by Matt Christiansen
Imagine an encounter with Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos. After introductions and pleasantries, the discussion turns more substantive, and he asks about your big picture dreams and aspirations. You seize the opportunity and lay out a detailed blueprint for the most productive, impactful, and meaningful life you can imagine. He listens intently, occasionally asking questions to clarify vagaries, and even offers bits of advice.
Your allotted time is spent (apparently, he’s a busy man), but before leaving he reaches into his suitcoat, pulls out a checkbook, and then proceeds to date and sign a personal check.
“This is for you,“ he says, barely suppressing a smile, “please use it to make those dreams a reality. I’ll be watching and rooting for your success.”
“Mr. Bezos, how can I begin to thank you.”
Dismissively he waves off the gesture, “It’s nothing,” and he begins to walk away,
But then you realize an issue:
“Uhh, Mr. Bezos,” you call out, and he turns back, “y… you didn’t fill in a dollar amount for the check.”
The smile now consumes his entire face, “Exactly.” he says. He gives you a playful wink, turns, and exits.
“A Spiritual Blank Check”
While random and unlikely, this hypothetical scenario provides a perfect analog to the context of our Come Follow Me study this week. After seeing the wheels come off the kingdom during the latter reign of David his father, Solomon sought to put Israel back on track and re-established on its spiritual foundation. In response to this righteous desire, God revealed himself to the young king with a staggering offer: a one-time gift of whatever he requested. A spiritual blank check.
That spiritual blank check becomes natural fodder as we set the stage for this week’s material. Let’s pause here for a moment and pose the question: What would I ask for with that spiritual blank check in hand? Our response serves as a type of spiritual echocardiogram, offering a valuable glimpse into the “fleshy tables” of our own heart.
Now, returning to our narrative.
Solomon could have asked for riches, political popularity, military conquests, land expansion, or a myriad of ego-fueled personal requests, but instead he responded with the following words:
“Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people: for who can judge this thy people, that is so great?
And God said to Solomon, Because this was in thine heart, and thou hast not asked riches, wealth, or honour, nor the life of thine enemies, neither yet hast asked long life; but hast asked wisdom and knowledge for thyself, that thou mayest judge my people, over whom I have made thee king: Wisdom and knowledge is granted unto thee; and I will give thee riches, and wealth, and honour, such as none of the kings have had that have been before thee, neither shall there any after thee have the like.” (2nd Chronicles 1:10-12)
Of all the attributes, talents, or gifts Solomon could have requested, he chose wisdom. Here too, a natural question arises: Why wisdom? To answer that question, a brief detour for doctrinal analysis is helpful.
The Book of Mormon sheds precious additional light on this topic. Near the end of his life, Jacob, the brother of Nephi, delivered what he believed at the time would be a final message to both his people and all future recipients of the Nephite record. Jacob implores both groups with the succinct admonition: “Oh be wise, what can I say more?” (Jacob 6:12)
Building upon this theme centuries later, the most famous Nephite king connected wisdom to a selfless life devoted to the service of others. He taught: “I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17)
Benjamin’s son, Mosiah, both adopted his father’s definition, and added to it during a critical juncture of his own reign. He wrote: “And now let us be wise and look forward to these things, and do that which will make for the peace of this people.” (Mosiah 29:10) Thus, those possessed of wisdom are always looking forward, weighing the decisions of the present with the consequences of the future- discerning carefully whether those consequences will bring greater personal and collective peace.
And finally, perhaps my favorite insight into wisdom, the prophet Abinadi delivered the following scathing rebuke to the Book of Mormon’s most infamous king and his cronies. “Ye have not applied your hearts to understanding; therefore, ye have not been wise.”(Mosiah 12:27)
What valuable insight. True wisdom cannot be conflated with mere intellect or even knowledge. It is not solely a matter of the head, but a deeply interwoven union of the head and heart. The head providing clear thinking, discernment, logic, and reason; the heart providing emotive feeling, desire, motivation and enthusiasm. Working in tandem, the head and heart produce good works which provide experiential understanding. This experiential understand provides a solid working definition of wisdom, and guides covenant believers in paths of truth, goodness, peace, and prosperity.
This week we are studying the Book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Both attributed to Solomon, we now have the opportunity to proverbially (pun intended) sit at the feet of the man who received an endowment of wisdom directly from On High. In this regard, the divine wisdom that was transferred directly from God to his servant, is now accessible to any and all who dive deeply into these words.
Solomon’s Proverbs have proven both timeless and timely. His maxims outline a sound blueprint for a happy and prosperous life. Generally speaking, the proverbs are punchy, accessible, pragmatic, witty, and undeniably fun to read. (Proverbs 21:9, anyone?) This compilation of Solomon’s teachings begins with the king paying homage to the source of his wisdom: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and understanding.” (Proverbs 1:7)
There were several directions I could have gone with this Proverbs Primer. Ultimately, I spent time digesting the entire book, then decided to select one verse from each of the thirty-one chapters that carried the most weight and meaning to me (approaching it as if I could only pick one verse to keep in existence). This exercise was both fun and enlightening. I invite you to compile your own list and freely encourage imaginary debates as you find proverbs that resonate more deeply with you.
1: 33, 2:6, 3:11, 4:26, 5:21, 6:27, 7:12&26, 8:17, 9:9, 10:1, 11:2, 12:7, 13:20, 14:13, 15:1, 16:32, 17:28, 18:19, 19:11, 20:22, 21:9 (😊 it had to be this verse, right?), 22:6, 23:23, 24:10, 25:28, 26:21, 27:12, 28:1, 29:2&18, 30:5, 31:9.
Ecclesiastes is also attributed to Solomon, but veers drastically from the day-to-day pragmatism of Proverbs. In Proverbs we find ourselves at the grassroots level, wading waist deep in the nitty gritty realities that accompany the gift of moral agency. In Ecclesiastes, we are taken by tram up to the summit of a towering mountain, where everything down below seems almost trivial and insignificant. In these writings, Solomon invites the reader to zoom out and view this mortal existence through the lens of eternity.
There is symbiotic value in the contrasting perspectives of these books: both the microscopic depth of our daily existence with its proverbial multitude of choices, and the panoramic breadth of eternity with its staggering, yet comforting vistas. In parting, I echo Jacob’s plea: oh, let us all be wise, what can I say more?
More Come, Follow Me resources here.
Matt Christiansen has worked in the Church Education System for nearly two decades. He currently teaches seminary at the high school where he attended twenty-five years ago as a student; he also teaches Institute and works as an adjunct instructor for BYU- Idaho. Matt’s gospel hobbies include the nature of God, Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the definition of sin and actual meaning of repentance, the word “seal” and “sealing”, and the role of organized religion in a world of rising disaffiliation. Matt’s actual hobbies include dominating the local Pickleball scene, listening to obscure Prog Rock, getting beat by internet strangers at Chess, and staving off Father Time’s inevitable triumph by attending the gym religiously. He can be contacted with any questions or comments at [email protected].