Wisdom in the Secret Heart

One of Scripture’s most precious promises is found in James 1:5: God will generously and compassionately grant wisdom to anyone who asks Him for it. Many of us cling to this promise tenaciously when making momentous decisions: whom to marry, where or whether to move, which treatment to choose, or which career to pursue. 

Often, we take this promise to mean that God is going to light up a neon sign to let us know which house we should buy or which job we should take. (Okay, maybe we don’t quite expect that, but it sure would be nice!) But the wisdom that God offers goes beyond the ability to make the “right” choice between two (or more) good options. While these types of decisions do require wisdom and we’re right to seek it from God, the wisdom that God has in store for His children goes even deeper. 

In the midst of his song of repentance, Psalm 51, David makes an interesting statement: 

 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
   and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. (Psalm 51:6 ESV, emphasis added)

David claims that God teaches what He delights in: truth and wisdom that goes to the deepest core of our being. Yet when he said this, David wasn’t faced with a difficult choice. He was in the midst of broken-hearted repentance. 

The tale of David’s sin and subsequent efforts to conceal it provide a lesson in how God teaches us wisdom in our “secret heart.” While our kind Father has unlimited means to instill wisdom in our hearts and He always does it by and because of His grace, perhaps David was inspired to write these words because in hindsight he saw how God had been working all along to teach him wisdom in the face of his sin. Because, ultimately, wisdom is less about what we do and more about who we are.

Wisdom through Consequence

The account of David’s nosedive into sin unfolds in 2 Samuel 11, beginning with his staying home from battle one spring. While his armies were off fighting Israel’s enemy, David took a walk on the roof and saw Bathsheba bathing. He demanded that she come to the palace and spend the night with him. Before long, Bathsheba sent word to the king that their night together resulted in pregnancy. 

Suddenly David’s simple little secret got a lot more complicated. 

With a short message from Bathsheba, God began the work of teaching David wisdom, though at this point the king was not ready to listen. He persisted instead in trying to cover his tracks, an effort that would lead him farther into the web of his sin. 

Bathsheba didn’t have to become pregnant that night. And Uriah didn’t have to be such a loyal soldier that he would refuse to sleep with his wife while at home on leave. But she did and he was. God providentially allowed these consequences to prod David’s hard heart. With each domino that fell, He graciously provided David an opportunity to repent. He was teaching his servant “wisdom in the secret heart.”

He does the same for us. Sometimes the consequences of our sins are pretty light: a speeding ticket, a few extra pounds, a big bill, or extra work. Other times, the consequences are more severe: a broken relationship, a severed marriage, incarceration, or hospitalization. Regardless of the size of the consequence, God wants to teach us wisdom through each one. He providentially allows the cards to fall in order to teach integrity in the deepest core of our hearts. Sometimes it’s a whisper; other times it’s a shout, inviting us to step into the light of His grace and to embrace wisdom in the depth of our souls.

Wisdom through Pain 

We don’t know much about the months between Uriah’s death and the birth of David’s son. However, we get a couple of glimpses into this time in the psalms. Writing about the blessedness of repentance, David says that when he “kept silent,” his “bones wasted away” through his “groaning all day long” (32:3). He claims that the hand of the Lord was “heavy” upon Him. In Psalm 51, he refers to God’s breaking his bones (v. 8). 

Obviously, David is speaking poetically through these images, but he lets us know that hiding his sin was not fun. God would not let him quench the Spirit or sear his conscience so easily. Whatever this suffering looked like, it was all a divine effort to bring David to the light. God intended to teach David wisdom in his innermost self. 

You may look like you have it all together on the outside, yet on the inside be wasting away. Perhaps you know exactly what it feels like to have God’s hand heavy upon you. You don’t have to wonder what David meant by his bones “wasting away” because you’ve lived it. Maybe you’re living it now. 

One reason for pain (among many) is to teach our hearts wisdom. Just as parents sometimes use painful consequences to train their children, so our wise and kind heavenly Father does the same (Prov. 3:10–11; Heb. 12:6–11). God is not content with outward wisdom. He graciously endeavors to teach us wisdom in every nook, cranny, crevice, and corner of our hearts, and sometimes He uses sovereignly ordained pain to accomplish this. 

Wisdom through Confrontation

David ignored the consequences. He gritted his teeth through the pain. Instead of repenting and embracing wisdom, he persisted in his rebellion, convincing himself that he had taken care of the issue. 

Then along came Nathan. 

Presumably David and Nathan had a pretty good relationship. After all, David loved God and His law. Nathan didn’t come to pronounce doom and gloom on David’s kingdom, but to give David the promise of an eternal dynasty (2 Sam. 7). But today was different. Nathan had to do the unthinkable. He had to confront the king, the most powerful man in the nation—the man who had killed a lion, a bear, a giant, and hundreds of soldiers—and tell him that his son would die because of his sin.

You may remember that Nathan approached confrontation through a parable, telling the king a story about a rich man stealing a poor man’s lamb. When David flew into a rage at the injustice, Nathan pointed the finger at his friend, and said, “You are the man. You’re the one who stole the lamb” (2 Sam. 12:7–12). 

Finally, David humbled his heart in genuine repentance. He was done running and living in darkness. He came into the light and owned his sin, embracing the wisdom of God in his most inward parts.

Friend, spouse, pastor, mentor, sister, brother, or even child—God has placed all sorts of people in our lives to help teach His wisdom through “faithful wounds” (Prov. 27:6). Sure, confrontation stings (for both parties), but it’s God’s preferred method for teaching wisdom to stubborn hearts (Matt. 18:15–20; Gal. 6:1; James 5:19–20; Jude 22–23). He often uses those closest to us to call us on the carpet not to shame us, but to be ambassadors for reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18–21) and ministers of wisdom. Do you avail yourself of their message? 

Learning wisdom in the “secret heart” can be both hard and painful. Yet, another verse of David’s psalm of repentance gives hope. He asks God in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (ESV). He’s begging God for both renewal and restoration. He wants to walk in step with his Shepherd once again. 

This language points us forward to the new covenant instituted by the Good Shepherd Himself. With His blood, Jesus purchased for us the new hearts that David desired. No longer do we have cold, stubborn hearts of stone; we’ve now been given hearts of flesh on which God has written His Law and in which His Spirit dwells (Ezek. 11:19–20). We no longer need to fear being cast away from God’s presence. Instead, nothing can separate us from His love, and we get to experience the fullness of joy in His presence forever (Psalm 16:11; Rom. 8:38–39). 

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About the Author

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson lives in a small Minnesota town with her husband, son and daughter, and ridiculous black dog. She enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and coaching basketball. You can read more of her musings about God's Word at biblestudynerd.com.

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