Just the other day someone asked me a great question. “Where is the line between faith and wisdom? If we are supposed to live by faith and wisdom is about planning and the future, where does wisdom fit into a life of faith?” Are these virtues mutually exclusive? Can they walk in harmony with each other, enhancing and leaning on one another?
The Bible is clear that we are to be people of faith. Hebrews 11:1-2 begins the chapter that praises those who have lived by faith by saying “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” Uncertainty is a necessary condition for faith. Faith is not faith if we know the outcome. Throughout the teachings of Jesus is the push for a heart filled with trust. Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions to indicate a life fully engaged in faith in God. Luke 18:8 highlights the ultimate and eternal importance of faith when Jesus says “When the son of man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” Jesus challenged the Pharisees to stop trusting in their knowledge and traditions so that they could find fullness of life outside of legalism. And Jesus doesn’t just communicate a “have faith” mentality without helping his followers understand the caring nature of the Father. Jesus knows firsthand that it is safe to seek first the Kingdom of God and trust their future to Him. Faith is a baseline criterion in the Kingdom of God.
But the Bible has a great deal to say about wisdom as well. Proverbs 4:5-7 says “Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke 2:52) and James 1:5 says we should ask God for wisdom if we lack it and He will give it generously.
I have a friend who doesn’t manage his finances well, lives paycheck to paycheck, doesn’t set a budget and then proclaims that he is “living by faith” that God is going to help him pay his bills. Sometimes money shows up unexpectedly but is that faith or just sloppy living?
Another friend budgets to the penny, watches his investments with an eagle-eye and frets when the stock market is down or an unexpected expense derails his savings plan. He would never be accused of sloppy living but is so tightly in control that, on the surface, it leaves little room for God. Are either of these guys living by faith?
I suggest that there is a balance between these two extremes. Living by faith is not about God covering for our sloppy living and lack of planning or holding tight-fisted to our future. It is giving God all our planning and wisdom so that we are able to trust Him as He leads us. Proverbs 16:9 highlights this balance, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
What does such a life look like? Well, come to think of it, I have another friend of mine who has a good budget and savings plan but gave a car away because God told him to. He had plans for the money he would make from that car but trusted God’s leading.
Wisdom and faith can and should compliment one another. In some ways, it reminds me of the story of Joseph. Sold as a slave to Egypt, Joseph showed evidence of wisdom – he found favor everywhere he went and was recognized as a good manager. He exercised integrity, fleeing the advances of his boss’ wife. Yet he was misunderstood, imprisoned, and forgotten by his fellow inmates. Joseph had to exercise faith that God would lead him in the midst of difficult circumstances, but he also lived a life of wisdom. This finely tuned balanced helped him protect Egypt from a famine and preserved God’s chosen people. We would be wise to pay attention to Joseph’s example -- using the mind God gave us to think critically and to see where God is leading us in a life of faith.