We are in a short series from James 1 as we look at how James teaches us how to have faith during trials. What does true faith do during times of hardship and suffering? In the first four verses of James 1 we read that we need to let steadfastness have its full effect so that we can be mature and complete, lacking nothing. Let the trial do its work. But James wants to help us through the trial. As we are letting endurance finish its work, there are things we can do so that we can be sustained through the trial. Listen to what James says next in James 1:5-8.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5–8 ESV)
Ask For Wisdom (1:5)
There are a lot of things that we ask for during trials and hardships. We ask for the trial to stop. We ask for the pain to stop. We ask for things to be returned to the way things were. We ask for certain outcomes from the trial. But do we ask for wisdom? I would suppose that sometimes we do not readily think to ask for wisdom during dark and difficult times. This is an important command that is given to us. While we certainly gain wisdom from reading and learning from God’s word, I want us to see that we can pray to God to give us the wisdom we need to navigate our present life obstacles. The command echoes the words of Solomon who was given the opportunity to ask the Lord for anything (cf. 1 Kings 3). Solomon understood the great task before him in leading God’s people and humbly asked for the wisdom to govern the people. We are then told that the Lord was pleased that Solomon asked for this.
It pleases the Lord that we would ask him for wisdom. In fact, the way James words the command sets up the need for humility as we begin this request. Do any of you lack wisdom? Every person should say, “Yes! I need wisdom. I especially need wisdom during trials!” The thing we need for life and especially for life’s hardships is wisdom. We need to know that we need wisdom and we need to ask God for wisdom. Further, we are asking God for wisdom to know how to go forward in our lives. Listen to what the teacher of Ecclesiastes teaches.
Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. Wisdom is as good as an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun. For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to the one who possesses it. Consider the work of God; who can make straight what he has made crooked? (Ecclesiastes 7:10–13 NRSV)
Notice that it is not wisdom to glamorize your past. It is not from wisdom that we just want to go back to the good old days. Wisdom is understanding the need to go forward. Notice how the teacher proclaims this in verse 13. We are told to consider the work of God because no one can straighten what he made crooked. You are not going to fix what God bent. The goal in trials is not to try to go back and straighten but to go forward with God’s wisdom. Ask for wisdom to move forward through the trial. This is a key way that we are letting endurance have its full effect.
We need to ask for wisdom because we need to given direction and clarity. We need wisdom so that we will not throw away this process that God has us in to make us mature and complete. Ask God for wisdom. Now there is one more important consideration that we need to make before we move on from this point. James does not say that if we lack wisdom, that we need to look inside of ourselves for answers. Wisdom does not come from within us. Wisdom, direction, and truth does not come from inside of us. These things come from God alone. The wisdom we need is from God and that is why we need to ask him.
Why Ask God? (1:5)
Then James expresses why we should ask God for wisdom. Not only does God possess all wisdom, but God gives generously and without reproach. These are two wonderful pieces of encouragement. First, God gives to all generously. God overflows with wisdom to those who ask him. He does not dribble out a little wisdom. God does not hold back with the wisdom we need for life. God generously gives to all who ask him. The problem is not with God but with us. We think wisdom is in ourselves. We think we have all the answers. We think we know what we should do. So we do not ask God for wisdom and therefore never receive wisdom from God generously. We are encouraged to turn to God in our trials because God gives wisdom and he gives that wisdom generously.
Second, we are told to ask God for wisdom because he will give it without reproach. God will not reprimand you for asking for wisdom. God delights in our desire from wisdom from him. God will not rebuke your request for wisdom. He will not find fault in you for asking. There is no shame in proclaiming, “I need wisdom!” God hears and responds to that request. God will not condemn you or shame you for your request. Rather, he will give wisdom to you freely and generously.
Ask In Faith (1:6)
But James says that we need to ask God for wisdom in faith, without doubting. Now it is important to be clear about what James is instructing for us. James is not telling us that we can never have our doubts about life or have doubts in our faith. As we look at these two verses what James is telling us to never doubt is God’s character. God’s character is that he possesses wisdom and gives wisdom generously and without reproach. Here is the big idea: God is not against you in trials. God is not trying to destroy you. God will give you the wisdom you need without reproach and give it to you generously.
So what are we doubting? We are doubting that God will help. We are doubting that God will give us wisdom. We are doubting that God cares. We are doubting that God is for us. This is why James illustrates the problem in verse 6. We are described as being tossed by the wind and driven by the waves of the sea when we doubt God’s character. We are pictured as sloshing back and forth, toward God and then away from God. You are constantly switching allegiances. You are constantly switching your points of trust. First, you are trusting God and you ask for help. Then you stop trusting in God and rely on yourself. Then you go back to trusting God and ask for wisdom. Then you doubt his character and stop trusting him.
This is why James describes this as being a double-minded person and unstable in all our ways. It is a picture of having a wavering commitment to the Lord. You do not have him as the anchor to help you through. You waffle back and forth between whether God is trustworthy or not. You are torn between two worlds and two masters. You have split loyalties. To put this another way, what we are doing is hedging our bets. We seek worldly wisdom and godly wisdom. We try to live our lives in two directions: toward God and toward ourselves. We are like putting one foot in one boat and one foot in another boat which only leaves you in the water ultimately. So the issue James is addressing is not the normal doubts that we experience in our faith journey. The problem is doubting the character of God, whether we can trust him, whether he is for us, whether he will help us, and whether he will give us the wisdom we need.
What James is simply asking us to do is truly believe in God. We are being asked to trust him to such a degree that we believe God will respond when we ask him. This is what Jesus said to do in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:7 Jesus simply said, “Ask, and it will be given to you.” When Jesus said this he was illustrating the same point about trusting the character of God. Listen to how Jesus explained this in the following rhetorical questions.
Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9–11 ESV)
Do not doubt God’s character. Do not doubt his promise. Do not doubt that he will give wisdom generously when we ask.
So here is the big point: a wavering commitment to the Lord causes an unstable life. This is what James says in verse 8. This person will be unstable in all his ways. Instability in life does not come from trials. Instability in life comes from not fully trusting in the Lord, but doubting his character. Instability comes because you are being tossed between two opinions: trusting in God and looking for his wisdom and trusting in yourself and looking to your own wisdom. Instability comes when we do not see that God is for us and is producing spiritual maturity in us through the trial.
Let me illustrate this idea in one more way. Our daughter has a specialist at Shands hospital in Gainesville for Prader-Willi syndrome. The doctor has spent her whole life researching and helping children with this syndrome. Let’s say we go to her for her wisdom about a particular problem and she tells us all the things we need to do and all the things we need to change. She tells us about a new medication that has proven results to help. So we go back home and we decide with all our personal wisdom that those directions are just not for us. We decide that we just don’t think it is going to help. Should we expect to receive any results or help from our doctor? Not at all. We did not listen to her. We did not do as she directed. We are waffling back and forth and will not get the results our doctor promised because he did not trust her. And we cannot say that we trusted her but did not follow her directions. Not following her directions means we did not trust her.
This is what God is saying to us in verse 7. We should not expect to receive anything from the Lord because we are not trusting him. We are not trusting his directions. We are not trusting him for the solutions. We are not truly looking to him for wisdom. We say we want his wisdom and want his help, but we are doubting his character and are looking to ourselves instead. Life will therefore be unstable. What God is trying to tell us that is that a lack of wisdom for life is not caused by God, but caused by us. We are the reason why we do not have God’s generous wisdom for trials. We doubt him and cannot receive what he is trying to give us because we are rejecting his wisdom. We have to want what God gives.
Finally, if we are feeling unstable in life, especially during trials, then this tells us something important. It tells us that we are not grounded in God as our life anchor. If a trial wrecks us, then it is showing us that our trust was placed somewhere else besides the good character of God. If a trial obliterates our faith, then it shows that we had our hope somewhere else. But it is not too late. Come to know the character of God. He is worthy of our trust. He is worthy of listening to because he is for you. Ask him for wisdom and he will give it to you generously and without reproach. He will give you the help you need if you will turn to him and listen to him. When confused, turn to God for the wisdom he offers generously.