If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. — James 1.5
It’s not surprising, given their penchant for philosophy, that the Greek language uses multiple words to talk about wisdom. Ephesians, for instance, instructs, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” The Greek word for ‘wise’, sophos, alludes to intellectual precision—wisdom through thoughtfulness and intentionality.
The book of James opens by imploring Christians to pray for wisdom of a different kind. The Greek word here for wisdom, Sophia, refers to a person’s capacity to function in the world according to the understanding she’s been given. In modern language it could be called integrative wisdom—insight that catalyses and empowers life change.
The writers of Scripture believed integrative wisdom could come only through prayer. Thoughtful people can attain intellectual precision and disciplined people can force top-level changes to actions—but only the Spirit can give wisdom that changes our hearts, and through them, our lives.
A collection of prayers from Augustine reveals the aching cries for wisdom that can only come from God:
Almighty God, in whom we live and move and have our being, you have made us for yourself, so that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.
You know our necessities before we ask, and our ignorance in asking. Set free your servants from all anxious thoughts for tomorrow; give us contentment with your good gifts; and confirm our faith accordingly as we seek your kingdom. You will not keep us from any good thing through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Grant us purity of heart and strength of purpose—that no selfish passion may hinder us from knowing your will, no weakness from doing it—in your light we see light and in your service we find perfect freedom through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Look upon us, O Lord, and let all the darkness of our souls vanish before the beams of your brightness.
Fill us with holy love, and open to us the treasures of your wisdom. All our desire is known to you, therefore perfect the work you have begun, and what your Spirit has awakened in us to ask in prayer.
We seek your face; turn your face to us and show us your glory. Then shall our longing be satisfied, and our peace shall be perfect.