Anything You Want

Faculty Essay

Scot McKnight

When I was about seven or eight years old, my rich aunt took me to a huge department store in St. Louis and said to me, “Scot, you can have anything in this store you want.” The magnitude of her magnanimity was lost on this young boy and I asked for a (relatively cheap) baseball glove and felt a little pushy for asking for a second gift, a new baseball.

If you could have anything you wanted, what would you choose? One of Israel’s greatest, Solomon, was asked that question by God and he chose wisdom. Yet, within a decade or two he famously began to mix wisdom with enough foolishness to all but ruin his life.

I wonder if enough of us think about wanting wisdom, about letting our life be shaped by growth in wisdom. Pondering the theme of wisdom has led to libraries of insights and I’d like to highlight a few of my favorites.

It’s easier to want wisdom than to acquire it. To acquire wisdom we not only have to ask for it but we have to act on it. Action is harder than asking. Action requires discernment and discipline while asking merely requires hope. You may want and even pray for a good marriage, but good marriages grow over time and they grow as a result of daily actions.

Those who acquire wisdom find a wise mentor. Mentors are needed in the business world and in the private world, but without mentors acquiring wisdom is doubly difficult. This is why Israel’s wisdom, found in the book of Proverbs, was shaped as a wise (older) mentor passing down instruction to a younger generation. James treats Jesus as his mentor and, if you have time, sit down with the letter of James and observe two things: how often James sounds like Jesus and how rarely (once, maybe twice) James quotes Jesus. Why? Because he had absorbed Jesus’ teaching so much he made it his own. Jesus was his moral mentor. This works two ways so we need to turn it around: some of you could volunteer to be mentors to those around you—at work, in your faith community. Many young adults won’t step forward to ask you to be a mentor, but they’d love for you to strike up a wisdom relationship with them. You don’t need to be preachy or teachy. Your long presence in the life of a younger adult can lead them into wisdom.

Wisdom requires a receptive reverence. Finding a mentor is the easy part; the hard part is listening to the mentor and learning to trust the wisdom of the mentor enough to do what the mentor says even when you’ d prefer to go your own way. St. Augustine tells me I’ve got a hard heart; my high school basketball coach said I had a hard head. Either way, the problem is that we are too often hard when we need to be receptive. The wise are receptive in an almost reverent way before the mentor.

Ask yourself The Wisdom Question throughout the day. Or call it the W-word. Ask yourself “What is the wise thing for me to do at this point in my life?” Before choosing or changing a career, before choosing a mate, before choosing friends, before drinking, before pressing on the gas pedal, before turning on the Internet, before deciding which restaurant, and before choosing how to spend (or save) your money, ask yourself The Wisdom Question. But this question can’t be asked once. To acquire wisdom we need to ask this question constantly. If you try this for one day, or for one week, you may find yourself surprised how formative it can be.

The daily life will lead to the dream life. One of my students recently told me she had “possibility overload.” She meant she had so many dreams and so many things to chase down in this life she couldn’t take it all in. I get it, and as a college professor I see it in the eyes of students. Young adults are dreamers. Wisdom tells us the way to get to the dream is not by getting lost in a reverie of hopes and yearnings. The way to get to the dream is to do the daily things that lead to that dream. Get a healthy dose of sleep; eat nutritious foods; develop loving and holy habits; live within your limitations; be faithful to the one you love and be loyal to your fellow workers; and do the right thing.

Enemies can be loved easier than conquered. We all have conflicts; sometimes we screw up in those conflicts. But Jesus taught us to make loving God and loving others the paramount commands, and he also told us to love even our enemies. Why? Because conflict spreads when we choose conquering, and our “enemies” can only become our friends when we learn to love them.

If God told you that you could have anything you wanted, I hope you would choose wisdom. It begins today.

This article is based on a new book, One Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, published in December

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