometimes we sing the song before we ever know what it means.  But the day will come when we understand, and the enemy will lose another battle.  God has built them into the fabric of time, and ultimately, when the enemy believes he has finally achieved a complete victory, the King will come again.  His mighty sword will fell the final bridge and His saints will triumph with Him forever.

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