How to Grow in Wisdom and Understanding

“Mommy, can you add a metal detector to my Christmas list?” My six year old asked from the backseat of the car.

I chuckled. “Sure honey. But what are you going to do with it?”

“Find TREASURE!” he told me.

Treasure hunting

Later in the kitchen, my husband told the boys all about the metal detector he got when was ten, after years of begging for one. He brought it with him to visit his grandparents in Alabama, convinced he would find treasure on the sandy beaches of the Gulf. After a long time searching, he came up with nothing. His grandpa buried some of his loose change in the sand and encouraged him to try again. Shockingly, his metal detector didn’t even beep as it hovered right above the coins. The boys giggled.

“I’m afraid you’d need to spend hundreds of dollars to get a good enough metal detector!” he said as he served up dinner.

But you can’t blame a kid for dreaming, right? Especially when you hear stories of ordinary people striking it rich. Like a guy in Mexico, just south of Arizona, who picked up an inexpensive metal detector in 1989 and ended up finding a 26 pound gold nugget later dubbed “The Boot of Cortez.” Or the seven year old who used his metal detector in Virginia and uncovered a sword from the Civil War. Or, incredibly, the couple in California who found over one thousand rare gold coins in a rusty tin can buried near a tree. It’s enough to inspire anyone to try their luck!

The Bible reminds us that there are more worthy pursuits than the search for treasure:

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
- Proverbs 3:13-15

Wisdom and understanding are more “profitable” and “precious” than silver, gold, and jewels – your basic pirate’s treasure chest. We may think that earthly riches will give us the good and easy life, but the writer of Proverbs reminds us:

Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed.
- Proverbs 3:16-18

Long life? Pleasant ways? Peaceful paths? Blessings? Count me in, please!

And then I am convicted. Do I search for wisdom and understanding as intently as I chase after earthly riches?

how to grow in wisdom and understanding

If you follow me on Instagram, or if you get my newsletter, you know that our family recently made a 39 hour car trip from California to Michigan. What I didn’t mention is that we had a rocky start.

The van was packed and ready to go. At 6:30 AM, the boys and I buckled our seat belts. We were just waiting for Max to grab his travel coffee mug and join us. But when he did, he looked worried. “Have you seen my house and office keys?” he asked me.

What followed was a mad scramble to find his keys – looking in every drawer and then looking again. We turned the contents of our carefully packed van upside down as we rummaged through our packed bags and checked all the pockets. The keys were nowhere to be found. Not even in the dumpster, where we had fished out our latest bag of trash in a fit of desperation.

We lost an hour because of our search and drove off without the keys, feeling tense and stressed.

“What was the last thing we packed last night?” Max said, running his hands through his hair.

“The chocolate chips! Could they be…. ?”

They were, as we discovered at the first rest stop. His keys had fallen into the brown paper bag where we had packed the chocolate chips. Our relief was palpable.

This leads me to wonder: what if I searched for wisdom and understanding as doggedly as we did for those keys, or as hopefully as a kid who dreams of finding treasure?

How to grow in wisdom and understanding

In what ways would my life be enriched if I pursued wisdom and understanding above earthly things? And more importantly, how does a person search for wisdom and understanding?

1. The Scriptures

Before you write this suggestion off as totally obvious, I’d love to challenge those of us who have grown up reading our Bibles to come at it in a different way.

People want black-and-white answers, but scripture is rainbow arch across a stormy sky. Our sacred book is not an indexed answer book or life manual; it is also a grand story, mystery, invitation, truth and wisdom, and a passionate love letter.

Sarah Bessey, from Jesus Feminist

Try learning about the Bible.
Try reading from a different translation.
Try verse mapping.
Try listening to the Pray as You Go app.
Try using a notebook.

2. Other Christians

I love reading spiritual memoirs because I love hearing testimonies about how God has moved in other people’s lives. Books like When we were on fire by Addie Zierman, Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Torn by Justin Lee have touched me deeply, in some cases challenged the shape of my faith, and ultimately served to give glory to God’s faithfulness.

Similarly, listening to faith-based podcasts has been another way I’ve grown closer to God. From podcasts that address a Christian’s response to issues of social justice (like the Upside Down podcast) to podcasts for Christians in leadership (Lead Stories) to podcasts that take me deeper into scripture (The Bible for Normal People) to podcasts that lead to spiritual reflection (The Presence Project), wisdom and stories from other Christians help me to hear from God.

3. A Community of Believers

Attending a Bible study is one of the bigger factors that has led to growth in my own understanding and wisdom. Wrestling with a text together and determining its meaning and application as a group has brought a rich diversity of opinion and experience I wouldn’t otherwise be able to replicate on my own.

4. The Holy Spirit

God sent his Holy Spirit to convict, guide, and comfort us in the absence of the physical presence of Jesus. Jesus tells us in John 14:26 “But the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

The Holy Spirit prompts us when we most need it – when we are discerning the truth, making decisions, or at a loss for words. Let’s not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit in our quest for wisdom and understanding.

God is present in the Spirit, who groans wordlessly on our behalf and who speaks in a soft voice to all consciences attuned to him.

Philip Yancey

A prayer for wisdom and understanding

My prayer is that we would not be afraid to bring our questions, our doubts, and our confusion along with us on our search for greater wisdom and understanding. My prayer is that we would hold space for paradox, and grow more comfortable with not having all the answers. My prayer is that we would have a humble and open spirit every time we seek greater wisdom and understanding. And may our search lead to blessing and fruitfulness that spills over into the lives of those around us.

Thanks, I can't wait to connect with you!

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

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