One of my direct reports had come to me for advice on how to solve a problem he was facing. His options were several—all with good and bad consequences. Which one should he choose?
As I listened, I was having a conversation with myself. “He’s going to expect me to have an answer. What should I tell him?” I wasn’t sure what to do. It was a judgment call between a good, better, and seemingly best solution.
“I need wisdom, Lord,” I prayed. “Give me wisdom that comes from you to help me see what solution we should embrace.”
Issues that are black and white are quickly solved, but many problems are gray.
We often find ourselves out of our depth when seeking to solve problems or determine a way forward. Issues that are black and white are quickly solved, but many problems are gray. They present with complexities we have never seen, and our options don’t present as clear solutions.
The more responsibility one has, the more regularly one is dealing with these types of gray issues. The more obvious ones have been handled by others before they arrive at your desk. The best leaders, then, seek wisdom in every situation–especially kingdom leaders, who are seeking to advance Christ’s rule and reign among the people of this world. But in worldly contexts, kingdom priorities are not necessarily valued, so solutions are based largely on judgment, which arises primarily from the repetition of experiences over time, revealing patterns of actions and their resulting consequences. Shrewd leaders can begin to predict certain outcomes based on past decisions and choices.
Simply because one has a lot of experience does not necessarily mean that person is growing in wisdom, however. What is labeled wisdom could simply be repetition. Unintended consequences may be hidden from view; moral compromises may be clouded over. If the results are what we desire, then we assume the pathway to achieving them was wise, but such “ends justifies the means” thinking can ignore higher moral values and the eternal purposes of God’s kingdom. A leader’s résumé may show significant growth, but perspective, insight, discernment—true wisdom—may remain stagnant.
True wisdom is from God himself.
True wisdom is from God himself. It is given to those who ask and pursue it from him. Those of us who accept the primacy of God’s kingdom have an objective standard—the Word of God—to test our decisions against. Worldly wisdom can’t claim such a standard, so the wisdom gained from experience is vulnerable to folly.
Kingdom wisdom can come as a gift from God or be gained as we value and prioritize outcomes that bring honor and glory to God—as we seek to lead in ways that align with his kingdom values and purposes as reflected in his character.
Several decades ago, I began to focus on the personal pursuit of wisdom, particularly as it applied to leadership. I was challenged by reading James 1:5 (NASB): “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
I had studied the life of Solomon and knew that his request for wisdom to lead was pleasing to the Lord. I knew, therefore, that I could ask for something similar and enter that same pursuit of wisdom with confidence that I, too, could find favor from the Lord and become a godly, wise kingdom leader. But what is godly wisdom? How is it different from the wisdom of the world? How do we intentionally pursue it? Where do we begin? How do we know that we’ve obtained it? And how can we pass it along to someone else?
When I talk to leaders about their growth and development, we quickly move to two essentials of great leadership: character (a leader’s personal example that backs up their words) and wisdom (a leader’s quality of decision-making). This is true for all leaders regardless of context, but it is particularly true—and these qualities are particularly in view—for kingdom leaders. They know that both their spiritual health and their kingdom influence depend on their intentional pursuit of Christlike character and godly wisdom.
But while a casual perusal of the leadership section of your local library or bookstore quickly validates “worldly wisdom,” few leadership books ask how to know that God is pleased with your leadership. Asking that question is, in fact, counterintuitive to worldly wisdom. Leadership is too complex, the facts on the ground are shifting too quickly, and too many cultures are colliding in front of us to pause and reflect. Yet a world that is so turbulent and chaotic demands a wisdom that is otherworldly.
Kingdom leaders—those seeking to honor God with their leadership and accomplish his purposes—know and are sobered by the realization that they must give an account of their leadership to the Lord. In Hebrews 13:7 (NASB) we read, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account…” We are reminded that the stewardship of our leadership before the Lord is a precious privilege not to be taken lightly.
By God’s help and grace, we can see character change and growth toward spiritual maturity over time. Yes, sometimes it seems like it’s two steps forward and one backward, but overall, we can see net gains in our character development when we seek after it. We live and lead more out of who we are than what we know—especially when we are under pressure. It has been said, “Leaders are like toothpaste tubes – when you squeeze them, what’s inside comes out!”
Godly wisdom is something to be pursued for a lifetime, but it does not take a lifetime to become wise.
But good character alone does not ensure good leadership. There are many people with godly character who cannot lead! Competencies, strategies, and tactics must also be developed if one is to lead well. And underlying all of this must be the pursuit of the otherworldly wisdom of God’s kingdom that helps us in the execution of our plans. God-given wisdom brings God-honoring results that will stand the test of time. In the kingdom, how we arrive at our results is just as important as what our results are.
Godly wisdom is something to be pursued for a lifetime, but it does not take a lifetime to become wise. Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom as a young man and it was granted (see 1 Kings 3). The Lord invites anyone who desires his wisdom, regardless of age, to ask for it and he promises to give it (James 1:5).
So today, are you sure that your kingdom leadership is founded on the King’s wisdom? Or has it been infiltrated with worldly pragmatism and experiences that have given results, but have never been evaluated against kingdom values? Today you can ask, and he promises you will be given his wisdom for your leadership!
Content taken from Growing Kingdom Wisdom, by Tom Yeakley. Copyright © 2019. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers.
Dr. Tom Yeakley has served with The Navigators for 42 years–currently as a staff equipper helping next-generation leaders thrive in life and leadership. Read Tom’s weekly leadership blog here.