A few years back, I spent some time doing team ministry in Tomsk, Russia. After just over a week in Tomsk teaching conversational English classes, we were fortunate enough to spend a few days sightseeing in St. Petersburg and Moscow, too. Both cities were beyond impressive to me, a young man from a rural Missouri town with one stoplight and a population numbering approximately 900. Because I still live in a small town (approximately 10,000), a place where it’s not uncommon for people to leave doors unlocked, when I am in a big city, I sometimes forget to be conscious of the fact that there are different realities one faces when in large metropolitan tourist destinations. While in St. Petersburg, I was reminded of one such reality. As our group entered a heavily-trafficked area of town where several streets and means of public transit converged, our tour guide made it a point to adamantly warn us all to hold on tightly to valuables, explaining to us that the area was a common hangout for skilled, organized groups of pickpockets. Apparently, the area, commonly visited by tourist groups, is a prime spot for would-be thieves to snag a purse, wallet, or other accessible items of value.
Makes sense, right? These guys know what they’re doing. They know what they’re after and they put themselves in the best position to find it. Tourists are prime targets who are easy to spot and usually carry the kind of valuables pickpockets are after.
Confession time: I, too, am a pickpocket. I know what I’m after, and I have committed myself to getting in the right position to attain it. Lest you think I’m shady and turn me over to our church’s elders for discipline, let me assure you that I’m not after wallets; actually, I’m after something far more valuable: wisdom.
Let me take you back a few years. At age 26, I was three years married and a brand new father to a healthy baby boy…and I was terrified. Three years of marriage had illustrated that I was severely underinformed regarding what it meant to “love my wife as Christ loved the church.” Additionally, a mere few months of fatherhood already had me questioning whether I was, by any stretch of the imagination, qualified to “train up a child in the way he should go.” For crying out loud, at that point in my life, I think I still judged my clothes’ cleanliness by smell!
It was clear that something had to happen; failure as both a father and a husband weren’t really options I was up for entertaining. Thus, seeing that I clearly lacked wisdom, I began to claim the words of James 1:5, which reads “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously without reproach, and it will be given him.” Initially, I’m sure the manner in which I read that passage was not all that different than that in which most people read it; my assumption was that if I just kept asking, God would miraculously make me wise in my sleep. Possible example: By asking God for wisdom, I might go to bed a clothes-sniffing fool yet somehow awake with a better (and more age-appropriate) understanding of how hygiene and fashion meshed.
But this understanding ignored a less mystical, far more practical way in which God was seeking to fulfill the promise of generously giving wisdom to those who ask in faith. Somewhere in the midst of my wisdom-seeking crisis, I recalled that a few years earlier, my wife had visited a local physician, Dr. Lou Harris. The checkup itself was fairly routine, but one thing she shared with me about her visit was not; this doctor, having at least some knowledge of who my wife and I were because we attended the same church, asked if he could pray with her before she left. Certain this was not standard operating procedure in the world of healthcare, I was intrigued. I began to investigate this guy; I watched him closely at church, attempted to strike up conversations with and about him, paid attention to his kids who attended the high school I work at. All of this I did to answer one question: is this the kind of guy who might have the wisdom I know I lack?
God made it clear to me through my investigation (or “creeping” as my students might say) that He had already surrounded me with much of the wisdom I needed to be the husband, father, and man I knew I was called to be; I just had to be willing to go and get it from the older, wiser Jesus-following men that He’d put in my path.
And thus I became a pickpocket, seeking out and targeting men whose lives displayed a pursuit of God, a respect and hunger for the Scriptures, and a love for others. Initially, I did this by establishing a mentoring relationship with Lou in which I could draw on the wisdom he had accumulated through years of seeking to honor God in all facets of his life. The mornings on which we met quickly became days that I looked forward to with great anticipation; I relished the chance to openly and honestly ask my burning questions about what it looked like to walk out my faith in my work, my relationships, my finances, and all other areas of my life.
Over time, it became standard routine for me, when sitting in conversation with other men like Lou, to very intentionally glean any and all wisdom I could from them. The older I get, the more intentional I’ve become in this practice of picking men’s pockets for wisdom. When I sit across from a man like Lou, Kevin Burlison, Rodney Reeves, or another man whose faith journey I hold in high regard, I suppose I am less than inclined to settle for small talk. And shouldn’t it be this way? Rather than talking about the weather, shouldn’t we desire to be talking with older men about how to be a good father? Instead of shooting the bull about sports (a conversation ESPN has trained us to think worthy of time and energy), shouldn’t we prefer asking wise men about loving our wives well or properly stewarding the resources God has granted us?
I do not believe it is out of the realm of possibility for God to mysteriously grant young men wisdom; certainly, the God who breathed all things into being and infuses men with His very Spirit can likewise infuse a man with wisdom; such was the case for Solomon. However, it is my prayer that young men would heed the words of Proverbs 16:16, desiring wisdom above all earthly treasures, and that such a desire would drive them to be highly intentional about seeking out men whose pockets they can pick for wisdom. Additionally, may it be that older men who’ve walked faithfully with Christ and learned much through their journeys would be watchful and would seek out younger men to whom they can pass on the wisdom God has granted them…even if that means pouring into a 26-year-old newlywed father/clothes-sniffer who only has the modest amount of wisdom necessary to know that wisdom is something he desperately needs.