With each birthday celebration, I have friends and relatives who console each other by saying something like, “At least we are getting wiser!” There is an old adage that with age comes wisdom. Without a doubt, the longer we live on the planet, the more we have seen and experienced. It’s tempting to look at younger generations with a knowing smile that says, “You’re so naive. I was once like that.”
Not so fast, Boomer! The know-how that comes from life experiences does not always translate into true wisdom. Think of Solomon who seemed to become more foolish as he aged! He likely penned the proverb, “Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning.” Then there’s a lesser known wise man named Ahithophel, who was one of King David’s most trusted advisors. Ahithophel ended up taking his own life when he supported David’s son, Absalom, in a coup attempt against the king. He was clearly wiser as a young man than in old age.
I desperately want my wrinkles and greying hair to be compensated for by godly wisdom. Even more so, I want to be able to finish the Christian life well and not fall into the traps of poor decisions or a hard heart, as many are prone to do with age.
Whether you are a young thirty-year-old or approaching eighty, I’d encourage you to take to heart what Moses wrote, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” As I’ve pondered my own journey, I see three things that become barriers to gaining a heart of wisdom with the passing years.
My son was recently processing some decisions he is facing as a young adult. As we listened, my husband and I gave each other a knowing glance. We remember feeling the same way he now feels. There is a confidence with the “been there, done that” perspective that comes with age, but confidence can quickly turn into pride that says, What you need to do is… We begin to assume that we’ve seen and learned everything we need to know on this side of heaven.
I’ve read through the Bible countless times. I’ve met with counselors. I’ve read all the required books of a sincere Christian and heard the greatest sermons, So, what am I missing? True wisdom is not the accumulation of advice to come out of you, but learning the secret of being a seasoned instrument for God to speak through you.
Ironically, Solomon in his youth wisely penned, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” But as he aged, he violated this foundational principle by worshiping other gods. In all of our knowledge and experience, there is the very real temptation to elevate our own understanding with the Lord’s. Once again, Solomon’s wisdom, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths,” came back to haunt him.
As a young woman, I was keenly aware of what I didn’t know. I was desperate for the Lord’s direction. As an aging woman, I can sometimes rely on my experience and judgment rather than coming humbly to the Lord for His wisdom and direction. The very experiences that I believe give me wisdom can actually become the stumbling block that keeps me from trusting in the Lord.
Our world and the Christian Church is currently characterized by division. Although many variables determine those “dividing lines,” age and generation are among the most dramatic. Even within Christian families, parents often can’t have a civil conversation with their teen or adult children about social justice, politics, or biblical sexual ethics. The parents quickly write off their childrens’ opinions as shallow and alarming. Remember when our parents felt that way about us?
Paul told the Corinthians, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Godly wisdom is inseparable from godly love. Writing off people who don’t agree with us is a troubling sign that our knowledge has puffed us up but not infused our hearts with love, patience, kindness, gentleness, and humility. The knowledge we have to pass down to the next generation needs to be tempered by the work of the Spirit of God. We become the teachers, but we must never stop learning in the process.
While there is a great need and even a biblical mandate for younger Christians to learn from their elders, God also works the other way around. Think of how God used young David, Timothy, Mary, Joseph, and Josiah to accomplish His work. Jesus Himself began His ministry at thirty rather than waiting until he was an aged sage. As far as modern Christian history, Dietrich Bonhoeffer left a lasting impact on the worldwide church, yet he died at thirty-nine. Martin Luther King was also killed at thirty-nine. Had they lived today, would we have tuned them out as overzealous and unseasoned?
Both our natural and spiritual children have things to teach us. God can use them to challenge older Christians to “return to your first love” and to grapple with what it truly means to live as Jesus did. Unfortunately, many of us have lost the ability to listen. We need to ask God for spiritual hearing aids to discern His voice and work, particularly when He’s not speaking our generation’s language.
If you are experiencing an existential crisis, you will find company in the book of Ecclesiastes. In this book of wisdom, the author (likely Solomon) laments about the shallowness and emptiness of life. He had lived long enough to experience the richest pleasures, to learn from the greatest teachers, and to put effort into reforming what was broken in the world. At the end of it, he just gave up.
Rather than make us wise and humble, life experiences can create cynicism. If you’ve lived more than a few decades, you have undoubtedly been burned by fellow Christians, gravely disappointed by respected leaders, betrayed by close friends, and crushed when your most strident efforts turned to nothing. You’ve prayed prayers that never seemed to be answered and toiled for change that never happened. So, why not just retire to the golf course or binge on endless Netflix shows? What’s the use of trying?
This is perhaps one of the greatest pitfalls of aging. While Solomon seemed to end his life with this attitude, his father David did not. David certainly experienced enough pain to be the greatest of cynics. He saw his sinful choices lead to destruction in his family. His own son tried to overthrow him. He lost children, was betrayed by friends, and felt abandoned by God. He also knew through prophecy that the kingdom he established would be torn down within two generations. Yet, David did not resign himself to futility. At the end of his life, he continued to invest in the next generation. In I Chronicles 29, we see how David used his influence to raise money and support for his son, Solomon, to build the Lord’s temple. Although David’s experience taught him not to trust in men, He never let go of his hope in God.
You might feel helpless to influence your grandchildren or to make a difference in your church. Don’t give into that cynicism. As long as God gives you breath, He has plans to use you to pray, to encourage, to challenge, and to equip those who will lead the next generation. Although man has failed you, God will not.
Where are the courageous and wise “elders at the gates” who will love, equip, and challenge this generation? God can use every scar in your heart and experience you’ve walked through to encourage His people.
Young Christians often ask me, “How do I find a mentor? Who will disciple me?” There is so much work to be done! The fields are ripe for harvest but there aren’t enough workers. Pray with me that the Lord will keep our hearts dependent upon Him, humble, and eager to say, “Lord, send me!”
One way to be better equipped to minister to and disciple others is through our e-course at SexualDiscipleship.com. Through membership at SD, you’ll not only gain access to our e-course but to exclusive leader resources, regular office hours with Dr. Juli Slattery, and access to a community of others committed to reclaiming God’s design for sexuality.
You may also be interested in these resources:
How to Choose a Wise Counselor (blog)
Relational Revelation (blog)
How We Love Each Other (blog)
Java with Juli #216: BONUS! Do You Have an Agenda? (member exclusive)