In Proverbs 24:3-4 Solomon writes, “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.” I believe this is a road map to “get wisdom“. In order to walk in wisdom, we must first acquire knowledge and then deepen that knowledge with understanding.

Sometimes we use the terms ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ interchangeably when they are really two different levels of comprehension. Knowledge comes first, but understanding is deeper than knowledge.

  • Knowledge is about breadth of information. Understanding is about depth of insight.
  • Knowledge is about exploring facts and truths. Understanding is about exploring principles and reasons.
  • Knowledge is learning about what other people believe. Understanding is about coming to know what you believe.
  • Knowledge explores “what” is true. Understanding explores “why” it is true.
  • Understanding unearths the deeper meaning in knowledge.

5 Ways to Develop Understanding

1. Reflection

Proverbs 2:2 — …turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding

Reflection is patient, sustained consideration of knowledge. Reflection requires you  to slow down your mind and focus your attention on a specific idea. It is a discipline, a mental muscle that must be exercised in order to grow. To reflect, you must stay patiently with a thought and let it deepen inside you.

Reflection answers these questions:

  • Why is this true?
  • How does it work?
  • What is under the surface?

You cannot practice reflection in a hurry: it cannot be rushed. You cannot practice reflection while distracted: it is a singular task. But the investment of time and intention pays off with insight.

  • You come to understand why things are the way they are.
  • You come to understand how things work.
  • You come to see hidden patterns, trends and connections in life.

2. Introspection

Proverbs 20:5 — The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.

Introspection is a diligent examination of your own self. Introspection reminds us that we are often a mystery to ourselves. Our inner world is, in part, unknown to us and very often misunderstood without effort, time and patience. We have to embark on exploration of our very selves. We have to, as Theophan the Recluse says, “descend with the mind into the heart” to discover what’s happening under the surface.

Introspection answers these questions:

  • What do I believe and why do I believe it?
  • What do I feel and why do I feel it?
  • What do I do and why do I do it?

Introspection finds both the root cause and connections between your beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.You must be informed on existing beliefs and ideas (knowledge) without letting them drown out your own ideas. Practicing introspection gives you the uncommon capacity of original thought. 

3. Retrospection

Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 — I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

Retrospection is the sifting of your past, your experiences and your history for the sake of understanding. Age doesn’t automatically translate to understanding: you must examine, study, and dig into your life in order to learn from it.

Retrospection answers these questions:

  • What has experience taught me?
  • What keeps happening?
  • What sounds good on paper but doesn’t work in reality?

Practicing retrospection gives you the ability to draw lessons from your history. Experience is a mediocre teacher — evaluated experience is a great teacher.

4. Meditation

Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Meditation gives extended attention to God’s perspective, activity or Word. Unlike other forms of meditation, the goal of Christian meditation in not to empty your mind, but rather to focus on God and God’s work in the world. 

Meditation answers the questions:

  • What is God like?
  • What does the Bible say?
  • How does God exemplify this quality?

Meditation requires a commitment to scripture as the primary means for knowing God.  Meditation gives you a greater understanding of God, and therefore a greater understanding of all things. 

5. Imagination

Imagination is the creative pathway to understanding. Because imagination is limitless, you can suspend normal thought processes and create new connections.

Imagination answers the questions:

  • What else is like this?
  • How could it be better?
  • What should be and isn’t?

It’s easy to dismiss imagination as a fruitless mental exercise, but:

  • Imagination allows you to join two things that critical thinking has separated.
  • Imagination allows you to create in your mind a reality that doesn’t exist.
  • Imagination allow you to see potential where others see only problems.