Wisdom: How to make a wise decision

This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. If you have any questions or comments, please post them in the comment section on the blog.

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HOW TO MAKE A WISE DECISION

The first thing you need to make a wise decision is knowledge.

The reason the fool goes wrong is that he does not take the time to acquire the necessary knowledge to assess the situation. Obviously, if you do not have the knowledge, you cannot make a wise decision, because you cannot apply and adapt knowledge that you do not have! The foolish person is often impetuous and impatient—he does not wait to find out knowledge, or he does not ask advice of others, or, if he does ask advice, he rarely takes good advice.

A wise man will assess the situation—how much time do I have; how much money do I have; how many people do I have and how many people do I need? What are the possible consequences of route A as opposed to route B? How will this affect this person or that person? How will this affect me? How will this affect my ability to do this thing or that thing? How will this impact on my duty toward God and my neighbor? And above all, the wise man asks, “How will this serve to glorify God?”

The fool never asks that question—he thinks selfishly: “This makes me feel good. This seems to have some short time benefit for me,” but he does not consider the impact his choice will have on others, and he especially does not consider the glory of God. Foolish people are often rash and impetuous; they act now, and think later, or they act now, and regret what they did later.

The second thing you need to make a wise decision is realism. Realism means that you live in the real world, or that you reckon with reality. A wise person adapts his behavior to reality—to what really is, and not to what he would like it to be. The New Testament calls this sober mindedness: “Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded” (Tit. 2:6).

A foolish person has all kinds of unrealistic expectations because he refuses to adapt to reality. If the reality is that you do not have $1,000, you do not buy something that costs $1,000. If the reality is that you do not have the skills or attainments for your dream job, you do not apply for your dream job, and you do not refuse to work in a lower paid job. If there are certain obstacles in the way, you do not pretend that they are not there. Either you make a wise plan to overcome the obstacles (if possible), or you change your plan. The fool carries on regardless and then finds himself stuck because he failed to take reality into account.

The third thing you need to make a wise decision is discernment or the ability to make good observations about situations and about people. The reason people say foolish things or do foolish things is that they do not pay attention. Therefore, they do not know how to interact with other people. They have not taken the time to understand a person’s personality, his likes and dislikes, his interests, his struggles and difficulties, his strengths and weaknesses, etc. That is why a person often will say something foolish, tactless, inappropriate, or awkward. They blurt out foolishness, because they have not been listening!

A fool does not have the wisdom to read the situation that he is in. You can often spot a foolish person—he has no tact; he embarrasses himself and others; he cannot get on with other people in the family, in work, in school, or in the church; he cannot manage money; he cannot keep a job; he cannot control his tongue; and he is impressionable and easily led astray. Such a person may be a believer, and he may even have a good grasp of theology, but he lacks the ability to use, apply, and adapt the knowledge he has. He simply cannot seem to understand what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior or speech in any given situation or circumstance.

Such a person needs to study the book of Proverbs more than any other book. Such a person needs to make wisdom the priority in his prayers.

EXAMPLES OF WISDOM AND FOLLY

Although the book of Proverbs is full of examples, I select a few as illustrations.

Wisdom and heeding advice: the wise man understands that he does not know everything, and therefore he asks for, and heeds, advice. The fool does not. “A wise man will hear and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels” (Prov. 1:5). “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise” (Prov. 12:15). “Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction, but he that regardeth reproof shall be honored” (Prov. 13:18). “Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart to it?” (Prov. 17:16).

Wisdom and speech: the wise man knows how to adapt his speech to the situation, but the fool says the wrong thing at the wrong time, or blurts out the thoughts of his heart. “A prudent man concealeth knowledge: but the heart of fools proclaimeth foolishness” (Prov. 12:23). “The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness” (Prov. 15:2). “The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things” (Prov. 15:28). “A fool’s lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes. A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul” (Prov. 6–7). “A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards” (Prov. 29:11).

Wisdom and work: the wise man knows that if he does not want to work he shall not eat. The wise man knows that he needs to make provision for the days ahead, therefore he looks for and finds work even if the work is not his ideal job. The fool refuses to adapt to that reality and makes excuses why he should not or cannot work. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? When wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep, so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man” (Prov. 6:6–11). “The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat” (Prov. 13:4). “I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction” (Prov. 24:30–32). “The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way; a lion is in the streets. As the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the slothful upon his bed. The slothful hideth his hand in his bosom; it grieveth him to bring it again to his mouth. The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason” (Prov. 26:13–16).

Wisdom and forward planning: the wise man plans for the future. Because he knows how to manage money, he knows how to anticipate risk, and he knows how to react to adversity. The fool rushes headlong and heedlessly into danger and gets himself into a mess. “The simple believeth every word, but the prudent looketh well to his going. A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil: but the fool rageth, and is confident” (Prov. 14:15–16). “A man void of understanding striketh hands and becometh surety in the presence of his friend” (Prov. 17:18). “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him” (Prov. 18:13). “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished” (Prov. 27:12).

Wisdom and arguing or anger: the wise man knows when to argue/debate and when to be silent. The wise man knows when to stop arguing. The wise man does not meddle in other people’s affairs, and the wise man does not become angry and argumentative. The fool stirs up trouble wherever he goes, which leads to resentment, anger, and shame. “The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with” (Prov. 17:14). “Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbor hath put thee to shame” (Prov. 25:8). “Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of him” (Prov. 29:20). “He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears” (Prov. 26:17). “An angry man stirreth up strife, and a furious man aboundeth in transgression” (Prov. 29:22). “Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood: so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife” (Prov. 30:33).

The book of Proverbs addresses many other situations and examples: wisdom and marriage; wisdom and child rearing; wisdom and wine; wisdom and friendship, etc.