Through this series on leadership principles we have defined a leader as someone who has influence in the lives of others. So it stands to reason that it would be hard to be any kind of a leader if you spent a lot of your time alone and yet the leader we want to consider today was alone when Jesus met her. It was noon when Jesus stopped to rest at the well, which meant it was during the hottest part of the day when he arrived, and usually there would be no one there, but when Jesus got there he met a woman drawing the water she needed for the day. For most women, drawing water was a chore done in the morning when it was cool and it would have been done with others for safety, protection and fellowship, so there must have been a reason why this woman was there at noon and why she there alone.
What we come to find out about this woman was that she had been married 5 times and was currently living with man #6 – a man she was not married to. The woman clearly didn’t feel welcomed by the other women in her village so instead of walking with them in the morning, she came to the well alone at noon to avoid their comments, whispers and glares. From the looks of it, this woman might not appear to be any kind of leader we can learn from – but she is. Not only is she a leader but what might surprise us is that what we can learn from her is what wisdom is all about.
Let’s be clear that wisdom and knowledge are not the same things. Wisdom involves knowledge and knowing the right things but it also includes putting that knowledge to use. The Russian author, Anton Chekhov, said, knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice and the great CEO of IBM, Thomas Watson, said, wisdom is the power that enables us to use our knowledge for the benefit of ourselves and others. So today we are going to define wisdom as gaining the right knowledge AND knowing how to use that knowledge for the benefit of ourselves and others. And this is exactly what we see in the woman Jesus met at the well.
Jesus stopped at the well in Samaria because he was hot, tired and thirsty. When he arrived he found a woman there alone and asked her for a drink. The woman was surprised at this because Jewish men didn’t ask Samaritan women for anything. In fact, Jewish men usually didn’t speak to women they didn’t know at all and they certainly did not speak to Samaritan women, but Jesus did and he asked her for drink. John 4:7-9
Now here is where Jesus turned the situation around and he shares some knowledge with this woman that can change her life. He is going to tell her that he is not just an ordinary man asking for water but the Messiah who can offer people living water – or eternal life.
While Jesus often kept his true identity hidden from people, here he was very open and clear – the Messiah that this woman and others were looking is Jesus. I who speak to you am he. Jesus has just given her knowledge and yet it is not this knowledge that makes her wise, it is what she does with it. John 4: 28-30, 39-43.
This woman shows us that wisdom isn’t just gaining knowledge but using that knowledge for ourselves and others. The experience she had with Jesus and the information given to her improved her situation. Jesus showed her that she had value and dignity by speaking to her, and then as the Messiah he offered her living water which included God’s grace and mercy and the fullness of life. The knowledge of Jesus changed her, but then she shared that knowledge with others. This woman used what limited influence she had in the lives of her family and friend to invite them to come and meet Jesus and to experience his power and grace for themselves. She used her knowledge of Jesus for the benefit of herself and others and that is wisdom.
What this leader shows us is that if we want to grow in wisdom we need to focus on two things: gaining knowledge and understanding AND using it. The first thing this woman did was gain knowledge. She took the time to listen to Jesus and understand what he was talking about. He asked her questions, probed deeper into what he had to say, shared what she knew about the Messiah and opened herself to learning more about him, but she didn’t stop there, she then used her new and deeper knowledge of the Messiah to invite others to experience the presence of God in Jesus. Wisdom requires us to both gain knowledge and understanding and use it for the benefit or ourselves and others.
So let’s consider how we can gain knowledge. The truth is that there are many different ways we can expand our understanding of different things. Like this woman, we can take the time to listen and learn from others. We can attend classes and lectures; maybe enroll in continuing education events at work or through organizations like OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute which will be holding some of their classes here at Faith Church. We can watch DVD’s and online seminars through organizations like TED. If you aren’t familiar with TED talks, I encourage you to check it out at www.TED.com. They have some fascinating and fun talks in areas like math, religion, music and leadership and here is the best part, all the talks are short.
To learn more about God and the meaning of our faith we can get involved in small groups, Sunday school classes and Bible studies where we can learn from others. To learn about leadership and how to make the most of the influence we have in the lives of others we can attend the Global Leadership Summit coming up in August. There are so many ways we can learn by listening and opening ourselves up to new ideas and information that others have to share.
We can also learn by reading. John Wesley said, it cannot be that the people should grow in grace unless they give themselves to reading. A reading people will always be a knowing people. John Wesley wanted his preachers to read everything they could get their hands on. We are blessed today to have all kinds of knowledge and information at our disposal in libraries and even online. You can read just about anything you want by doing a quick online search that will produce reports and papers and articles on every topic imaginable and you can download just about any book to your tablet, nook or kindle. We need to recapture the joy of reading.
We also need to make sure that our primary source of information and truth is God’s word. There is no substitute for reading the Bible and if you want to increase in wisdom then the best place to start might be the book of Proverbs which gives us timeless knowledge that can be acted on and lived out. Proverbs covers just about all areas of life, from to family to finances to friendships.
While reading and listening are good ways to learn, many people learn best by getting directly involved in the work – these are often called kinesthetic learners. But for all of us, hands-on learning is important. For example, we learn to cook by actually cooking a meal and not just reading a recipe, so if you want to learn how to swing a hammer or paint a wall – join our mission team and there will be someone eager to show you how to learn new skills and give you the opportunity to use them. I must confess that I learned how to use several tools when I went to NC to work on homes after hurricane Floyd. I also learned how to use a pick axe from an 80 year old woman who was my neighbor in Altoona. I went out to help her chop the ice in our alley one winter, but once I started to work she could clearly see I didn’t know what I was doing. She told me in no uncertain terms that I was doing it all wrong, took the ax back and showed me how to do it right. Sometimes we just have to do the work to learn how to do the work.
While we gain knowledge in a variety of ways, we need to keep learning and growing. We are never too old to learn, but then we need to remember that just knowing more doesn’t mean we are wise. We probably all know people who know a lot of stuff but aren’t very wise because they don’t use what they know to help themselves or others. So after gaining knowledge and learning new skills we need to act on what we have learned. For the woman at the well, this meant sharing the truth of Jesus with others.
Jesus told her clearly that he was the Messiah and both Jews and Samaritans were looking for the Messiah so this was not information to hang on to but share. Jesus’ showed her that he had power by telling her exactly who she was and what was going on in her life – but then he also showed her grace by speaking to her and offering her this living water. Jesus changed her life and she knew as the Messiah Jesus could change the life of others so she shared her knowledge. She acted on what she knew to help others.
Wisdom means acting on what we know and while this is important in every area of life, it has special importance in our lives of faith. If we don’t act on what we know of God, Jesus says we are foolish people who will eventually lose everything. Matthew 7:24-27. Jesus makes it clear that the wise are those who not only hear and learn God’s word but act on it or put it into practice, but let’s be honest – this is not always easy.
Jesus told this parable at the end of his Sermon on the Mount where he taught people that we shouldn’t hate anyone or seek any kind of revenge. His went on to say, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Don’t store up treasure for yourself on earth. Do not worry. Do not judge others. Now wisdom is not understanding that this is all true but putting it all into practice. Wisdom is living out God’s word even though we know it is hard and goes against much, if not all, of what the world tells us is right.
Here is where real leaders rise to the top. Leaders are those who are willing to risk everything to live out all what they know is true. In business these are the people who are on the cutting edge of new technologies and practices and follow through on them because they know what they are doing has the potential to bring about real positive change. In politics these are the leaders who don’t listen to polls but do what is right and hold to their word no matter what the cost. In sports these are the athletes that not only play by the rules but understand that good sportsmanship is often more powerful than winning. Being wise isn’t always easy because the knowledge and truth we often know we need to follow will come into direct conflict with the values of the world around us.
I imagine it was hard for this woman to defy some of the norms of her society and face head on the ridicule of others to share her knowledge of Jesus when she returned home. I can just hear some of the people in her village laughing at what she had to say to them about Jesus. So she met yet another man. But she did what she knew she had to do – what was right – and told others about Jesus.
So wisdom is gaining knowledge and then acting on that knowledge for the benefit of ourselves and others. Wisdom also has long range implications. For the woman at the well, when she began to understand that Jesus was the Messiah she knew that God’s kingdom was coming into this world and that she had a part to play in inviting people into that kingdom. She was now part of something much larger than herself and even her community. She was part of God’s work and God’s kingdom and what she was doing had long reaching even eternal implications. Wisdom often leads us to become part of something much larger than ourselves and can carry us to people and places we never dreamed of. Wisdom opens doors and gives us opportunities that are truly God driven and life changing.
No one saw the woman at the well as a leader, but Jesus did. He knew she would take her knowledge of Jesus as the Messiah to heart and then share it with others. He knew she would begin to bring about a change in her community and world. We may not see ourselves as leaders today, but Jesus does and he is calling us to be wise, to gain knowledge and learn new things and then use this new understanding and share what we have learned to improve our lives, the lives of others and maybe begin to change our world and the future for the better.
Join me this week as we commit ourselves to growing in wisdom.
Leadership Principles ~ WISDOM
Wisdom is gaining knowledge AND acting on that knowledge for the benefit of ourselves and others.
• The book of Proverbs (which contains wisdom on areas from family relationships to finances)
• Books on Leadership (in lobby and church library)
• Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)
Watch and Listen
• Register for this year’s Global Leadership Summit
• Leadership DVD’s (in lobby and church library)
• Current talks on various topics can be found at www.ted.com
Small Group Learning
• Join a Sunday School Class, Small Group or Bible Study
• Sign up for a class through OLLI
Share knowledge with others
• Lead a small group this fall
• Invite friends to join you in worship or Sunday School
• Volunteer with children or mentor youth and adults
Put into practice
• One teaching from the book of Proverbs
• One principle from Jesus Sermon on the Mount