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Ask God for Wisdom | James 1:5-8

Last week we started a brand new series in the book of James, and if you missed the first week, Kenny Cason actually got the whole thing on video, and you can find that on our website. Or you can listen to the audio or even read it online as well. But the text we looked at last week was one of the most central texts on trials and suffering in the whole Bible. James, speaking to these Jewish Christians outside of Palestine, was especially concerned for them because of all the trials and conflicts they were facing. They were already outside of their homeland, and now they were Christians, which meant they were disliked and even hated by those around them. In today’s text, he addresses them once again, having already told them to respond to these trials with joy and endurance, but now he’s addressing what to do to know HOW to live out this joy and endurance.

You may have been challenged last week, like I was, by James’ words. This was last week’s text; I’ll just read it because it was so good: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Those are some pretty challenging words. They’re also difficult to really implement, because it seems impossible to try and see things the way God sees them, and not just see everything from our worldly point of view, especially when it comes to pain and trials. The inevitable next question we have, thinking about those words, is, “How can I find wisdom?” “How can I understand and see things as God sees them, even things like trials and pain and testing?” That’s the question James addresses in today’s text. And so, read with me in James 1:5-8. That’s page 116 in the blue New Testaments under the seat in front of you. 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.”

Such a great text, yet again. I don’t think there’s a single verse in the book of James that isn’t particularly insightful and practical for us. But from these verses, I want to organize them into 3 Grand Truths for Gaining Wisdom.

 

3 Grand Truths for Gaining Wisdom

  1. Our God is a giving God (v. 5).

In verse 5, James is telling us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, ask God, and it will be given him.” But linked with that instruction, is a description about God. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach.” Those seven words are just jam-packed with description about our God.

This phrase, “let him ask God, who gives generously,” the most literal rendering of that is, “let him ask from the giving God.” Just think about that. Aren’t you thankful that our God is a giving God? I am thankful that he gives, in particular, wisdom generously to all without reproach! How often do we, as humans, lack wisdom at times?! Or need wisdom? For me it’s pretty often! Especially when things aren’t going well! James’ words here are very clearly linked to his previous words on trials, and we see that with the use of the word “lacking” and “lacks” at the end of verse 4, and then the beginning of verse 5. This is the only chapter of James that it seems like things are very connected. As I mentioned last week, the rest of the book is really a collection of wisdom sayings, that often aren’t really meant to be connected to each other as far as context.

But thinking about this connection between wisdom and trials, is it not often true that our greatest need for wisdom comes when we’re going through trials or testing of some kind? When we’re facing temptation? When we’re facing simply the pain that comes with this life, that we all experience, like illness or family or social issues? It’s a crucial thing, especially during these times, to know that our God is a giving God, and that also, according to verse 17 which we’ll get to in two weeks, we also know this: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Our God is a giving God, he will always be a giving God, and he gives to ALL generously without reproach.

That means that he doesn’t hold back in his giving nature because he might have something against you. He’s not going to mock us when we ask for wisdom, “Oh really, you can’t figure that out on your own? Not so smart after all, now are we?” That’s not our God. There’s no need to be ashamed when we come to him and ask. Even though we are literally like ignorant, clueless children coming to their Father, he will not treat us like we’re stupid, and then, sure, give it to us, because, gosh, we’re just little helpless children.

I know sometimes in the church we might feel embarrassed to ask questions, because maybe we don’t know as much about the Bible or about Jesus as others in the room. We’re afraid of what people will think, or maybe even afraid of being mocked. First of all, I doubt that will ever happen here, or at least it better not, and secondly: the only one who’s opinion really matters, he will never mock you, he will never think badly of you for asking. And He will give generously without reproach because he’s a giving God.

In fact, quite the opposite, I would say it brings God great pleasure to give wisdom when you ask for it. Why is that? Why does it bring God pleasure? Well, the answer to that comes with the meaning of wisdom.

 

What is wisdom?

Wisdom is different from knowledge. You may have heard this distinction before, and I think it’s very representative of the actual meaning in the Greek. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge or intellect. Wisdom adds to knowledge the practical side of things, the element of living out what you believe. They’re very inter-related. Knowledge is not just a head thing; Godly knowledge is also a heart thing. But wisdom is knowing how to live out that knowledge. J. I. Packer puts it this way in his book, “Knowing God,” which is a book I would encourage every Christian on earth to read. Again, “Knowing God,” by J.I. Packer. This is what he says: “Wisdom is the power to see and the inclination to choose the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it.” In other words, not just the knowledge and ability to see truth and see what is right, but then the means of living it out, actually being able to know how to live according to that.

In fact, we see this laid out for us near the end of James chapter 3, verse 13: “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” And then it goes on in the following verses explaining even more how wisdom is shown in righteous living. So back to the question that I asked—Why does it bring God pleasure to give us wisdom when we ask for it? Because what we’re ultimately asking for is God’s perspective on life, and the ability to live within THAT perspective! That’s what we’re asking for! To see things as he sees them, and to know how to live in a way that is His will, in a way that pleases Him! How could that not bring God great pleasure!?

Imagine your son or daughter coming to you asking and learning how to see life from your perspective, asking and learning how to live life from you! How much peculiar joy would that bring you? I call it peculiar, because it seems like it be an uncommon thing. That your son or daughter wants to learn from you, and is maturing enough to even ask to learn from you. That would bring us joy, and it brings God joy also when we do that with him.

We see examples of this throughout the Bible, but perhaps the best example is that of Solomon. In 1st Kings chapter 3, King David had died, and Solomon had just become King, and God asks him, “What do you want, and I will give it you.” An unbelievable question, yes? Just think for a moment about God coming to you asking you, “Whatever you want, ask for it, and I’ll give it to you. Starting 1 Kings chapter 3 verse 9, this was Solomon’s response and then also God’s response back:

“Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.”

Our God is a giving God, and James says very clearly: Ask God for wisdom, and he will give it, because it pleases him to do so. Now, as we continue, I want to mention the distinction between verse 5, that we just looked at, and verses 6-8. Verse 5 shows us that God is a giving God, who sincerely desires for us to mature, and have the wisdom to mature. Going back again to last week’s passage, how trials bring us steadfastness and consistency, which in turn will bring out more and more maturity. What do we need on that journey? Wisdom, and God will give it to us without holding back. That’s verse 5 and the last week’s verses. Now the verses we’re going to look at now, verses 6-8, they bring up the question of our sincerity. Verse 5 reveals God’s sincerity, verses 6-8 bring up the question of our sincerity, which brings us to the 2nd Grand Truth for Gaining Wisdom:

 

  1. If we sincerely ask for wisdom, He will give it to us (v. 6).

Verse 6, again: “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.” Now, this is one of those verses that is often misunderstood, because many don’t understand the meaning of faith and of doubting in the Bible.

Faith here is not merely some intellectual assent, like “Oh, I acknowledge this is true.” Nor is this talking about a faith in something you want to happen: “If you believe it strong enough, it will happen.” “If you have enough faith, it will happen.” And inextricably linked with that: “If it doesn’t happen, you didn’t have enough faith.” We’ve talked about this before, that faith has nothing to do with you speaking things into existence (because only God can do that), nor does faith have anything to do with naming it and claiming it. The object of biblical faith, what we place our faith in, is not something we want to happen, but instead God Himself, and whatever He wishes to happen. Biblical faith is a belief in and a submission to God and His will. It’s a confidence in God’s nature and identity rather than a confidence in what we think maybe he should do.

Similarly, “doubt” is not just an intellectual doubt, like “Oh, I believe this is going to happen, oh, but what if it doesn’t? Oh no, I doubted. I ruined it.” That’s not what this is. Doubt in this context is not just a moment where you wonder whether or not God will do something. That is such a common misunderstanding. It goes way deeper than that. You can see that in the context here. This kind of doubt is a deep-seated lack of trust in God. “For the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” Meaning they’re always in motion and never really set in one direction, and as quickly as the wind changes direction, they change as well. As we’ll see in verses 7-8, James goes as far as to say that this man is double-minded.

The real question here is not necessarily whether or not you believed it enough that you would receive it, it’s really more a question of whether or not you really wanted it in the first place. Do you truly trust in God and his will, no matter what it may be, or do you have a split allegiance? This is how one of my favorite writers puts it: “Faith is our absolute confidence that he will give what we ask; doubting is our own inner uncertainty about whether we really want him to give or not.”

The question for us in whether or not we doubt, is simply a question of sincerity. Do we really want to move forward with God? Do we whole-heartedly want to see things the way he sees things, which is what we’re asking for when we’re asking for wisdom! Are we truly willing to submit our ambitions to God’s ambitions? Or are we split in what we want? Do we want to keep a door open for something else? God sincerely desires these things; the question is, do we? In Proverbs 2, the writer gives us an awesome picture of the goal here, vv. 1-6:

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Part of sincerely asking God for wisdom is actually seeking it out! Don’t take this command, “If you need wisdom, just ask for it” as some sort of magic word formula. You say the words, it’s magic, it will happen. Not just asking, and then waiting for a message in a bottle or a billboard or some magical moment where He audibly speaks to you. Part of asking for wisdom first, actually desiring wisdom truly, but then also asking for God to open up our eyes to the vessels of wisdom around us that God has placed here! You could ask God for wisdom for months and months and months, and all the while God may have placed in your life an older man or woman who you could ask about your situation!

This is part of the reason why we’re aiming toward intergenerational fellowship as a church. Besides children and youth, we want most of our adults groups to have a 30-40-50-60 year age range of actual people. It’s like the forgotten gem of real biblical fellowship, is interacting and learning from people completely different from you, and especially of a completely different age or generation. I mean, I think this would go a long way toward mending the generational gap that is so obvious in this country right now. But, for the church, the real problem is not organizational. Even though we have small groups with all ages, which is great, the real problem is not organizational, like we need a better structure or more hip loud music to bring young people or more traditional music to bring more older people. The problem is personal.

We don’t like the thought of going to someone and asking for their wisdom, or maybe it’s not that we don’t like it, it’s just that we don’t ever even think about it! We don’t realize how much we can learn from the other people in this room, who are also on this journey toward Christ-likeness, toward maturity! Please hear me: there is mountains of wisdom that God has given us in this church, and it’s not always younger vs. older by any means (you can be a Christian for 60 years and never grow in your faith), but it’s here. Seek it out! Seek help and wisdom from those that clearly love God and love his Word and have been growing in His Word for some time. Don’t miss out on the wisdom in this room.

If we sincerely ask for wisdom, and we desire it, and we’re not split in whether or not we really want to see things God’s way, but instead are whole-heartedly committed to Him and we trust him with our lives, and if we’re seeking it like silver and treasure, he will give us wisdom. This is a promise. Even though this is wisdom literature and oftentimes we mistake promises for principles, like in the book of Proverbs, we forget that those are sayings of general truth. Like, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Some of you did that, and they grew up, and they depart from that way that you taught them. You may even wonder, is that verse a lie? No, because that’s not a promise. That’s a principle, a saying of general truth. That’s what a proverb is.

But unlike most wisdom literature like Proverbs, the context here makes pretty clear: this is a promise. And I don’t know about you, but I want to benefit from this promise from God. Anybody need some wisdom? If you don’t think you need wisdom, then that means you need it even more than the rest of us. We need wisdom desparately, and NOT the so-called “wisdom” of the world that just contradicts itself all the time anyway. We all need wisdom from God Himself. Just honestly, thinking about me: I’m a young whipper snapper trying to pastor and shepherd a church. I need wisdom from God, from his Word, from His Spirit in me, from YOU! From the elders. We all need wisdom, and when we sincerely ask for it, he will give it to us. James continues here his explanation of an insincere request for wisdom, and he gets rather blunt here. The 3rd Grand Truth for Gaining Wisdom:

 

  1. The prayer of a twosouled man lacks power (vv. 7-8).

Verses 7-8: Speaking of this man that is split between really wanting wisdom, and to see things God’s way, and still seeing life and living it in his own way, this is what James says: “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.” The most literal translation of this word, double-minded, is “two-souled,” or “having a divided soul.” This is more than simply being two-faced, or going back and forth. It means literally facing two different ways, having two different supposed allegiances! That cannot happen! Jesus himself makes this point in Matthew 6:24- “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

Even earlier in Matthew 6, we see Jesus make a similar point: In verses 14-15, he says “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” The point he’s making is not that there’s these levels of forgiveness, and only to the level that you forgive others God will forgive you, and it constantly goes up and down. He’s instead focusing on the sincerity of our desire for forgiveness. How can we sincerely ask God to forgive us if we’re really not all that concerned about forgiveness? Not even enough to forgive others?

This is what James is getting at with asking for wisdom. This two-souled man, with two totally different directions and desires: he shouldn’t suppose that he receive wisdom from God, even in asking, because apparently he doesn’t really want it! How can we sincerely ask God to give us wisdom if we’re really not all that concerned about wisdom? Being a double-minded person affects the power of our prayers because being a double-minded person means we’re not really praying with sincerity. Without a doubt, insincerity undermines any request we have in prayer, because if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re not even truly asking God. We might be moving our lips, but we’re not asking him with our hearts.

When I get asked, “Ryan, how do I know whether God wants me to take this job or that job?” Or back when I was a Student Pastor: “How do I know which college God wants me to go to?” No matter what the decision is that they’re trying to make, I always respond with a question: “Hey, have you been getting into God’s Word?” That question may seem unrelated at first: “Ryan, the Bible doesn’t say which college I’m supposed to attend, or what job I’m supposed to take.” That is true. But the reason I ask that question is because it might just reveal whether or not someone really wants God’s wisdom.

I remember asking the same questions when I was younger, and I still sometimes ask these questions, but oftentimes the only reason we’re asking is because we want to feel better about the decisions we’re making, not because we’re actually interested in wisdom from God. I just want you to think about this: Hear from Solomon himself in what we already read from Proverbs 2: if you really want wisdom, you’ll seek like silver and hidden treasures, not just in the things that suddenly we deem worthy of needing wisdom like big decisions, but in ALL THINGS! God has given us the greatest tool for wisdom right here in hard copy. He’s also given us literally milleniums of wisdom in this very room. Ask God for it, and then go for it, in all things. Christ has given us his righteousness as he took upon himself our sin and rebellion. We must seek to live whole-heartedly according to that righteousness!

The man that James is speaking of, the man who doubts God’s character and identity, the man who is two-souled, double-minded, it’s a man caught between the pleasures of the world and truly following after Christ. I think the blaring example of someone like this is the nominal Christian. We live in an age, at least in the States, where there are so many who attend church occasionally or even regularly, but who don’t really let God interfere with their goals in life, or the way they live their lives. I was in this place for a number of years, many of us have been in that place, some of you maybe still are, right now. I want to be clear with what James is saying: It’s not that God doesn’t hear your prayers, but it’s likely the case that you don’t really want God’s answers. In a very real sense, you may be praying with your lips, but not your heart.

This kind of double-mindedness, it doesn’t just affect our prayer life. It affects our entire lives! It says it right there, the last five words of verse 8: “unstable in all his ways.” It affects everything, not just prayer, not even just our faith! When a heart is split between two ultimate allegiances, two gods, it is inevitable that that affect every aspect of life.

 

Conclusion

On the other hand, a one-hearted man rests in the hands of the Father. He trusts in God and his mercy, and trusts him in such a way that he lives in the way he wants him to live, trusts him in such a way that he truly wants wisdom, he wants to see things the way God sees them, and not just the way that we’ve painted reality. The one-hearted man is stable in his ways, not because he has created in himself a consistent person, but because of the consistency of the one in whom he puts his trust, who is an unflinchingly giving God. When the one-hearted man asks for wisdom, he means it, he’s seeking it like silver and hidden treasures. And when that man asks God for wisdom, God will give it generously and without reproach. Why? Because he is truly ONE with God. His faith rests in God, and he doesn’t doubt that God is God.

As Christians, we are right with God. We’re right with him because Christ came, lived the life we couldn’t live, a life of purity and holiness. He went to the Cross, though he deserved no death whatsoever, he went to the Cross, died taking our place and bearing our sin upon Himself, and then rising again three days later defeating death completely and finally. This right-ness with God, this righteousness that we’ve received from Jesus, it means we’re secure. If you’ve turned from sin and placed your faith in Christ, there is no one that can snatch you out of the Father’s hands, according to Jesus Himself in John 10:29.

But, we are now on a journey toward one-ness with God. In this life, though we’ve been redeemed fully by Christ, we still live in earthly bodies and struggle with sin and half-heartedness. What we’re aiming for, as we continue to live for Christ, is complete affectionate loyalty to God. We’re aiming for this joyful duty of worshipping God with one mind and one heart, not being split, or two-souled, double-minded, which results in being unstable. We’re aiming for stability and consistency that reflects the stability and consistency of our God. To get there, please hear me: we need wisdom. Let’s ask for it, and let’s seek it like silver and hidden treasure.