If Your Friends Jumped Off a Bridge...

I was recently leading a church event at a local park when a group of wide-eyed teens approached me, seeking “permission” to go swimming.

Sensing they may not have the best of common sense, I inquired further.  As a matter of fact, they were more interested in diving than in swimming – diving off of a 30-foot cement dam into a noticeably shallow cement-bottomed overflow area.  They were seeing others take the plunge, and their first instinct was to follow suit.

“We won’t get hurt,” they promised with eager sincerity.

“Have you ever heard of the word, ‘liability’?” I asked them.

If they had, they weren’t interested in discussing it.  Theirs is a world where if everyone else is jumping off a bridge, you go ahead and follow the crowd.  (If this was such a bright idea, so risk-free, why did they feel compelled to ask permission?)

I figure in another ten years or so these guys will wise up, and, if I’m lucky, they might even admit I was right to reign in their action-hero instincts.  (I’m not holding my breath.)

There is a vast difference between knowledge and wisdom.  Those teens had a great knowledge of swimming, and maybe even the mechanics of diving; that wasn’t the problem. They didn’t have the wisdom to apply their knowledge appropriately.  Knowledge shows you “how-to” and wisdom teaches you “when-to.” 

In the book of Proverbs, the authors (mostly King Solomon and his sages) spend thirty-one chapters urging young people to adopt a lifestyle driven by wisdom.  They impart their gems of experience and truth via short, pithy sayings we call ‘proverbs.’   But there is an underlying principle to all of these sayings that serves as a foundation for upon which wisdom itself is built. 

Proverbs 9:10 teaches us that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”   

How does fearing God relate to making wise choices?  I think again of my wanna-be cliff jumpers, so eager to show off for the girls and experience the thrill of falling a great distance.  “Fear” is the one emotion they didn’t have, and it was the one thing that would have stopped their bad decision-making.  Fear of the likely consequences.  Fear of unseen rocks in the murky brown water.  Fear of broken legs or necks.  In their case, fear would have brought a measure of much-needed wisdom.

A healthy fear of God, then, brings us wisdom in circumstances far beyond just those involving the loss of life and limb.  Fearing God, or caring about God’s opinion more than anyone else’s, is the surest path to making the best choices in life.

Someone once told me that, “fearing God is continually being aware of His watchful presence and of his future judgment of my life.”  Knowing that God is always watching me, and that one day I’ll have to give an account of my life to the One who gave me my life, causes me to think twice before doing or saying something stupid.  The fear of the Lord is the first step on the path of wisdom; physically, financially, in relationships, in attitudes, and in every other area.

When I was a teen myself, I remember that I acted a bit differently when I was with my friends than when I was with Mom and Dad.  Parental presence instilled a dose of fear in me that kept me on my best behavior (mostly).  Fearing God, then, is realizing that my heavenly Father is watching always, no matter where I go, or who I’m with. 

If you are seeking wisdom for life’s decisions, the big ones or the small ones, the best question you can ask is, “What does God think about this?”  The answer may not be easy to ascertain, and it may not be what you want to hear, but you can rest assured that it will be the wisest choice.  Another helpful question: “If God were in the room, how would I handle this situation?

Oh, right.  He is in the room.  This wisdom thing is starting to make sense.

Dan originally wrote this article for publication in the Marco Island Sun Times.


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