Foundations of Christian Wisdom: Journeying

By Uli Chi

May 16, 2024

Scripture — Genesis 12:1 (NIV)

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”


Christian wisdom is a way of life, not a destination. In this life, we never arrive.


The Sacrifice of Isaac (Rembrandt van Rijn c. 1635)

The fifth and final foundational insight of Christian wisdom is that it is a way of life, not a destination. In this life, we never arrive.

Abraham is an exemplar of faith and faithfulness to multiple wisdom traditions. However, the story of Abraham recorded in Jewish history is neither one of perfection nor of arrival but of an ongoing journey.

There are at least three helpful insights from Abraham’s story.

First, wisdom understands the role of failure in our leadership journey. Abraham’s history included several incidents where he lacked faith and demonstrated dubious morality and ethics. Interestingly, these events were neither expunged from the written record nor permanently disqualified him from becoming “the father of the faithful.” That’s a tricky balance for us today when we tend to either excuse leadership failures or dwell on them obsessively. Perhaps distinctively, the Christian vision argues that leadership failures, while having profound consequences, particularly when they are moral and ethical failures, are not necessarily the last word. Redemption is possible even though it requires a willingness to face that failure and its repercussions honestly, to make amends where possible, and to pursue a different way of life.

A related second conclusion from Abraham’s life is that wisdom requires persistence in the face of resistance and adversity. Failure brings consequences that make life more complicated. And even without personal complicity, internal and external opposition are simply part of the reality of being human. So, wisdom teaches the critical virtues of patient endurance and persistence. The Puritans used to have a wonderful phrase for it. They called it “plodding faithfulness” —the ability to continue plodding on, whether you feel like it or not!

The last insight from Abraham’s life, beautifully pictured in Rembrandt’s painting, is that wisdom ultimately requires a willingness to sacrifice. Perhaps most surprisingly, we are called to offer the very thing central to our identity as human beings and our calling as leaders: our legacy. If wisdom is about the art of being human, of knowing and doing what is good, there may come a time when even that goodness is put at risk.

Everything about Abraham’s life was about the blessing to come through him to the world. And that blessing wasn’t just abstract or general. It had a name. That name was Isaac, the chosen son. And that choice did not originate with Abraham. It had God’s explicit and clear confirmation. There was no ambiguity about the choice or the blessing to flow from Isaac to the world.

And then God asks Abraham the unthinkable—to offer up Isaac as a human sacrifice.

Surely this was a mistake. Surely, God couldn’t mean what God said. Was the God of the Universe capricious or even cruel? Is God good as God claimed to be? These questions resonate all the way back to the beginning of human history. The journey of wisdom brings us back to profound questions and strange places.

God took a great risk asking this of Abraham. Of course, we know the rest of the story. But at the time, Abraham didn’t. And that’s the point for all of us. There will come times when we will be asked for sacrifices as leaders that will test our convictions to the core—about who God is, about who we are as leaders, and about what our legacy will be. Everything will be at risk.

In a decision that will mark Abraham’s life and make it remarkable for all who follow, Abraham chooses to trust in the God he could not comprehend. And he expresses that faith by laying down what is most important to him—the legacy God had given him to fulfill his destiny. And we are called to do likewise.

Laying down our legacy as leaders can take many forms. For some of us, it may mean making space for those who follow and are different from us. For some of us, it may mean allowing the organizations we lead to take a different course than the one we charted for it. For some of us, it may be as simple as being willing to let go of our dreams. Sacrifice is the logical end for those called to be lead servants. After all, we are called to be servants of others. Even our legacy ought to be about them rather than about us.

But there is a final encouragement from a Christian vision of wisdom. Pursuing the journey of wisdom will have its own reward. Even though we may not see it in this life, God can be trusted with our legacy. As Jesus repeatedly reminds us, there will be an ultimate accounting where each person’s work will be appropriately acknowledged and rewarded.


How do you deal with failure in your life and work? What have you learned from your failures? What helps you persist in the face of adversity and resistance?


Share your experience of failure with someone who is struggling with their own.


Let your favor, Lord my God, rest upon me.
Establish the work of my hands;
inform the words that I speak.
Guide the decisions I must make;
forgive the errors of my ways.
Inspire my faith in the midst of doubt,
humility in the throes of pride.
Kindle love before the face of need,
patience before the rush to judgment.
Reign above all and in all.
Reign, O God, in me.
(from The Daily Office – John Knox Presbyterian Church (2008))

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Abraham’s Faithfulness Contrasted with the Faithlessness of Babel (Genesis 12:1-3).

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Uli Chi

Board Member, Senior Fellow, Affiliate Professor

Dr. Uli Chi’s career is a testament to his unique approach to leadership. He has navigated the realms of for-profit businesses, nonprofit organizations, the theological academy, and the local church, gleaning a wealth of wisdom from each. As an award-winning technological entrepreneur, h...

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