AS THE story goes, a boy who lived in a remote village was poor. Thinking he was mentally slow, the townspeople laughed at him. When visitors came, some of the villagers made fun of him in front of their friends. They would hold out two coins, a large silver one and a small gold one that was worth twice as much as the silver coin. “Choose which one you want,” they would say. The boy would choose the silver coin and run away.
One day, a visitor asked the boy, “Don’t you know that the gold coin is twice as valuable as the silver one?” The little boy smiled and said, “Yes, I know.” “Then why do you take the silver coin?” the visitor asked. “If you take the gold one, you will have twice as much money!” “But,” said the boy, “if I take the gold coin, people will stop playing the game with me. Do you know how many silver coins I have collected?” The little boy in that story displayed a quality that adults could benefit from—practical wisdom.
The Bible states: “Safeguard practical wisdom and thinking ability. Then you will walk on your way in safety, and your foot will never stumble.” (Prov. 3:21, 23) So knowing what “practical wisdom” is and how to apply it actually involves our safety. This helps us to avoid stumbling spiritually, keeping our “foot” stable.
WHAT IS IT?
Practical wisdom differs from knowledge and understanding. A person who has knowledge accumulates information, or facts. Someone who has understanding can see how one fact relates to another. A person who has wisdom is able to combine knowledge with understanding and put them to work in a practical way.
For example, a person may in a relatively short time be able to read and understand the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? During his Bible study, he may answer correctly. He may begin attending congregation meetings and even give good comments. All of this may indicate that he is making spiritual progress, but does it mean that he has gained wisdom? Not necessarily. He may just have a quick mind. However, when he puts the truth into practice, using knowledge and understanding in a right way, he is becoming wise. If his decisions result in success, reflecting careful forethought, it becomes clear that he has manifested practical wisdom.
Matthew 7:24-27 recounts Jesus’ illustration of two men who each built a house. One of the men is described as being “discreet.” Thinking ahead about what could happen, that man built his house on rock. He was farsighted and practical. He did not reason that it would be cheaper or quicker to build his house on sand. Wisely, he thought of the long-term consequences of his actions. So when a storm came, his house was secure. Now the question is, How can we gain and safeguard this valuable quality of practical wisdom?
HOW CAN I GET IT?
First, note that Micah 6:9 says: “Those with practical wisdom will fear [God’s] name.” Fearing Jehovah’s name implies respecting him. It means having wholesome reverence for what his name represents, including his standards. To respect someone, you need to know how he thinks. Then you can put your trust in him and learn from him, imitating his successes. If we are concerned about the long-term effects our actions will have on our relationship with Jehovah and if we base our decisions on his standards, then we are gaining practical wisdom.
Second, Proverbs 18:1 says: “Whoever isolates himself pursues his own selfish desires; he rejects all practical wisdom.” If we are not careful, we could detach ourselves from Jehovah and his people. To avoid isolation, we need to spend time with others who fear God’s name and respect his standards. We need to be at the Kingdom Hall in person if at all possible, associating regularly with the Christian congregation. While at the meetings, we need to open our minds and hearts and allow what is said to touch us.
Adding to this, if we pour out our hearts to Jehovah in prayer, we will draw closer to him. (Prov. 3:5, 6) When we open our minds and hearts as we read the Bible and literature provided by Jehovah’s organization, we get a glimpse of the long-term results of our actions and can act accordingly. We also need to open our hearts to counsel given by mature brothers. (Prov. 19:20) Then, instead of ‘rejecting all practical wisdom,’ we will be strengthening this important quality.
HOW WILL IT HELP MY FAMILY?
Practical wisdom can safeguard families. For example, the Bible urges a wife to have “deep respect” for her husband. (Eph. 5:33) How can a husband gain deep respect? If he forcefully or harshly demands it, he will have short-term results. To avoid confrontation, the wife of such a man may show him a measure of respect when he is present. Yet, would she be inclined to respect him when he is not there? Most likely that would not happen. He needs to consider what will bring long-term results. If he reflects the fruitage of the spirit, being loving and kind, he will earn her deep respect. Of course, a Christian wife should show respect for her husband whether he earns it or not.—Gal. 5:22, 23.
The Bible also says that a husband should love his wife. (Eph. 5:28, 33) In an effort to secure her husband’s love, a wife may reason that it is better to hide unpleasant things from him that he has a right to know. Really, though, does that reflect practical wisdom? Later, when he finds out what was hidden, what will be the result? Will he love her more? That could be difficult for him. Instead, if she finds an appropriate time to explain unpleasant things calmly, her husband will likely appreciate her honesty. Now his love for her will grow.
Children should obey their parents and be disciplined in Jehovah’s ways. (Eph. 6:1, 4) Does this mean that parents should make sure that a child has a long list of dos and don’ts? Much more is involved than just knowing the rules of the house or the punishment for misconduct. A parent with practical wisdom helps his child to understand why he should obey.
For example, suppose a child speaks disrespectfully to one of his parents. Speaking harshly or punishing on impulse may embarrass the child or force him into silence. Yet, in his heart he may be resentful, which could cause him to draw away from his parents.
Parents developing practical wisdom will think about the way they discipline their children and the effect this will have on the children in the future. Parents should not quickly react to the embarrassment of the moment. Perhaps in private, they can calmly and lovingly reason with a child, explaining that Jehovah expects him to honor his parents for his everlasting benefit. Then when the child shows that he respects his parents, he will realize that he is honoring Jehovah. (Eph. 6:2, 3) This kind approach could touch the child’s heart. He senses his parents’ sincere care, and his respect for them grows. Now the stage is set for the child to ask for help when important matters come up later.
Some parents may feel bad about possibly hurting their child’s feelings, so they avoid giving correction. Yet, what will happen when the child gets older? Will he fear Jehovah and recognize the wisdom of accepting God’s standards? Will he be inclined to open his heart and mind to Jehovah, or will he isolate himself spiritually?—Prov. 13:1; 29:21.
A good sculptor plans ahead for what he is trying to shape. He does not just chip away and hope for the best. Parents with practical wisdom spend hours learning and applying Jehovah’s standards, thus fearing his name. By not isolating themselves from Jehovah and his organization, they gain practical wisdom and use it to build up their family.
Daily, we face decisions that could affect our lives for years to come. Instead of quickly coming up with a response and making a spur-of-the-moment decision, why not stop and think? Weigh the long-term consequences. Seek Jehovah’s guidance, and apply his divine wisdom. Then we will have safeguarded practical wisdom, and it will give us life.—Prov. 3:21, 22.