An old preacher described a part of heaven full of packaged boxes with lovely ribbons across the top and a sign over the door reading, “Never delivered to earth because never requested from earth!” Yes, that’s kind of a silly image, but the famed missionary Jim Elliott said something similar, stating, “God is on His throne, we’re still His footstool, but there’s only a knee’s distance between.”
Friends, there’s a gift God promises to give every time you kneel and ask. This gift impacts the way you think, talk, and act in every situation, and God promises to give it every time you ask for it. Sounds like a pretty special thing doesn’t it? Let’s learn about this special gift…
James 1:5 begins, “But if any of you lacks wisdom…” James straight away tells us the item needed to survive trial with a joyful attitude is called wisdom.
What is wisdom? Biblical wisdom is an attribute of God (Rom 11:33), a possession of Christ (Mt 13:54), a gift to believers (Eph 1:17), a way of living (Col 3:16), and contains both knowledge and action (Col 4:5). In essence, it’s the ability to know right and do right. Later on, James will describe this special gift further, stating that it is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering and without hypocrisy. In his letter to the Colossians Paul gives a powerful overview of how heavenly wisdom impacts life…
“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” [Colossians 1:9-12 NASB]
Make a list of all the outcomes Paul says stem from spiritual wisdom: 1) A life worthy of the Lord, 2) pleasing to the Lord, 3) bearing fruit, 4) possessing power, 5) patient, 6) joyful, and 7) thankful. I can tell you that if Apple or Amazon offered all of that for sale, we’d pay any price to attain it! The point is that wisdom is foundational to surviving trials and growing in the Lord so if you lack it, you MUST get it.
Now, how do you get it?
James 1:5b continues, “let him ask of God…” The clause “let him” appears like a soft request in our English translation but in the Greek it’s much stronger. In the original language, it’s a present imperative, “Be asking!” In essence a sense of spiritual desperation should drive people to beg God for wisdom.
Why should we be desperately asking? James continues, “…ask of God who gives to all generously…” A better rendering could be, “ask of God the giver” who gives simply, purely, in an open-handed way, not with clenched fists. James is saying that when it comes to wisdom, God simply doesn’t hold back!
James continues, stating that God not only gives, but does so, “without reproach…” This means that God isn’t going to question or judge the person who asks for wisdom and help. In 2016, we might phrase it this way, “God the giver, who never blinks” or, “God the giver, who never rolls His eyes.”
I think most of us have a hard time accepting the reality God doesn’t question because we tend to give things to others with subtle questions in the back of our mind. We might give something while contemplating, “Is this really the best use?” or, “What did he do with it last time?” But, according to James, God doesn’t recall, embarrass, insult, or scold!
James concludes, “and it will be given to him.” This is the Greek future indicative – done! – God is on record that when it comes to wisdom He will favorably respond every time. Isn’t that great? You and I fail a thousand times but fall to our knees asking wisdom for the current trial and God says, “You bet!” Jesus taught something similar in Matthew 7:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! [Matthew 7:7-10 NASB]
Notice Jesus says God gives “what is good” not God gives “what you want.” There are far too many modern teachers who miss this, telling people that God will give them anything they ask for. God only gives what we ask for when it’s the right thing, in accordance with His glory, and our joy. And, that’s why God always gives wisdom, because God knows it’s always in your best interest!
It’s sad how often people ask God for things that won’t help them. It’s like a child walking with dad at the OC Fair. Dad’s pockets are chock full of tickets to go on rides and have a blast. But, time and again, the child tugs on dad’s shirtsleeve and says, “Dad, may I have a gun? Some heroin?” Of course his father won’t give him that!
Your heavenly Father’s pockets are full of blessed wisdom – insight to nail the job interview, purity to love your wife, scriptures to avoid depression, strength to avoid tempting circumstances when single – that’s what God promises to always give, not the selfish stuff, that will only kill.
James then continues describing how one needs to ask of God. “But he must ask in faith without any doubting…” The term “ask in faith” is the positive response meaning complete or entire trust. “Without doubting” is the double negative meaning a split mind, oscillation between two competing desires, internal moral conflict. In essence, the prayer for wisdom must be prayed in entire confidence without listening to second guesses and internal lies such as, “God doesn’t notice, God doesn’t care, and I’m not worthy.”
James 1:6b then describes why faithful asking is so important to God, “for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” That is a powerful metaphor! Feelings are like waves, they come in sets, and you gotta choose which ones to surf! A person who mentally trusts God one moment and doubts the next is like the “surf” blown all over the place – an emotional cycle, ridge after ridge, swept along by wind, blown with culture, changing daily, crashing, and then retreating!
“For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord.” With imperative force, James says, “Don’t even think about it!” Literally, God has no patience for the person who falls to their knees begging wisdom but doesn’t rise in faith expecting results! Wisdom has been promised to God’s child who asks for it but is outright refused to the person who asks and then doubts.
Why does God refuse to answer the faithless and doubting person?
- The Faithless Are Double Minded (v. 8a)
James invents a new Greek word here dipsychos which says it all… two-souled, split minded, what Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress called “Mister Face Both Ways.” A more modern description could be the little Lego Men from the movie that had two faces, the front smiling, and the back scowling.
The Old Testament book of 1 Samuel tells the story of King Saul who was one of these two-faced kind of guys. Saul came from a well-to-do family and was tall, dark and handsome (1 Samuel 9:2). He was anointed the first king over Israel (1 Samuel 10:1). And, Saul went on to lead the nation through several military victories but disregarded a direct order from God, and the wheels fell off (1 Samuel 15). Saul was allowed to serve out the rest of his life as king, but he was plagued by an evil spirit that brought waves of madness, and his final years were tragic as he endured manic depression, visited sorcerers, and committed suicide. That’s the story of a double-minded man! James then goes on to describe the life of a double minded man…
- The Faithless Are Unstable in Every Way (v. 8b)
James says that a person’s private spiritual life ALWAYS bleeds right over into everything else. Show me how a man prays, I’ll show you how he lives! A person who lacks heavenly wisdom will inevitably have a life of earthly up’s and down’s – happy then sad, content then frustrated, stoic then emotive; consistently trading jobs, moving churches, leaving friends, caught in new trends, and confusing their family. This is a horrible way to live and the exact opposite of biblical wisdom.
If you are enduring a time of trial and are tempted towards instability, then listen to what God has promised… Kneel and beg Him for heavenly wisdom, to know right and do right, and then stand in faith, trusting that God the giver will do as He has promised!