“Knowledge is but folly unless it is guided by grace.” ~ George Herbert
Lately, I have found myself praying rather often that the Lord would help me to know what to do or say in certain situations and relationships. I am one of those people who will replay conversations 70x7 times over in my head after the fact, going over what I could or should or shouldn’t have said, or how I should have responded to this or that comment or question. When I finally decide to put a halt to the cycle, I usually pray something along the lines of “Father, help me to let go of this past scenario, and especially help me to know what to do next time, so that this doesn’t have to happen again.”
As I was praying something similar to this last night, however, it suddenly hit me that perhaps this is not the best way to respond to a difficult situation. Perhaps this is not the most pleasing request I can make of my Heavenly Father.
On the one hand, in the first chapter of James, we are explicitly encouraged to pray for wisdom from our Father: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” But is asking for wisdom the same thing as asking to “know what to do next time”? I think maybe not. I suppose we could spend some time quibbling about the exact definitions of “wisdom” and “knowledge” in the Bible, but I think it is safe to say that “knowing what to do” is not something that Jesus encouraged us to strive for or promised that we would attain.
In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that praying for God to give me “knowledge” is kind-of like trying to let myself “off the hook.” If at my next difficult encounter I find that He has suddenly endowed me with perfect assurance of what to say and when, then great. If not, well I guess He didn’t grant my prayer. Nothing much I can do about that.
But is this really how Christ wants us to approach difficult situations? I think not. I decided to take a peek at what the New Testament has to say about knowledge, and what I found gave me pause for thought. When it is treated positively, knowledge in the New Testament generally seems to refer to our knowledge of Christ and to His knowledge of us and of the Father (for some examples, see John 10:14, Matt. 11:27, and Col. 2:2-3). This is quite a different sort of knowledge from what I’ve been talking about so far. But does it not offer an answer to my question?
Let me put it this way. In every relationship I have, who is it that my friends and acquaintances need to see? Not me. Not my perfectly-articulated answers to all of life’s toughest questions. They need to see Jesus—at every moment, in every conversation. For this goal to be achieved, God doesn’t need to give me the feeling of perfect security in every encounter. In fact, the attitude that would likely accompany that feeling might very well cloud over the image of Jesus that I want my friends to see in me. Rather, what I need is an ever-deepening knowledge of Him, in all the fullness of His grace and His wisdom. I need to keep delving into His Word, focusing my mind and my affections on Him.
Perhaps it is when I see Him clearly enough to recognize His presence in every conversation and relationship that my friends will best be able to see Him as well.