How long is your “been-meaning-to” list? You know—the list of things you have been meaning to do, but haven’t quite gotten to yet? It’s the list in the back of your mind that has things on it like:
- Improve my marriage
- Get out of debt
- Stop blowing up at the kids
- Improve my physical health
- Grow my business
- Restore a broken relationship
We all have this list and, let me say, there is nothing inherently wrong with having one. In fact, having the list is great, because being aware of an issue is the first step in solving it. The problem comes when things stay on the list for way too long.
Imagine with me you are driving down the road and see your “check engine” light come on. A little later, you notice a strange smell and then hear something clanging in the engine. Eventually you feel a vibration in your seat and see smoke billowing behind your car through your rearview mirror. What are you going to do? Take it to the shop immediately, right?
However, for some reason, when the check engine light comes on in our parenting, or smoke starts coming from our relationships, or we hear strange noises in our business culture, we acknowledge it and make a note to do something about it, but keep driving down the road and never get the problem fixed. We might go to a conference, call a specialist, or read a book about the problem, but many times don’t take all the steps we need to solve it.
Why is this? I would say it’s because we are not using one of our most critical resources for living life: wisdom.
The Difference Between Knowledge, Understanding, and Wisdom
In Proverbs, King Solomon, one of the wisest people to walk the planet, writes about three things that seem similar on the outside but are very different as you look closer: knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:6 NIV)
For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you. (Proverbs 2:10-11 NIV)
Solomon also mentions that the Lord used all three of these things when He created the earth:
By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew. (Proverbs 3:13, 18-20 NIV)
Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom were all necessary for the Lord to accomplish His mission to create earth, and all three are necessary for us to accomplish the things that are most important to us. However, for some reason we frequently don’t use all three.
When I’m doing live presentations, I like to illustrate the difference between knowledge, understanding, and wisdom with a seatbelt. I’ll hold up a nylon strap and metal buckle and ask the audience to identify it. When they successfully recognize that I am holding a seatbelt, I explain, “That’s knowledge.”
I then ask, “How does a seatbelt work?” When they answer that it restrains you in a seat, I say, “That’s understanding.”
Then I ask them, “Why are you not wearing a seatbelt right now?” They tell me that they don’t need to wear one because they are sitting in a room and not driving down the road. And I conclude, “That’s wisdom.”
You see, knowledge tells us what something is, understanding tells us how it works, and wisdom tells us when we need to use it. The problem is when we don’t apply wisdom—all we are left with is a bunch of head knowledge and no results. Knowing what a seatbelt is and understanding how it works won’t do us much good in an accident if it’s not clicked in place.
Will We Be Wise or Foolish?
The problem of failing to apply wisdom isn’t new—it’s been around for thousands of years. In fact, it’s the final problem Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount. After laying out this paradigm-shifting discourse full of incredible knowledge and understanding about how the kingdom worked, He wraps it all up with the parable of the foolish man who build his house on sand, and the wise man who build his house on the rock.
What is the sole thing that distinguishes the wise from the foolish man? Jesus says:
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock . . . But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. (Matthew 7:25, 27 NIV)
Both men heard the same words of Jesus—that is, they had the same knowledge and understanding. The thing that makes the wise man wise is that he applies that knowledge and understanding to his life, while the foolish man does not.
Today we are blessed with more great content than any time in history. Yet even though we have access to more books, podcasts, blogs, videos, and conferences than ever before, we still struggle with marriage issues, parenting problems, and a lack of good leadership, among other things. Content—lack of knowledge and understanding—is not the problem. The problem is that we are not growing in wisdom by applying it to our lives.
Be Intentional, Be Powerful
So what do we do? Though I don’t do it perfectly, one of the most critical things we must do to be wise is to decide to live life more intentionally. This requires a shift in our thinking, one that Danny describes so well in his book, Keep Your Love On. We must choose to think of ourselves as powerful people.
A powerful person is someone who happens to life instead of letting life happen to them. They know they don’t control other people and only control themselves, so they decide what they will do and what they won’t. They choose what is important to them and prioritize it over less important things, so that, as much as it depends on them, they will accomplish the things they set out to do. For example, they know a great marriage won’t happen by accident, but instead will happen with an intentional pursuit of it. This is otherwise known as loving on purpose!
So I challenge you to become the wise builder and apply the knowledge and understanding you are learning to your life. Be intentional about facing that list of “been-meaning-tos” as a powerful person. If you have read Keep Your Love On, apply the incredible tools in it. Decide what your next steps will be and say yes to seeing them through. Only by applying what you learn will get you from where you are to where you want to be in the most important areas of your life.
P.S. Tickets to the Dallas LOP Summit are still available here, get yours before they’re gone!