By Dr. Chip Roper
Founder & President, VOCA Center
When I was a boy, I loved dinner time. It wasn’t just about refueling after a hard day of play. Dinner was the time when our entire family gathered around the table. Mom and Dad sat across from each other. My brother was next to my mom, opposite me. I was next to my dad. I thought it was a bit of a big deal to get to sit next to dad. While I have a positive impression of those moments, I don’t have many vivid memories of those evenings, save one.
Dad sat down, looking a bit harried. It was always our custom to pray before dinner–not a memorized prayer, but a spontaneous one. Before we got to praying that night he said: “Boys, pray for your Dad. I have a tough problem at work, and I need God’s help.”
My father was not a pastor or a missionary. He was a senior engineer at the steel company that dominated our town. He had a Ph.D. in Metallurgy. He was smart! I was too young to remember what the problem was. Dad essentially faced two types of problems in his work with specialty steel: technical problems and people problems.
I didn’t understand the complex nature of these problems as a boy at the dinner table. I just knew my dad had a problem with work, and he believed God would help him with it. My dad sought God’s wisdom for his work.
The irony is that today, I lead an organization whose tagline is “God’s Wisdom for Your Work.” What are we talking about? What is wisdom? What makes it God’s? How do you find this wisdom? And what does this wisdom guarantee, if anything?
We’ll take these questions in turn, holding out the promise that we are not left to our own devices and shallow advice columns when we face challenges and opportunities at work.
WHAT IS GOD’S WISDOM AT WORK?
Wisdom is practical know-how. We distinguish it from factual or academic knowledge, which, while helpful, isn’t necessarily connected to some real-world need or scenario. Wisdom is knowing what to do (or not do). It is knowledge lived out. Tim and Kathy Keller, quoting Old Testament scholar, Derek Kidner, define it this way: “Wisdom is wedding thought and experience to become competent with regard to the realities of life.”
God’s wisdom adds a sacred dimension to common sense. God’s wisdom is practical know-how based on who God is, what he has done in history, what he is doing in the world now, and what he will do in the future. As I recently heard, wisdom is knowing what to do as if you knew everything relevant to your current case. In contrast to the wise, fools are people so out of touch with reality that they make life miserable for themselves and those around them. 2
Wisdom is such an integral part of Judeo-Christian spirituality that an entire section of the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) is called the books of Wisdom: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. These writings highlight how to do life when you are in situations where a clear moral imperative is absent. How does one decide in the gray and grit of everyday life?
In these books, there are hundreds of statements about what is wise (and what is foolish in contrast). At its core, the wisdom writers say that the fear of God is the foundation of all true wisdom. Here the word “fear” means extreme reverence and awe rather than paralyzing terror. God is the one whom we have to fear–the centering force in the life of people who are wise.
So what is God’s wisdom for your work?
- God’s wisdom at work is figuring out what to do in the myriads of choices that arise over the day-to-day grind of work.
- Wisdom is discerning the macro path forward in your career.
- Wisdom is finding the things you can do to alleviate and eliminate the seemingly intractable problems you face on the job.
God’s wisdom for work is more than technical answers or soft skills. It includes those things but adds a vertical dimension–a Godward connectivity between our vocational choices and God’s actions in history.
HOW DO YOU FIND GOD’S WISDOM AT WORK?
There are at least four ways we find God’s wisdom for our work (and for the rest of our lives as well).
- Ask: Jesus’ brother James says, “ask” (James 1:5). If you need wisdom, ask God, and he will give it. This is what my dad was doing and asking us to do on his behalf. The very act of asking God to grant us wisdom recognizes God for who he is: the source of all wisdom.
- Get Counsel: Over and over, the Proverbs implore the reader to get counsel in order to make wise decisions (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 20:18; 24:6). Fools are those who don’t seek or listen to counsel. While God will give us wisdom through a multitude of sources, we believe that God often gives us what we ask through the vessel of other people.
- Read: Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance (Proverbs 1:5). The wisdom books suggest there is a path to make normal people wise and wise people wiser. Years ago, theologian J.I. Packer said in an interview that he reads Proverbs every day. I’ve been emulating the practice for the better part of two decades. I read the other wisdom books too–Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Job–they balance out the up and to the right tone of Proverbs.
- Seek Jesus: People marveled at the wisdom of Jesus (Matthew 13:54). He is described as the wisdom and power of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). Jesus is the living embodiment of God’s wisdom for life (and work). The degree that we seek him, learn from him, and surrender to him, is the degree to which God’s wisdom will be pulsing through our veins. We shouldn’t aim to merely seek God’s wisdom for major trials and tribulations at work; Christians should submit daily to his leading.
WHAT DOES (AND DOESN’T) GOD’S WISDOM PROMISE?
Wisdom may seem like a cure-all–the ultimate self-help hack–the key to a good and easy life. What does wisdom promise to those who seek and find it?
Not Panacea: Wisdom is not a magic happy pill. Wisdom promises an easier life and a better life than life without it. But that is not the same as life as a perpetual win streak, which is often pitched to us as the portrait of winning in life. Challenges and difficulties are still part of life for the wise. For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity (Proverbs 24:16).
Wise workers still “fall.” They face the whims of multinational corporations, restructuring, market decline, and human greed. They fall but rise again. Their opposites, “the wicked” are undone by the chaos of the working world. Their foolish responses make a bad situation worse. Better and easier nets out to the kind of experience most of us really want in the long run.
Wisdom offers a long and meaningful life.
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed.
THE ULTIMATE WISDOM QUESTION
The ultimate wisdom question for each of us is this: will you seek wisdom first, and listen? Or will you seek other things and ignore the insight that has come your way?
For the simple are killed by their turning away,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but whoever listens to me [wisdom] will dwell secure
and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” (Proverbs 1:32-33)
THE QUEST FOR WISDOM AT WORK
Our tribe is a growing virtual community of people who want God’s wisdom for their work. We want to know how to handle the opportunities and challenges, the temptations and joys of work with nothing less than divine insight. Bringing together the wise counsel of professional knowledge and Biblical truth, we provide tailored doses of God’s wisdom in our teaching and coaching at VOCA. It is a privilege to keep learning and to help others do the same.
There’s so much promise and liberation in God’s wisdom. There’s so much time and angst spent on work. We hope you’ll join us on the discovery where His liberating insights transform your day-to-day on the job into something rich, alive, and hopeful.
People often feel stuck at work, whether it is a specific challenge, a confused sense of calling, or a hazy future. The VOCA Center enables individuals to resolve their biggest work dilemmas with proven solutions that deliver clarity and a plan to follow God’s path for their work lives. Subscribe to our email list, or learn about our professional coaching options today.