“I have more understanding than all my teachers,
For Your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the ancients,
Because I keep Your precepts.
I have restrained my feet from every evil way,
That I may keep Your word.” (Psalm 119:99-101)
Once, when I was a teenager visiting a church in a neighboring community, I was pulled aside by a Sunday School teacher after class and asked if I had considered going into the ministry. She told me how I had wisdom beyond my years or something like that. Honestly, I probably just had her fooled by a few well-chosen statements in a class discussion. I was raised in church and, for the most part, I knew what to say and when to say it to make the right impression. You learn to do things like that when you’re a kid growing up in church. I say this so as not to give a false impression of my wit or wisdom as a young person. Nevertheless, what the Psalmist says is very true; meditating, learning, and living by God’s Word works, and it will make one’s journey through life a success, regardless of what one’s personal deficiencies might be.
Some time after graduating from Bible school, I remember sitting with an older, fellow minister who happened to pastor in the same town as me. He was a very “type A” kind of person with a very strong sense that what he believed and did was right in regard to how he ran his church (despite all evidence to the contrary). I remember him telling me in no uncertain terms how he felt about certain Bible doctrines, how one should run their church, and so forth and so on. I believe he was trying to impress me, a younger minister, with his “take-the-church-by-the-horns-and-do-it-your-own-way” approach to ministry. I sat there silently for the most part, smiling whenever I could, secretly thanking God for the mature and seasoned men and women under whose instruction I had sat and from whose wisdom I had benefited. I couldn’t agree with much of anything this pastor said, and all that kept coming to my mind were different verses of scripture and the truth that I had learned that seemed to contradict his particular philosophy of life and ministry.
In the years following, as I grew in the things of God, I began forming my own ideas and opinions about a good many things related to life and ministry, and some of those ideas differed somewhat from those who had taught me in my earlier years. For the most part, these were minor doctrinal differences, opinions regarding philosophy of ministry, or even personal style and taste. Today, for example, I’m not much of a suit wearer, and my personal ministry style has changed because of things I’ve found in my journey that work for me. But I have never lost my appreciation for the Word of God taught to me by those with whom God surrounded me in my formative years. I still have a deep and abiding appreciation for them and the timeless truths they taught me.
In fact, what I have found is that God allows us to build upon the foundation of His Word that others helped to establish so that we can fulfill the singular and unique call upon our lives, just as they had done. These subtle differences that develop between our spiritual fathers and us are in no way a show of disrespect toward those who have been the foundation layers in our own lives. To the contrary, God used them to help build the platform from which we can see how to best approach an ever-changing world with the unchanging truth of God’s Word.
Methodologies come and go. Styles change, and the songs and styles of today will one day be replaced by the look and sound of another generation who will need to translate the gospel into the language of their day. Some will lament those changes and pine for the “good ol’ days” like the generations before us did, but in reality, these adaptations of the gospel to the world have been going on since the message was first preached by a Jewish Church living in a Roman world in the midst of a Hellenistic culture. Like Wesley, who put sacred lyrics to the tavern songs of his day, we today take the timeless truths of God’s Word and give it a fresh and relevant presentation to a new generation, whose faltering feet need the sure foundation of truth upon which to stand. It’s not the wrapping but the content that matters. It’s not the style but the substance of the message that changes a life. What is timeless is not the fashion in which the gospel is delivered, but the message itself. It is that message of unchanging truth that brings the dead to life and places one’s feet on solid ground.
This is not merely wisdom for the wayward world either, but for the prodigals who have wandered away from the wisdom that they once knew. Weary they return, filled with the “pig pods” of prodigal living, ready for the welcoming embrace of Father’s house, where there is plenty, peace, and protection. I have made plenty of mistakes in my own life, but never once were they the result of following the wisdom of God’s Word. Rather, my missteps in life have always come when I veered from the path of wisdom, setting the truth of God’s Word aside to pursue my own foolish ways. Thank God, He is merciful, and He has a way of salvaging our lives from the wreckage of our mistakes and sins, but there is a better way, and that is to simply stay on the plain path of God’s Word. It really doesn’t take a Greek or Hebrew scholar to do this, either. In fact, as born again believers, His law is written on our hearts, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we really know, more often than not, which direction the path of wisdom is leading us in the decisions of life.
Sometimes the choices are harder to discern and extensive time in the Word and prayer are necessary in choosing between what is permissible and what is best; between what is good and what is God. He will be faithful to lead us and guide us into all truth if we will follow the inner compass of our conscience and the Holy Spirit (see John 16:13). We can ask for wisdom and be assured of His answer (see James 1:5-8), and move from one solid stepping-stone to another across the most turbulent of life’s troubled waters. It doesn’t mean you won’t have challenges, or that you won’t at times have to ask forgiveness for a step that falls out of the way, or perhaps even retrace your steps back to the last thing you knew to be God’s will. What it does mean, however, is that if you keep your heart humble before Him and honor the wisdom of His Word, His grace will keep you and His Spirit will lead you to that safe harbor of His perfect will.