July 11, 2015 • Life for Leaders
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.”
In Genesis 3, the serpent promised that if the woman were to eat the fruit God had made off limits, she would not die as God had promised. Instead, the serpent told her, after eating the fruit, “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5). Hearing this, the woman saw the tree with its forbidden fruit from a new perspective. It promised physical satisfaction (good for food), aesthetic enjoyment (delight to the eyes), and, most of all, new intellectual capacity (make one wise; 3:6). Given the fact that all the other trees in the garden offered fruit and beauty, and given the particular focus of the serpent’s temptation, it seems clear that the woman, along with the man, ate the banned fruit out of a desire for wisdom, or something akin to it.
The Hebrew word translated in 3:6 as “to make one wise [haskil]” is not related to the Hebrew word for wisdom that appears often in Proverbs, for example: “Happy are those who find wisdom [chokmah], and those who get understanding” (Prov 3:13). Yet haskil does appear sometimes in Scripture in a positive sense, as in Proverbs 1:3: “for gaining instruction in wise dealing [haskil].” This word might be better translated as “to gain insight or prudence.” Thus, it is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem with the woman’s desire for insight had to do with the fact that she and her husband were going to pursue this insight in a manner God had specifically forbidden. They wanted it so badly that they chose to disobey God’s command by eating the fruit that was off limits.
Those of us placed in positions of leadership rightly seek the knowledge, insight, and wisdom we need to flourish in our roles. I’m all in favor of reading leadership books, taking courses, attending seminars, being mentored, and whatever else will help us become better leaders. But, as I get older, I find myself wanting deep wisdom most of all. I’m fine with developing my leadership techniques, but my heart yearns for the wisdom to discern what is the best among what are often many good options. I want to see things in light of the big picture, not just tactically. As the relatively new executive director of the De Pree Center, for example, I am aware of dozens of programs we might pursue in the future. Not one is bad. Most have their advocates. But I want to know the one or two that are truly the best. For this, I need wisdom, real wisdom, deep wisdom, God’s wisdom.
How can I find such wisdom? Practical wisdom comes from several sources, including experience, books, articles, blogs, TED talks, arts, collegial input, and mentors. But ultimate wisdom, the wisdom to see with God’s perspective, is a gift from God. And this gift comes from a special source. As it says in Psalm 111:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” If we seek true, ultimate wisdom, then we must begin with deep respect and reverence for God. We submit to God’s truth and instructions. We do precisely the thing that the first humans did not do in the garden when they placed their desires above honoring God through obedience.
So, as a leader, by all means draw practical wisdom from a wide range of available sources. But, if you want deep, lasting, eternal wisdom, put God first. As it says in Proverbs 3:5-8: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body.”
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
In what ways do you “fear” the Lord?
How do you seek him and his wisdom?
Are there times when you’re tempted to put your trust in human wisdom even when it contradicts God’s wisdom?
How is God’s wisdom helping you in your leadership?
Gracious God, I do want to be a wise leader. I want to be wise in practical, everyday ways. But, even more, I want to be wise in big ways, when faced with large decisions and difficult choices. I want my wisdom to be a reflection and expression of your wisdom. So, I pray, help me to fear you rightly: to honor you, respect you, revere you, submit to you, and humble myself before you. Keep me from all that would turn me away from you. As I seek you and fear you above all, grant me your wisdom. To you be all the glory. Amen.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.