What is wisdom? One dictionary defines wisdom as "accumulated philosophic or scientific learning." However, a very intellectual person can make very unwise choices, so there must be something more to it.
If I had thought more about it at the time, I would have realized it was a bad idea. It was a moonlit winter night, and I was lost in my music as I drove down the two-lane highway on my way to pick up my brother in a nearby town in rural Colorado. With the stereo blasting some favorite tunes, my thoughts were reliving the exciting basketball game I had just left, in which I had just seen my high school team defeat a local arch-rival. Suddenly, as I absent-mindedly sped the car around a corner, I hit an ice-covered section of road, and my car began to fishtail wildly from side to side as I struggled to keep it under control.
But it was no use. Before I knew it, I was spinning into a ditch on the opposite side of the road, then was mercifully stopped by a soft bank of recently fallen snow. Thankfully, the car was not damaged and no one was injured. But when I saw a commercial passenger coach speed by in the opposite direction soon afterward, I realized how close I had come to what could have been a terrible fatal tragedy—not just for me, but for others—if my accident had occurred just a few seconds later.
As a young person, I had been foolishly caught up in the moment, not thinking about the possible result of my carelessness. I was having fun—at least until I found myself backwards in a snowbank! Thankfully, I was able to learn from the experience without doing damage to any other people or property. But this is not always the case. Too often, all it takes is the briefest in-the-moment carelessness to bring long-lasting—even life-threatening—consequences.
Today, had I been the careless driver I was so many years ago, it might have been text messaging instead of the stereo that took my attention away from the road. More and more, we see news reports about fatal traffic accidents caused when distracted drivers are texting while driving. Young people who want to stay in touch with their friends—and who feel the typical invulnerability of youth—sometimes do not stop to think about what they are doing. Why does this happen? Why do some young people suffer life-long consequences from brief moments of thoughtlessness?
Though it may be hard for a young person to accept, Proverbs 22:15 makes a simple statement that can illuminate some young people's behavior: "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child." Any parent knows how true this is! From the time children learn to crawl, it seems that much of a parent's time is spent making statements such as, "Don't touch that," "Don't eat that worm," "Don't pull your dog's ears," "Don't sit on that cactus!"
The Message—a Bible translation that paraphrases the text and puts it into plain and simple English—puts Proverbs 22:15 this way: "Young people are prone to foolishness and fads." Is this just picking on the young? I will not deny that older people are also, in their own way, prone to these problems, but can any young people honestly deny that this is also true of them and their friends? Sometimes a fad may be innocent or just silly, but when a fad involves risky behavior, too many young people can find themselves influenced into making potentially dangerous choices.
For example, most adults would be surprised to learn about the "sport" of car-surfing, in which a young person "rides" or stands on the outside of a moving vehicle. It just seems like a very bad idea. Yet this odd sport seems to be gaining popularity with some teens, as we read that there has been "a steady rise in car-surfing fatalities since 2000, especially in California, Florida and Texas" ("Neurological injuries from car surfing," Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, July 17, 2009). What would cause anyone to do something so foolish? Imitation of popular media, the researchers concluded. Car surfing has been portrayed in teen-targeted movies and video games. But those movies were made with big budgets—with trained stunt-men carefully choreographing the extreme activity. In the video games, nobody is hurt when a game controller is pressed the wrong way. By contrast, when eager young people try to imitate what they have seen—there are even videos on YouTube showing people doing this—serious injury can easily result.
Reporting on this odd and extreme "sport," one online article asked the question: "Is a teenager's propensity for doing really stupid things inevitable, or must that stupidity be coaxed out of him?" ("How Media Brings Out the Idiot in Teens," LiveScience.com, July 21, 2009).
Happily, this stereotype does not have to apply to you. Youthful foolishness is not inevitable! There is a better way—a way that is the opposite of foolishness! For those who will heed Him, God has given instructions that can help anyone, young or old, gain success in their lives through wisdom!
What is wisdom? One dictionary defines wisdom as "accumulated philosophic or scientific learning." However, a very intellectual person can make very unwise choices, so there must be something more to it. A more complete definition of wisdom would be, "the ability to apply knowledge to everyday life." For those who want to follow God, we could say that wisdom is the ability to apply God's knowledge in our lives.
King Solomon explained what he hoped readers would gain from the book of Proverbs: "To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion" (Proverbs 1:2–4). The book of Proverbs is a 31-chapter instruction manual touching almost every aspect of life that a young person has yet to experience. This is different from learning by experience alone, or "going to the school of hard knocks." King Solomon's wise words allow us to gain understanding about different aspects of life before we live it. This can help us avoid many disappointments and heartaches.
For example, Proverbs includes relevant instruction about: what friends to avoid (Proverbs 1:10–19; 12:26; 16:29), being diligent (13:4), being honest (16:13), not bragging (27:2), seeking knowledge (14:18), avoiding gossip (17:9) and honoring our parents (23:22). These are just a few of the nuggets of truth within the pages of this book of instruction.
An older person can read Proverbs and look back on "what might have been" if its instructions had been followed. The advantage of being young is that you have your life ahead of you! The choices you make now will set the path for the rest of your life. You do not need to make foolish mistakes that could tragically change your future.
But we should not stop at just avoiding mistakes; we ought to endeavor to learn what true wisdom is. As King Solomon wrote: "My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God" (Proverbs 2:1–5). This is the way to wisdom!