January 21, 2024 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Psalm 51:6 (NRSV)
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
The “personal process of ongoing inner-work” isn’t something we do by ourselves. Psalm 51:6 reminds us that God teaches us wisdom in our secret hearts. Thus, on the one hand, God helps us to identify and root out false beliefs through a variety of means, including the study of Scripture, Christian community, reflection, prayer, and experience. On the other hand, God teaches us the truth about the world, ourselves, and God’s own nature. As this happens, God also gives us the wisdom to know how best to use this truth in our life and leadership.
Today’s devotion is part of the series: A Biblical Guide to Inner Work.
Today I continue in the Life for Leaders series I’ve called A Biblical Guide to Inner Work. As you may recall, last week we began a close reading of Psalm 51, which is a prayer King David prayed after being confronted by the prophet Nathan regarding his immoral behavior with Bathsheba and her husband. In verse 5 of this prayer, David acknowledged both his sinful behavior and the sinfulness of his heart . . . a striking example of inner work.
As he continues praying, David offers a distinctive perspective on one additional facet of inner work. In fact, verse 6 refers directly to the inner life of a person, using words translated in the NRSV as “inward being” and “secret heart.”
First, David prays to the Lord, “You desire truth in the inward being.” The Hebrew word translated here as “inward being” (tuchot) literally means “covered over place.” It can be used for our internal organs or, as in this case, for our heart, mind, and so forth. “Truth” renders the Hebrew word ’emet, which can refer to the accumulation of facts but more often points to the inner character of an honorable person. We might think of ’emet as truthfulness or integrity. The Hebrew word translated here as “desire” is often rendered in English as “delight.“ God actually delights in us when our inner lives are filled with truth that shapes how we think, feel, and act. In the context of Psalm 51, David knows that the truth God desires for him is the recognition of his sinful behavior and innate sinfulness. Such truth is essential if David is going to turn away from his sin and grow into wholeness and holiness.
The second line of verse 6 adds, “Therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.” The Hebrew word for wisdom, chokhma, had a wide range of meanings, not unlike the English word “wisdom” today. Wisdom includes knowledge but is more than mere knowledge. You can know many things without wisdom, that is, without the ability to use that knowledge in helpful, productive, and godly ways. Merriam-Webster makes a distinction between “knowledge” and “wisdom” in English, a distinction that reflects the Hebrew words as well:
Knowledge usually refers to information or awareness that someone has about a subject, whether from education or experience, as in “she has a lot of first-hand knowledge about the video game industry as both a player and a designer.” Wisdom refers instead to someone’s good sense, judgment, or insight (“he demonstrated wisdom by not responding to the taunts of his political opponent”)—in other words, to their ability to process, apply, or otherwise act on knowledge.
The wisdom of God doesn’t reside simply in our heads, but also in the deep recesses of our hearts. This kind of wisdom isn’t something we make up or learn on our own. Rather it is wisdom that God teaches us through Scripture, the Holy Spirit, community, reflection, prayer, tradition, and life experience.
Psalm 51:6 makes it clear that inner work has to do not only with what we feel, but also with what and how we think. God takes delight when truth makes its home inside of us. This means when we do inner work, we must pay attention to the things we believe and assume, investigating whether they are true or not.
Barry Brownstein makes this point in his book The Inner-Work of Leadership. In the prologue to the book he writes: “Your success as a leader has everything to do with uncovering and then relinquishing false beliefs that you hold” (p. 5). According to Brownstein, as we discover and give up our false beliefs, we are on the path to embracing truth more thoroughly so that we might act on it. Brownstein sees the discernment of true and false beliefs as essential for leaders. He writes: “While change can occur via an epiphany of a new understanding, more often it arises incrementally out of a personal process of ongoing inner-work” (p. 6).
This “personal process of ongoing inner-work” isn’t something we do by ourselves, however. Psalm 51:6 reminds us that God teaches us wisdom in our secret hearts. Thus, on the one hand, God helps us to identify and root out false beliefs through a variety of means, including the study of Scripture, Christian community, reflection, prayer, and experience. On the other hand, God teaches us the truth about the world, ourselves, and God’s own nature. As this happens, God also gives us the wisdom to know how best to use the truth in our life and leadership.
How have you experienced God as your teacher?
Can you think of a time when God helped you to recognize that something you believed was not true?
When you are trying to figure out some difficult situation in your leadership, do you turn to God for wisdom? If so, how do you do this? If not, why not?
Talk with a wise friend or your small group about how God has helped you to gain wisdom.
Gracious God, you desire truth in my inward being. And so do I! I want your truth to be at home in me, to shape my thinking, feeling, and acting.
With David, I ask you to teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
As I read your Word, teach me wisdom.
As I reflect in solitude, teach me wisdom.
As I listen for the voice of your Spirit, teach me wisdom.
As I converse with my sisters and brothers in Christ, teach me wisdom.
As I go about my day, teach me wisdom.
As I read the news, teach me wisdom.
As I face challenges at work, teach me wisdom.
And as I seek to lead people well, teach me wisdom. Amen.
Banner image by Christin Hume on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Pursue God: In the Dark Places of the Heart.
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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.