Knowledge tells you a tomato is a fruit.
Wisdom tells you not to put it in a fruit salad.— Anon.
At the beginning of the First Book of Samuel, Hannah can’t eat and is constantly crying, because she has been unable to have children. So takes her plea before the Lord.
So Hannah arose after they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the Lord.
And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish.
Then she made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maid servant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.”
And it happened, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli watched her mouth.
Now Hannah spoke in her heart: only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk.
So Eli said to her, “How long will you be drunk:? Put your wine away from you!”
But Hannah answered and said, “No, my lord. I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord.
“Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now.”
Then Eli answered and said, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.”
And she said, “Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.” So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.— 1 Samuel 1:9-18
One of the earliest lessons I learned in Ministry came when I met a man on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. He called himself Mike — although I found out later that his name was really Alex — and he had had a successful business. But his business partner cheated on him, his wife cheated on him and by then, in his 70s, he was destitute and living on the DTES.
And bitter as anything.
As I write in my book, God At Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty, Mike would come into Rainbow Mission for the message and the meal, and then come up and talk about his situation, generally rehashing the past. And I, wanting to “help” and full of Bible knowledge, would try to minister to him with the Word of God and advice on how to move forward.
He would listen, nod, and then say, “But …”, and go over the whole story again.
I got frustrated because my advice wasn’t getting through. He got frustrated because I wouldn’t listen.
Finally, the Lord got through to me. “Learn when to shut the heck up, Drew.”
Apparently, Eli had learned that lesson by the time Hannah came to the tabernacle. Because do you notice what doesn’t get said between him and Hannah? She doesn’t actually tell Eli why she is so sorrowful, and Eli doesn’t press her for details. He lets her talk as much as she’s going to (he is, after all, a total stranger who had just accused her of being drunk: likely not someone she’s prepared to trust with her life story), and when she has finished, agrees with her prayer — whatever it is.
And Hannah goes away, smiling, ready to eat: encouraged that the Lord will hear her prayer and grant her her desire. Not because Eli stepped up with the “answers”, but because Eli listened and agreed.
“Whatever it is” was a phrase one pastor spoke when I went forward for prayer in church during the darkest period of my life. He didn’t bother asking what was troubling me (even though I was more than prepared to unload on him!), but simply said, “Whatever it is, Lord … whatever it is …”
And thus, we come to the difference between knowledge and wisdom. We may have knowledge of the Word of God backwards and forwards, but is it always wise to try to impart that knowledge? Our human nature is to want to provide the solutions — and, more to the point, to be seen to provide the solutions, to be regarded as the hero in the situation.
(This is not a “male thing”, by the way: you could have flipped the gender in those two roles and the message would have been the same.)
It’s important to remember that oftentimes, a person’s problem is deeper than and different from what we can see. As a result, we run the risk of being too specific and praying for the wrong thing. But God can see what the situation is, which is why wisdom is what’s important. With wisdom, we know when to shut up, listen, and agree — whatever it is.