Gaining Wisdom from Our Experience

Learning from Life

I was thinking about the issue of “learning” from our experiences. It can be tempting to think that this is an activity that “smart” people engage in, while the rest of us just keep banging our heads against the cupboard door without learning from our mistakes. But I think that there is a dimension in all of this that the Bible would call WISDOM. Wisdom is not just a full brain, nor is foolishness (or folly) merely a slapstick ignorance. There is a moral dimension to both. Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10). Foolishness has similar roots, “the fool has said in his heart,’There is no God.’” (Psalm 14:1).

So how can we use our experiences as an opportunity to get wisdom, and learn? I thought of a few ways that we can gain wisdom.

First, a wise man or woman learns from correction. Proverbs 17:10 “Rebuke is more effective for a wise man than a hundred blows on a fool.” Wisdom heeds a gentle rebuke or word of correction. But a fool can be repeated punished without learning the lesson. People seeking wisdom are sensitive to correction. This posture implies that those who are wise have a humble view of their own knowledge. Not a “know-it-all” the wise man understands he has much to learn and welcomes correction.

Second, wise people learn from their own failures. Proverbs 26:11 “As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” The poetry of proverbs continually contrasts wisdom and folly. Here the fool keeps going back to his sins and failures; he refuses to learn from them. This is one reason why not all experience gives wisdom. Sometimes experience makes fools. I heard someone say this, “insanity is continuing to repeat the same actions and expecting a different outcome.” Both successes and failures are the classroom of the wise.

Third, wise people learn from the mistakes and punishments of others. It is great to learn from your own mistakes, but the cost is high. You actually have to fail, and that hurts. But it is much more affordable to learn from the mistakes of others. Proverbs 19:25 “Strike a scoffer, and the simple will become wary; rebuke one who has understanding, and he will discern knowledge.” The meaning of this may not be plain at first, but in the first stanza the author says that one person can learn when another is corrected. ‘God smites some,” says one commentator, “that he may warn all.” The wise man is alert to learn from the mistakes of others. Interestingly, the father in Proverbs 24:30-34 sees a run down farm and takes time to teach his son. It is broken down and in a state of dissaray. He says, “When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest; So shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man.” He thought about the weeds, and the broken down fence, and concluded that the results of indolence are deceptively slow. He gained wisdom from the failure of another man. On the humorous side, the picture above is from (a very funny website, you should look through all the demotivators when you get a chance.). It says “It could be that the purpose of your life is to serve as a warning to others.”

Finally, a wise man learns from the wisdom of other people. “Lifelong learners,” if I can mention that phrase without overusing it, make good use of smart people. In fact, from the tone of scripture, they seek out the company of the wise. Proverbs 13:20,” He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” Anyone can teach a wise man. You can walk with wise men down the road, or you can walk through their thoughts by reading. But one thing characterizes learners they are on the watch for people who can teach them. Their souls are like the ground, hungry to soak up the rain.

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