Holy Spirit Guides us in the way of Wisdom by Charles Stanley
The passages below are taken from Charles Stanley’s book, “The Wonderful Spirit Filled Life,” published in 1992.
A fourth marker that indicates the leading of the Holy Spirit is wisdom. No other question reveals our hidden motives more readily than this one: What is the wise thing for me to do? In financial matters it reveals our greed. In relational issues it reveals our selfishness. In social interactions it reveals our lust. Nothing escapes. Wisdom shines like a spotlight on the soul.
The Holy Spirit leads and directs according to what is wise and unwise. It is following a discussion on wisdom that we find Paul’s command to be filled with the Spirit:
“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:15—18, NASB)
There is no break in the discussion between his comments on wisdom and the command to be filled with the Spirit. Paul is not changing the subject. There is a vital and often-overlooked relationship between wisdom and the Holy Spirit; namely, the Holy Spirit guides the believer in the way of wisdom. To refuse to live wisely is to ignore the leading of the Holy Spirit.
I said earlier that the Holy Spirit is the mouthpiece of God to the mind and heart of man. With that in mind, take a fresh look at this familiar verse:
“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)
We are encouraged to ask for wisdom. God, through the person of the Holy Spirit, is more than willing to give us the wisdom we need for the decisions we face. We are encouraged to ask for wisdom rather than direction. Yet our tendency is to do just the opposite.
The Role of Wisdom
Many issues we are forced to deal with on a daily basis are not mentioned specifically in Scripture. Complicated situations arise, and there seems to be no biblical parallel to use as a guide. In these instances God expects us to ask, “What is the wise thing for me to do?” Wisdom fills the gaps between the principles, promises, and commands of God. Wisdom always takes all three into account and then asks, “What is the wise thing for me to do?”
The other unique thing about wisdom is that it operates beyond the realm of mere right and wrong. Somewhere along the way many of us have mistakenly come to believe that if the Bible does not specifically say something is wrong, it must be OK. Not so! Many things that the Bible does not specifically cite as wrong are detrimental to our spiritual as well as physical health.
Wisdom is often the tool the Holy Spirit uses to personalize God’s will for our lives. What is wise for me may not be wise for you—–and vice versa. I know a young man who has recently gotten out of involvement with the occult. To speed his recovery, he has put himself on an intensive mind-renewal program. He is memorizing Scripture by the chapter. He is in church every time the doors are open. And he listens to every Christian tape he can get his hands on.
In addition, there are some things he is not doing. He does not listen to any secular music. He does not go to certain parts of the city. And he does not return the phone calls of his old friends. Why? Well, here is what he told me:
It’s just not wise for me to do those things right now. Eventually, I hope to go back and tell my friends what God has done in my life—–but I’m not strong enough yet. On a couple of occasions I’ve been tempted to pick up the phone and call them. But something inside me said, “Wait.” So I’m waiting. As far as the music goes, I don’t have anything against secular music. It’s just that I’ve got so much junk still floating around in my head. I don’t want to risk putting more up there. Besides, Christian music helps keep me focused.
Here is a young man who understands the importance of wisdom. For him, it is a matter of survival. He has also discovered the relationship between wisdom and the Holy Spirit. The something that told him not to call his old friends was the Holy Spirit.
God has not called us to merely stay on the right side of the line dividing right from wrong. He has called us to walk wisely. Sometimes that means staying way back from the line. The Holy Spirit uses wisdom to keep us back from the brink of disaster. Most of us want to know how far we can go toward sin without actually sinning. Once we find out (or think we have found out), we move right out on the edge—–and stay there until we go over. Consequently, there are habits we cannot walk away from. There are areas of weakness in our lives that never improve. And all because we ignore the Holy Spirit’s promptings to walk wisely. The writer of Proverbs summed it up beautifully:
“He who trusts in his own heart is a fool,
But he who walks wisely will be delivered.” (Proverbs 28:26)
A Three-Part Question
For maximum impact this penetrating question should be asked in three dimensions.
1. What is the wise thing to do in light of my past experience?
Phil works for a large firm out of St. Petersburg, Florida. His work requires him to be away from home two or three nights a week. When he came to see me, he was practically in tears.
“I have really gotten myself into a mess he said. “I love my wife. We have a new baby. I’m a leader in my church. And at home everything is fine. But on the road things are different. You see, there are three or four of us from work who travel together. The other guys aren’t Christians. They can’t wait to get away from their wives. Every week it’s the same thing. They are like high- school kids on spring break. They just go wild.
“Every Monday I promise God I’m not going to participate. And every Monday night, there I am, right in the middle of them. It’s killing me. It’s hard to face my wife when I come home. She knows something is wrong, but I don’t see any point in telling her. What am I supposed to do? I’ve got to work. And if I work, I’ve got to travel.”
He was really shaken up. I asked, “Phil, tell me about these trips. Where do you stay? Who do you stay with? What are the circumstances surrounding the situation?”
“It’s always the same. We work alone or in pairs during the day. Then we meet back at the hotel and go somewhere to eat together. After dinner it’s downhill from there. When we first began working together, I would ask them to drop me off at the hotel. But they would kid me and eventually wear me down to the point that I would go along. Now I don’t even ask. I know I should be stronger. But the fact is, I’m not.”
I explained to Phil that God had called him to walk wisely. Sometimes that meant taking several steps away from the line dividing right from wrong. “Phil, apparently you have a difficult time overcoming the temptation to go with your buddies once you are in the car with them. Maybe the wise thing to do next trip is to eat dinner alone. Don’t even hook back up with them until the next day.”
“Is there something wrong with eating with them?” he asked.
“No,” I replied. “But that’s not the point. What is the wise thing for you to do in light of your past experience? It could be that the wise thing for you to do is to stay in a completely different hotel! Again, not because there is something wrong with staying in the same hotel as your buddies. But because of your track record with them, it may not be the wise thing to do.”
He sat back in his chair. “That’s pretty extreme.”
“You’re right,” I said. “But then, you are in an extreme situation. And sometimes that calls for extreme measures.”
“I know you are right,” he said. “That is exactly what I ought to do.”
I knew that the Holy Spirit was tugging at his heart, urging him to set a new standard. But I could not get him to make a commitment to follow through.
“I’ll think about it,” he said.
That was the last time I saw Phil. But I kept up with him through a mutual friend. Phil ignored my advice. Not too many months later he left his wife. Our mutual friend says that Phil has been over to see him several times and cries like a baby. He wishes he could go back and do it all over. But sometimes you just can’t go back.
The Holy Spirit always takes our past experiences into account when giving us direction for our lives. He knows when we are settling ourselves up for moral disaster. Unlike Phil, we would do well to listen to the still small voice that quietly whispers, “Remember the last time . . . remember last time you went . . . remember last time you stayed . . . remember last time you agreed to do that . . . remember last time that happened . . . remember last time someone told you that . . .”
2. What is the wise thing to do in light of my present situation?
The second part of this three-part question focuses on what’s going on NOW! Sometimes, because of the present state of your marriage, health, finances, or the economy, things that ordinarily would be OK are off-limits. This can be hard to take. After all, it was OK last time. Why not this time?
I know a man who gave up traveling for a little over a year because of a situation at home with his teenage daughter. He took a big cut in pay and lost some of his seniority. When asked why, he answered, “Well, it’s not that I have anything against traveling. It’s just not wise for me to be gone overnight in light of what my daughter is going through right now.”
He understood that the issue was not one of right versus wrong, it was a wisdom issue. Eventually, the situation at home cleared up, and he was able to travel again.
Making decisions in view of our present situation can save us much heartache and regret. I once heard a student sharing a situation that he was faced with in college. He had been through a very intense week of final exams. He didn’t get much sleep throughout the week because of all the studying and preparation for his tests. After his last exam was over, he was operating on pure adrenaline! He was physically, mentally, and emotionally spent. His buddies were going out that night to celebrate the end of exam week, and they invited him to go along. Although he was incredibly relieved to be finished and knew that going out would be fun, he realized that because of his particular state of mind, he would be much more apt to compromise his standards. He said no to his friends and didn’t even allow himself to be tempted. He was being wise and evaluating his temptability based on his present situation.
Life changes quickly. What’s good today may be detrimental tomorrow. And then it may be OK again the day after tomorrow. Very little is set in stone. God loves us and directs our lives according to what is happening around us. That is why it is so important for us to be sensitive to the initial promptings of the Holy Spirit.
3. What is the wise thing to do in light of my future plans and dreams?
We have a large number of single adults in our church. A recurring question that surfaces in my discussions with them concerns dating non-Christians. Usually, it is asked this way: “What does the Bible say about dating non-Christians?”
“That’s easy,” I say. “Nothing. In fact it doesn’t say anything about dating at all, so maybe you shouldn’t!”
After a brief look of panic, they realize I’m kidding. I answer this question by asking a series of questions. First, “Do you think that you will eventually marry someone you fall in love with?”
“Of course,” they say.
I continue, “Do you think you will fall in love with someone you date for some length of time?”
“Do you want to marry a Christian?”
“Well, if you are going to marry someone you fall in love with, and if you think it’s likely that you will fall in love with someone you are going to date over a period of time, and if you are committed to marrying only a Christian, is it really wise to date a non-Christian?”
Reactions are usually mixed. Someone will almost always refer to the original question: “But where does it say that in the Bible?”
“The Bible,” I say, “instructs us to walk wisely. In that context, the Bible does have something to say about dating non-Christians. It is unwise.”
[My comment–This advice is too rigid and debatable as Charles Stanley himself says above: “Life changes quickly. What’s good today may be detrimental tomorrow. And then it may be OK again the day after tomorrow. Very little is set in stone.” and “What is wise for me may not be wise for you—–and vice versa.” Also, even after marriage: “If any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, let him not send her away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband.” 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 NASB]
When Paul says “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise” (Eph. 5:15), he is instructing each of us to carefully examine everything that comes our way: every opportunity, every invitation, every date, every relationship, every trip, everything,
Why? “Because,” he says, “the days are evil.” We live in an evil age. It’s as if every organization and institution is out to destroy the things we as Christians hold sacred. Almost nothing in our society works to strengthen the family. No one seems to care whether married couples stay together. Just about everything on the airways teaches a philosophy of life that is diametrically opposed to what we stand for as Christians. To become like the world requires no effort at all. Just get out there and live. Sooner or later you will be just like them.
To survive, we must be wise! We cannot afford to walk blindly through life just taking things as they come. We must get in the habit of looking as far as we can down the road to anticipate trouble. We must get in the habit of taking evasive action. And most of all, we must stay a safe distance away from the line separating right from wrong.
Just before he admonishes his readers to be filled with the
Spirit, Paul commands them to do one other thing:
“So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:17)
This verse puzzled me for a long time. How can you command someone to understand something? As I studied this verse, I realized what Paul was saying: “Face up to what you know in your heart God wants you to do!” This is a powerful command, especially in view of what he is about to say regarding the filling of the Spirit,
All of us have an amazing ability to sidestep God’s will for our lives when it conflicts with our will for our lives. Given enough time, we can justify just about anything. To do so, however, is to grieve the Holy Spirit and to set ourselves up for disaster. When we know in our hearts that something is not right, we must face up to it. The longer we play games, the longer we rationalize, the longer we justify, the greater the risk.
Since the Holy Spirit moves in the realm of wisdom, His convicting work often begins several steps away from what is traditionally considered sin. Take, for example, the fellow I mentioned earlier who has just left behind the occult. When he reaches for the phone to call his old friends, the Holy Spirit whispers, “Don’t do it. He could easily rationalize, “There is nothing wrong with calling them. What can it hurt? There is nothing in the Bible about calling old friends.”
On one hand, he would be right. But on the other hand, he would be disobeying the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Notice, however, that the Holy Spirit would not be convicting him of something that we would normally consider a sin. After all, there may come a day when it is perfectly fine for him to call his old friends. And there would be no harm in my giving his friends a call. But that is not the point. The Holy Spirit would be convicting him at the wisdom level: “It’s not wise to call your old friends.”
Suppose he ignores the Holy Spirit’s warnings and calls them anyway. Has he sinned? You better believe it. God has commanded us to be wise. And to act unwisely—–especially after being warned by the Holy Spirit—–is to sin. James asserted,
Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin. (James 4:17)
John Wesley’s mother explained it to her son like this: “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself.”
Wisdom is not optional. It is not reserved for a special class of believers. It is for all of us. When the Holy Spirit convicts us at the level of wisdom, it is easy to rationalize. After all, what we are being tempted to do is usually not a sin in the normal sense of the word. But once the Holy Spirit warns us, at that moment it becomes sin for us.
I don’t think I’ve ever counseled with anyone who didn’t admit that their troubles began with a series of unwise decisions. Not sin necessarily. But things that led into the sin that eventually made its mark emotionally, financially, or physically. I have talked to hundreds of Christians who have admitted that in the midst of making what turned out to be unwise decisions, they had a persistent feeling that they were making a mistake. But since they couldn’t find any verses about their particular situation, or they couldn’t see what was wrong with it, they went ahead anyway.
Now, they readily admit, they were being prompted by the Holy Spirit.
When Andy was thirteen, we hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. About halfway down, we were met by a group of sightseers riding mules. At that point the trail was only about three feet wide. The canyon went straight up on one side of the trail and straight down on the other. We leaned up against the side of the canyon as the mule train passed by. I noticed a strange thing. The mules were not walking nose to tail in a straight line. They were walking almost completely sideways. Their noses were actually hanging out over the edge of the ravine. Their riders looked scared to death. Most of them were leaning waaaaaay back in their saddles.
A lot of Christians are like those mules. They walk right on the line—–with their noses on the other side. They don’t see anything wrong with what they are doing. And they aren’t aware of the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. It’s no wonder. He is standing a few steps back whispering, “Hey, back here. Take a few steps back here. You can see fine from back here.”
The Holy Spirit doesn’t draw the line at the point separating good from evil. He always draws His line a safe distance back from the point of actual disaster. The convicting ministry of the
Holy Spirit begins once we move outside the parameters of what is wise for us. If an option is outside the spectrum of wisdom, it is not God’s will. The Holy Spirit is saying, “NO!” He loves us. He doesn’t wait until we are on the edge of the cliff to warn us. He begins as soon as He discerns we are headed for the cliff. Sometimes I think He begins convicting me as soon as I even think about the cliff!
Please don’t avoid the conviction of the Holy Spirit. As the apostle Paul says, face up to what you know in your heart God wants you to do. Don’t play games. Don’t avoid the issue. Heed the writer of Proverbs when he says, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.” That is, the one who ignores the warnings of the Holy Spirit just because he or she can’t see anything wrong with something is foolish.
Also heed him when he says, “But he who walks wisely will be delivered” (Proverb 28:26). The one who heeds the initial promptings of the Holy Spirit—–whether they make sense at the time or not—–will be delivered from the pain and guilt and regret and broken relationships brought on by sin.
THINK ABOUT IT
Pray for wisdom.
Test each opportunity, invitation, business transaction, financial decision, and social interaction with these questions:
• Is this the wise thing for me to do?
• Is this the wise thing for me to do in light of my past experience?
• Is this the wise thing for me to do in light of my present situation?
• Is this the wise thing for me to do in light of my future plans and dreams?
If it isn’t, stay away. By doing so, you will be right in step with the Holy Spirit. Choosing the path of wisdom is just one more way to ensure that you will experience the wonderful Spirit-filled life. (221-231)