Author and speaker Lydia Brownback teaches women about true wisdom through the practical wisdom found in the book of Proverbs.
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About the Author
Lydia Brownback (MAR, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the author of several books and a speaker at women’s conferences around the world. Her books include the On-the-Go Devotionals for women; Finding God in My Loneliness; and Sing a New Song. Lydia is a member at Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Roselle, Illinois.
Read an Excerpt
what, exactly, is wisdom?
As Christian women living in the twenty-first century, we aren't likely to face many of the tricky difficulties that confronted ancient Israelite women. Just think of Queen Esther, who had to learn how to get along in a harem of women whose only calling was to please the king with their beauty. Even after Esther became queen, the cost of displeasing her king-husband was death. Other Old Testament women dealt with slavery, such as Hagar, and having to share a husband with another woman, such as Rachel and Leah.
Our problems, while less life-threatening for the most part, nevertheless pose tremendous challenges for which we need the same wisdom that ancient women needed. But we want to do more than merely minimize stress and ward off unnecessary difficulties; we also want to please God in every aspect of our lives. This is one way in which biblical wisdom differs radically from worldly wisdom. The world's wisdom centers on how people can please themselves and maximize every pleasure. The wisdom in Proverbs isn't unconcerned about our enjoying life as a gift from God. That's the beauty of it — as we put into practice the wisdom of Proverbs, we find that God's ways work at a very practical level; life does tend to run more smoothly. As this happens, God is showcased as the all-wise one, and he is glorified.
That's the wisdom we need. We need it for how to be homemakers in a world that fights us on it. We need it for how to be single when we don't want to be. We need it to live godly lives in a culture of boundless freedoms, independence, and wealth. (Economic hardships in the West do not compare to economic hardships in other parts of the world.) We need the wisdom of Proverbs for how to live biblically when we are immersed in a culture of shallow entertainment options and easy divorce. We need it to make good choices for how to school our kids and for how to navigate our ever-increasing virtual world on the Internet.
We are going to touch on all that, but before we can see how to apply the wisdom of Proverbs to our individual life situations, we need to see exactly what the Bible means by wisdom. Where does wisdom come from? Proverbs tells us clearly:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (Prov. 9:10; see also 1:7)
That, of course, logically leads us to ask, What is the fear of the Lord? Pastors tell us it means "awe," but if that is always what it means, why don't we just use the word awe — "awe of the Lord" — instead of the word fear? Well, the Hebrew of this word fear means both "terror" and "reverence." However, the terror part tends to get downplayed because it is hard to reconcile the idea of fear with a loving God. Still, I think we are too quick to discount the terror aspect in "the fear of the Lord." If we look carefully at Scripture, we see that sometimes fear means just that — fear.
Consider the case of the prophet Isaiah, who, after seeing God, said, "Woe is me, for I am undone!" (Isa. 6:5 NKJV). His vision of God" certainly didn't evoke happy feelings.
Then there was Jesus's mother, Mary. When the angel Gabriel came and told her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women," she was troubled at his saying, which led the angel to say to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God" (Luke 1:26–30 NKJV).
There is also the example of Moses. When he came upon the burning bush, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, "Moses, Moses! ... Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." And Moses responded by hiding his face, for "he was afraid to look at God" (Ex. 3:4–6). So we see that fear is sometimes awe that is mixed with terror.
What's interesting is that Isaiah, Mary, and Moses all experienced fear as a result of God's drawing near to them. It seems clear that some who have been brought exceptionally near to God have experienced fear in the process. Why is this true, since God is a kind and loving God? Here is why: when sinful people come truly close to God, they see more of who he truly is — holy, as well as loving. In fact, his holiness is part and parcel of his lovingkindness rather than separate from it. The closer we get to God, the more we will see the reality of who he is and who we are in relationship to him. So if you are one of those who has experienced that kind of fear — the terror kind — it should be seen as good news, not bad news, because it is the sort of fear that leads to a true grasp of your need for Christ.
This recognition of our sin before a holy God is what makes us crave a Savior, and when we cast ourselves upon him to fulfill that craving, we will move beyond just merely understanding the doctrines of the Christian faith in our minds to living them from our hearts with deep joy. All this is why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It's because real wisdom is found only in Christ. Wisdom is the realization that he is everything.
After we are driven to Christ through this kind of fear, we can understand the sort of awe and reverence that pastors use to describe the fear of the Lord. We are able to know God as kind, wise, fatherly, holy, powerful, all-knowing, and compassionate only in Christ. It is this view of God that inspires our awe — and our pursuit of wise living or, said another way, holiness. A wise pastor asked us to consider this:
Is the fear of the Lord a soul-crippling, psyche-damaging conception which our enlightened age has outgrown? The Word of God declares it to be a potent force which purifies and converts the soul from wayward and sinful thoughts and doings (Ps. 19:8, 9). Let us be honest and ask ourselves: How many wicked thoughts and transgressing deeds of ours would have been nipped in the bud had we a right fear of as well as love for our God? A right fear of the Lord is a preventative good. It prevents us from entering into sin, keeps us from nurturing sin, and drives us out of sin when we do fall into it. Positively, the fear of the Lord is the height of wisdom (Ps. 1:7), not a low and damaging superstition.
So, with that in mind, let's look at what it means to live wisely. What is wise living?
To live wisely is to orient everything about ourselves and our lives around God rather than around ourselves. Wise women are God-centered, not self-centered. As we orient ourselves around God, our tastes and interests will change, and we will increasingly love what God loves and hate what he hates:
The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. (Prov. 8:13)
To live wisely is also to love righteousness. But do we? If we're honest, we have to admit that, even as Christians, a part of us doesn't hate sin. Why else would we continue to practice it? We hate the horrible effects of the sin we see in our world, in our children, and in our own lives, but we will hate the sin itself only as we grow in the fear of the Lord.
characteristics of wisdom
Now that we have established where real wisdom comes from — the fear of the Lord — we can more fruitfully take a look at some of the particular characteristics of wisdom.
1) Wisdom Is Clear
Wisdom is clear; in other words, it is not hard to find or figure out:
All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.
They are all straight to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge. (Prov. 8:8–9)
"I've found that to be true for some things," you might be thinking, "but the Bible doesn't provide black-and-white answers for everything. How is wisdom 'straight' when it comes to the gray areas of life?" We are tempted to wonder about that at times, but since it's the Bible that says wisdom's words are all straight, it must be true. The trouble is the way in which we use Scripture to look for wisdom. We want to open our Bibles and find a verse that will correspond directly to our problem and provide a solution. But that's not how we get wisdom. Finding that wisdom is "straight" comes from immersing ourselves in Scripture — all of it, not just a passage here and there — and as we do, it shapes our understanding about all of life. If we make a habit of Scripture immersion, we will find, when confronted with one of life's difficulties, that the wisdom we so desperately need will come to us a lot more easily. Wisdom is indeed clear, but its clarity doesn't come in a three-easy-steps sort of way. The more we soak ourselves in God's Word, the more we will be able to readily lay hold of the wisdom we need for particular circumstances.
Sometimes, despite a thorough soaking in Scripture, much prayer, and the seeking of godly counsel, we still find ourselves perplexed about what to do. But that doesn't mean that biblical wisdom is unclear. It just means that we haven't yet grasped its clarity! At such times, we do well to simply wait for it.
At other times, we ourselves might be blocking our view of the wisdom we need. Once, years ago, Pastor Donald Gray Barnhouse was busily working in his private study when he heard a knock on the door. It was his daughter, and he invited her to enter. She had come to ask his permission to do something that she very much wanted to do. After listening to her, Dr. Barnhouse denied her request and returned his attention to his work. He was startled when he looked up a few minutes later and saw his daughter still standing near his desk. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"I am waiting for you to tell me what to do," she replied.
"Whatever you are doing," he said, "you are not waiting for me to tell you what to do. I have already told you what I want you to do, and you do not like it. What you are really doing is waiting to see if I will change my mind."
Don't we do the same sometimes? At some level, we know what God wants us to do, what the wise course is, but we don't like it, so we default to confusion, claiming that we do not know what to do. If our discovery as to what would please the Lord in a given situation remains elusive, could this be the problem? It's worth investigating. If we find it is so and then repent, we will likely be amazed at how soon we lay hold of the answer we've been after all along.
2) Wisdom Is Near
Not only is wisdom clear, but it is also near. In other words, wisdom is always available:
Does not wisdom cry out, And understanding lift up her voice?
She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, Beside the way, where the paths meet.
She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, At the entrance of the doors. (Prov. 8:1–3 NKJV)
God isn't reluctant to give us wisdom. In fact, he delights to make it clear to us:
Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you. (Prov. 1:23 NKJV)
God said through Moses: "This commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it" (Deut. 30:11–14). We will find it to be "very near" when we do what Moses said just before that: "When you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul ..." (v. 10). The issue sometimes isn't that we lack wisdom but that we don't really want it.
3) Wisdom Is Pleasant
To say that wisdom is "pleasant" is sort of an understatement. Pleasant is a word we associate with life's lesser pleasures, such as a cup of tea on a rainy afternoon — it's nice, but we still wish the sun would come out. Yet the word here in Proverbs isn't meant to convey minimal pleasure. Think of it more in terms of that on-top-of-the-world feeling you get in the middle of one of those rare glitch-free days.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. (Prov. 3:17; see also 2:10)
The only way we could ever perceive God's ways to be unpleasant is if we are self-centered rather than God-centered, self-seeking rather than Christ-seeking, self-exalting rather than Christ-exalting. It all comes down to whose agenda runs our show.
4) Wisdom Is Primary
Committing ourselves to the pursuit of wisdom is itself a step of wisdom.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. (Prov. 4:7)
Wise women are governed by the principles of God's Word, not by their feelings, hormones, or enjoyments. Sounds simple, but it's actually quite difficult, because we tend to collapse the two into one. In other words, we equate wisdom with whatever makes us feel best. We set the compass of our lives toward the happiest-looking circumstances, assuming that doing so is the wisest course. The difficulty is exposed in thinking like this: "It will be better for the kids if we divorce, since we just fight all the time when together." And this: "In order to get emotionally healthy, my counselor says I have to give full vent to my anger." And this: "I've been so depressed lately, so this trip to Belize is a must, even if it makes me late with the mortgage payment." That sort of wisdom does not come from God. It comes from our natural passions. But the more we come to be characterized by the fear of the Lord, the less likely we will be to mistake worldliness for wisdom.
5) Wisdom Is Hospitable
In Proverbs 9 we find an invitation to a dinner party, which Wisdom is hosting. If you're anything like me, this is something you can relate to. Many of us love everything about preparing a special meal for those we love. We take delight in deciding what to serve and how to set the table, and when the day of the party comes, we awaken with anticipation. Before any of this begins, of course, we must issue the invitation. Which special friends will we include? Wisdom's invitation differs from ours in that it goes out to those who aren't yet friends:
She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, "Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!" To him who lacks sense she says, "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight." (Prov. 9:2–6)
Wisdom invites fools to dinner, and those who RSVP with a yes will dine on insight. We find other invitations in Scripture that give us a fuller biblical picture of this invitation in Proverbs. Here is one from the prophet Isaiah: "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food" (Isa. 55:1–2). And the fullest picture of all comes from the mouth of Jesus himself: "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst" (John 6:35).
The full biblical picture reveals that accepting Wisdom's invitation means coming to Christ. The young men who first read the proverbs didn't have the fuller picture that we have, but they understood that following Wisdom leads to life.
As soon as we come to Christ, we're included in the dinner party, and the feasting begins. We have the bread of life. That sounds nice, but what does it mean, exactly, that Jesus is "the bread of life"? We believe it's true, but if we're honest, many of us don't fully understand what it means. Studying Proverbs is a good way to grasp it. The only way to successfully tackle the dos and don'ts of practical wisdom that dominate the book, beginning in the very next chapter (Proverbs 10), is by leaning into and resting all that effort upon Christ, the perfect wise man, who has already "done" wisdom for us. So, as we sit down to partake of Wisdom's feast, we do so leaning on Christ, which is what Jesus meant when he said, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger."
Guard Your Heart
The first practical step forward on the path to wisdom involves our hearts:
Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. (Prov. 4:23 NKJV)
All too often this verse is applied to romantic relationships, which misses the whole point. Certainly it is true that guarding our hearts in a romantic relationship is always wise, but this verse is really about guarding our hearts in the fear of the Lord. If we are going to become increasingly God-centered women, it is essential that we keep a close eye on all that can influence us.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Woman's Wisdom"
Copyright © 2012 Lydia Brownback.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
part one what is wisdom and why does it matter?,
1 What, Exactly, Is Wisdom?,
2 Why Folly Is Really Bad,
part two six things wise women knows,
3 Wise Women Know the Power of Words,
4 Wise Women Choose Friends Carefully,
5 Wise Women Know the Secret of Self-Control,
6 Wise Women Know How to Think, Feel, and Want,
7 Wise Women Are Financially Savvy,
8 Wise Women Safeguard Their Sexuality,
part three a portrait of wisdom,
9 The Woman of Proverbs 31,
Some Good Books for Wise Women,
What People are Saying About This
“The book of Proverbs is a gold mine of divine wisdom, and Lydia Brownback applies that wisdom in very practical ways to the issues women face. This is one of those books that should be studied more than simply read, and I can see it as a valuable resource for women’s Bible studies.”
Jerry Bridges, author, The Pursuit of Holiness
“If only we could pull up a chair across from the purple-linen-wearing Proverbs 31 woman to observe her inner strength, listen to her confident laughter, admire her reverent fear, and absorb her wise ways. That’s what readers get to do through the pages of A Woman’s Wisdom as we’re invited to saturate ourselves in the source of true wisdomthe Scriptureswhere we find what we need for living in a world full of distractions, decisions, dilemmas, disappointments, and delights. This book lends itself to quiet mornings of reflection on your own as well as vigorous discussions with a group of good friends.”
Nancy Guthrie, Bible teacher; author, Even Better than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything about Your Story
“In a day when we’re often inclined to settle for helpful hints or pious platitudes, this book points us to the source of that rare commodity, true wisdom. Lydia Brownback has the depth of insight and the lightness of touch needed to make the book of Proverbs come alive for her readers. If your heart yearns for a solid place to stand in the shifting currents of your everyday life, you will find a sure guide and refreshing stream of truth here.”
Liam Goligher, Senior Minister, Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; author, The Jesus Gospel
“Halfway through the first chapter, I thought, ‘My wife would love this book.’ Halfway through the book, I thought, ‘I love this book!’ My reasons are manifold: Lydia Brownback’s study of Proverbs is biblical, practical, straight-forward, convicting, instructive, transformative, and Christ-centered. With wisdom, wit, and carefully crafted sentences, Lydia Brownback’s study of Proverbs helps women (and men!) to rest in the source of all wisdom, Jesus. See if you might ‘love’ the book as well.”
Douglas Sean O'Donnell, Senior Pastor, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Elgin, Illinois; author, Matthew and The Song of Solomon (Preaching the Word)
“The beauty of proverbs is that, by their very nature, they are timeless and ageless. The smallest child can memorize and apply them on a surface level while the oldest adult can meditate on them and apply them over a lifetime. In this wonderful book, Lydia Brownback applies the proverbs to today’s Christian woman. With equal parts sound interpretation and heartfelt application, this book offers that same timeless, ageless wisdom to a new generation of women.”
Aileen and Tim Challies, author, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment; blogger, challies.com
“From the wisdom of Proverbs, Lydia Brownback draws wise and ever so practical applications for women. Her clear and consistent call is to embrace the full wisdom of God given to us in Christ.”
Kathleen Nielson, author; speaker; Senior Adviser, The Gospel Coalition
“Lydia Brownback has provided women with an excellent resource for unlocking the wisdom of Proverbs.”
Josh Moody, Senior Pastor, College Church, Wheaton, Illinois; author, Journey to Joy: The Psalms of Ascent
“It is so refreshing to read a book that handles the kinds of things that every woman will face from one single perspective; the stunning wisdom of God. Too often books like this start with cultural assumptions that only serve to weaken their effectiveness in the end. It is only God’s wisdom that can help us navigate the pressures and insanities of the surrounding culture and teach us the freedom of being what we were created to be and living as we were created to live. Read and experience how God’s wisdom is eloquent and transcendent while being concrete and practical at the same time.”
Paul David Tripp, President, Paul Tripp Ministries; author, New Morning Mercies and My Heart Cries Out