How to Pray for Wisdom

This article is part of the How to Pray series.

What is wisdom and how do we attain it?

Wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge and sound judgment in such a way that glorifies God. We develop wisdom by knowing the Bible and by relying on the Holy Spirit to help us correctly live it out. Through prayer, we ask God to guide our study of his word and to show us how to put what we read into practice.

A good place to frame our discussion of how to pray for wisdom is to talk about why we should pray for wisdom. The most basic reason is because it doesn’t come to us naturally. We must ask for wisdom to be given to us because we are not innately wise—wisdom has to come from outside of us. Certainly, we are always learning. God has wired us in such a way that we are always gathering more information, more data, more knowledge of the world around us. But the accumulation of knowledge does not automatically lead to wisdom. Likewise, intelligence does not equal wisdom. It is entirely possible to be smart but not wise.

ESV Prayer Journal

Erika Allen

This ESV Prayer Journal will guide you in a study on wisdom over 6 weeks to prayerfully consider what it means to be truly wise, how we attain biblical wisdom, and how we apply wisdom to our lives.

Constancy is key.

Life is hard and it is unpredictable. We are in perpetual need of help knowing how to navigate our circumstances in a Christ-exalting way. Step one in praying for wisdom is realizing our desperate need for it and recognizing God as the source of all knowledge and understanding:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding. —Psalm 111:10

We are in constant need of wisdom, and so we should be in constant prayer for it.

One important reason we need wisdom.

We need wisdom for our own sake but we also need it for the sake of those with whom we live, work, and play. It is humbling to realize that wisdom is not inherently ours, but without out it we make messes both for ourselves and for other people. Such awareness is meant to drive us to our heavenly Father, who “gives [wisdom] generously to all without reproach” when he is asked for it (James 1:5).

The necessity for and benefits of wisdom are far too vast to be covered in the scope of a short article. But one significant occasion that highlights our need for coming before God and asking for wisdom is when we are speaking into someone else’s life. Even if, by God’s grace, we have accumulated a lot of biblical and theological knowledge, we nonetheless remain dependent on his help and guidance in knowing how to properly apply it in such a way that appropriately demonstrates love and care to other people.

Job—and his “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2)—are our primary example from Scripture as to why we must rely on God’s help when we walk through suffering and grief with others. Our fellow Christian friends and family probably know all the same verses as we ourselves do, and we harm rather than help them when we are careless in the way we apply those passages to their unique situation. Job’s indignation and frustration at his friends for misapplying true things about God is understandable and appropriate:

Behold, my eye has seen all this,
my ear has heard and understood it.
What you know, I also know;
I am not inferior to you.
But I would speak to the Almighty,
and I desire to argue my case with God.
As for you, you whitewash with lies;
worthless physicians are you all.
Oh that you would keep silent,
and it would be your wisdom! —Job 13:1–5

We need God’s help to know how to apply his word with wisdom and compassion—to know how to “rightly [handle] the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

Wisdom may not always be expressed through words.

We tend to think of wisdom in terms of knowing the right thing to say, but sometimes wisdom is communicated most effectively by means of our ears rather than our eyes. Often the most God-honoring, loving response to others’ pain is to simply listen, to show up for those who are hurting, and to be willing to sit and cry with them. It is easier and less painful to “rejoice with those who rejoice” than to “weep with those who weep,” but we must be willing to do both (Rom. 12:15).

We can run to God knowing that he deals gently with us and delights in giving us wisdom and understanding.

The course of wisdom is sometimes mere presence with those who are hurting. Job needed empathy from his friends more than he needed their counsel. We need the Holy Spirit to steer us in the right direction—toward words of wisdom or toward compassionate silence—as we strive to love others well. As we pray for wisdom, an important aspect we should focus on is knowing when to speak and when to listen.

Our prayers need not be polished.

It is easy to get overly fixated on the specific wording of our prayers regardless of what we are praying about, but this is particularly true when it comes to prayers for wisdom. This is perhaps true because, again, we tend to equate wisdom with knowing what to say. The fact that we lack the wisdom to even know how to pray for wisdom is comically humbling!

Often when we cry out to God for wisdom we are confused, overwhelmed, angry, or hurting. Or a terrible combination of all those emotions. The last thing we are capable of doing in those moments is collecting ourselves and putting together a beautifully articulate, polished prayer. And God doesn’t expect that from us! Rather,

As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust. —Psalm 103:13–14

We can run to God knowing that he deals gently with us and delights in giving us wisdom and understanding.

Our emphasis should be more on frequency and consistency than wording. We don’t have to use sophisticated words. Nor do we need to come before God with a list of suggested solutions to whatever problem we are facing. Our union with Jesus ensures that we can come before him with confidence (Heb. 4:16) and simply cry “Help!” God knows our hearts, and he promises that the Spirit himself guides our prayers and puts them into the right words:

the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. —Rom. 8:26

Our job is simply to come to God with open hearts and the humility to submit to whatever he deems good and right—to whatever he declares to be wise.

Erika Allen is the author of the ESV Prayer Journal: 30 Days on Wisdom.

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