2. How to Gain Wisdom for Our Trials (James 1:5-8)Related Media
But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.
James 1:5-8 (NET)
How can we gain wisdom for our trials?
After commanding suffering Jewish Christians to rejoice and persevere through their trials so God could mature them (Jam 1:2-4), James encourages these believers to ask God for wisdom. Since James was writing to Jewish Christians, they would have had a strong theology of wisdom based on the Old Testament. For Jews, wisdom was not intellectual; it was spiritual. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord.” And Psalm 14:1 says, “Fools say to themselves, ‘There is no God.’ They sin and commit evil deeds; none of them does what is right.” Therefore, to be wise in this context essentially refers to being obedient to God in our trials, and even more, allowing these trials to mature us—making us more into the image of Christ (cf. Jam 1:2-4).
In considering these verses, Warren Wiersbe questioned:
Why do we need wisdom when we are going through trials? Why not ask for strength, or grace, or even deliverance? For this reason: we need wisdom so we will not waste the opportunities God is giving us to mature. Wisdom helps us understand how to use these circumstances for our good and God’s glory.1
He then shares a story about a former secretary and her request during a major trial. She had a stroke; her husband had gone blind and had been taken to the hospital to probably die. When talking with Pastor Wiersbe, she asked for prayer to “have the wisdom to not waste all of this.”2 She clearly knew the meaning of James 1:5.
In considering this, it is good to remember that it’s possible to miss God’s purpose for our trials. It is possible to fail trials—to fall further away from God through them, instead of closer to him. It is possible to become more immature instead of more mature. It’s possible to grow in anxiety instead of peace, to become more bitter instead of forgiving, to increase in sin instead of righteousness. The author of Hebrews said this in the context of considering God’s purpose in our trials: “Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but be healed” (12:12-13). Essentially, the author says it’s possible to go from being hurt to maimed in our trials, instead of being healed and strengthened by them. This is why we need supernatural wisdom. Trials contain both the ability to tremendously bless us and hurt us.
In 1 Corinthians 10:13, God promises this:
No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.
It must be noted that when the verse says God will “provide a way out,” in context, it doesn’t necessarily refer to God removing the trial but enabling us to “endure it.” This is why we need supernatural wisdom: For one, the “way” to endure may be by being transparent with others so he can receive help and prayer. For another, the “way” to endure might be by serving others, even though she feels weak. Proverbs 11:25 (NIV) says that “whoever refreshes others shall be refreshed,” and Matthew 5:7 says that the merciful shall receive mercy. For another, the way to endure might be through deep times of prayer, fasting, and time in God’s Word. For most, it may be a combination of these. God has a specific strategy for each trial, and therefore, we must seek his wisdom while in them.
In realizing this, we must understand that the trials of various kinds we encounter are gigantic opportunities to not only grow in maturity (1:4) but also in supernatural wisdom (1:5). The wisest and most mature people are often those who have gone through some especially hard times which God used for their good. This is God’s purpose for us in our trials as well. And, as we grow in maturity and wisdom, we can then help more people, especially those who encounter similar difficulties as us (cf. 2 Cor 1:3-5). In this study, we will consider how to gain wisdom to grow through our trials and to not waste them.
Big Question: In James 1:5-8, what principles can be discerned about gaining wisdom to grow through our trials?
To Gain Wisdom for Our Trials, We Must Recognize Our Need for It
But if anyone is deficient in wisdom…
This is where many fail in the midst of their trials; they simply don’t recognize their need for wisdom and therefore God. This is often the very reason God allows trials in our lives. He does it to humble us and show us our weakness so that we will draw near him. Before the trial, we may have been content not reading God’s Word, not praying, not going to church, not being obedient, or simply not progressing in our spiritual lives. Then the trial came to wake us up, reveal our deep need for God and his wisdom, and energize us to pursue it. Remember what God said to Israel about their wilderness journey:
Remember the whole way by which he has brought you these forty years through the desert so that he might, by humbling you, test you to see if you have it within you to keep his commandments or not. So he humbled you by making you hungry and then feeding you with unfamiliar manna. He did this to teach you that humankind cannot live by bread alone, but also by everything that comes from the Lord’s mouth.
The long, wilderness journey came to humble the Israelites, to reveal what was in their hearts, to show them that they didn’t just need material things like bread, and to teach them that they needed God and his Words to sustain them. Likewise, God does the same with us.
James could have said, “You all need wisdom for your trials!” but he didn’t. He used tact and said, “If anyone is deficient of wisdom…” He does this to make his readers stop in the midst of their trials and evaluate themselves—to help them become humble and recognize their need for God. We must properly evaluate ourselves as well. “Do we realize how much we need God and his supernatural wisdom for our daily lives and especially in trials?” We can tell by how much we daily seek him or neglect him for lesser things. We can also tell by how we respond to God in our trials. If we’re going to gain divine wisdom to not waste our trials, we must recognize our desperate need for it.
Application Question: Why is it so important to recognize our need for wisdom in the midst of trials and even in our daily lives? How have you experienced God humbling you through trials to reveal your great need for him and how did you respond to that humbling experience?
To Gain Wisdom for Our Trials, We Must Continually Pray for It
But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind.
When James says, “ask God,” it is in the imperative.3 It’s not a suggestion to pray; it is a command for us to pray.
Observation Question: What does James 1:5-6 teach us about how to pray for wisdom?
1. Believers must go to God before going to others.
This is implied by the fact James says, “ask God.” Charles Spurgeon said this when considering James’ command:
We are all so ready to go to books, to go to men, to go to ceremonies, to anything except to God.… Consequently, the text does not say, ‘Let him ask books,’ nor ‘ask priests,’ but, ‘let him ask of God.’4
Maybe this is why James commands us to “ask God” instead of suggesting it. For some of us, we are more prone to rely on our own wisdom or the wisdom of others, rather than God’s wisdom. We are fast to search the Internet, read a book, or pull somebody to the side. Now certainly, God will often give us wisdom through others, but we must go to the source first. Let us ask God and seek him in trials before anyone or anything else. Remember, this is often God’s primary purpose in the trial—to draw us to himself. In James 4:8, the author says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” After seeking God, often he will provide guidance through his Word, others, circumstances, or simply his work in our hearts.
2. As mentioned, believers will often have to pray continually for God’s guidance.
In the Greek, “ask” is not only an imperative but also in the present tense. It could be translated “ask and keep asking.” Often when seeking God for wisdom in our trials, we will need to pray more than once. Before going to the cross, Jesus, who was weary unto death, prayed three times for one hour each. Paul, when dealing with a thorn in the flesh, likewise, prayed three times. Often in wilderness seasons, it is wise to implement fasting, extra prayer, and more disciplined and consistent quiet times. Unfortunately, when trials come, we often get busier, more anxious, then discouraged, which can make us struggle with spiritual motivation. However, those are the times we must seek God the most and will often find his presence and grace more abundant and tangible. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is near the brokenhearted.” To gain wisdom, we must ask and keep asking. Like Solomon said in the Proverbs, we must seek after wisdom more than silver and precious stones for it will bring protection, health to our bodies, and prosperity.
3. Believers must pray in faith, without doubt.
James describes believers who pray but yet doubt God’s character, like the waves of the sea, tossed by the wind. Throughout Scripture, the necessity of faith to receive God’s promises is continually mentioned. In Hebrews 11:6, it says, “Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” God is pleased by faith, and he rewards it. Matthew 21:21 says if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can tell a mountain to move and be tossed into the sea. This seems to be a figure of speech for conquering an impossible situation or trial. Likewise, we must believe God’s promise to give us wisdom for our trial and not doubt that we will receive it.
Now with that said, verses on our need for faith have, at times, been twisted to mean for us to have faith in faith instead of faith in God. For those who teach this, they would say something like if we just believe in what we want or think is right and push all the doubt out of our mind, we can claim anything, including miracles. This is incorrect. First John 5:14-15 says:
And this is the confidence that we have before him: that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, then we know that we have the requests that we have asked from him.
Our faith must be in God’s clearly revealed will—not simply in achieving our desires.
How do we know what God’s will is? We know it according to his Word. In the context of James 1:5, God’s revealed will is that he will give us wisdom for our trials, as long as we trust him. We should have faith in that and not doubt. However, we can’t always have full confidence it is God’s will to remove a specific trial. With Paul, he prayed continually for God to remove his thorn in the flesh, and God said no (2 Cor 12:7-9). Therefore, he chose to rejoice and persevere because God was going to empower him through the trial.
Our faith must always be in God’s clearly revealed will; which means in situations where God’s will has not been revealed, we should pray with our limited knowledge and in faith trust that God knows best and will do what is best. Like Christ, we might pray, “Lord take this away, but nevertheless your will be done.”
Interpretation Question: How can we develop faith so we can experience God’s promises as we pray for them?
- Faith comes from knowing God’s Word.
The more we know Scripture and the promises God has given us, the more faith we will have to receive God’s promises. Romans 10:17 says faith comes by hearing and hearing by God’s Word. Therefore, to not consistently be in God’s Word is to have weak faith and therefore have many unanswered prayers.
In addition, there may be times where God supernaturally gives clarity of his will in situations that are not addressed in his Word. As mentioned, God told Paul it wasn’t his will to remove the thorn in his flesh. In the same way, God may give someone a supernatural word on revival, healing, or deliverance, and they should pray in accordance. With these types of impressions, they must be tested by God’s Word and other mature believers (cf. 1 Cor 14:28). Most times, we won’t ultimately know these impressions are God’s will until God accomplishes them. This was the criteria God gave the Israelites for testing prophecies in Deuteronomy 18:20-22. They asked, “How can we tell if the message is from the Lord?” He, then, essentially said, “If the prophecy doesn’t come true, it’s not from me.” Therefore, we must hold our impressions of God’s will lightly until God confirms. Many don’t do this and become angry at God when what they thought was God’s will didn’t work out. Impressions are fallible; God’s revealed will in Scripture is not.
- Faith comes from knowing God’s character.
In this text, James aims to increase our faith while in trials by telling us more about God’s character. (1) By implication, James shares with us that God is wise. That’s why we can gain wisdom from him. Scripture teaches that he is not just wise but also omniscient—all-knowing. (2) James says that God is generous. He delights to give. He gave us his Son as he died on the cross for our sins. Since he gave us his best, how much more will he not give us everything else we need for life (cf. Rom 8:32)? Certainly, he will give us wisdom so that we can persevere and mature through our trials. (3) In addition, James shares with us that God is gentle in response to our requests for wisdom. Since God has promised to give us wisdom, he will never “reprimand” us for continually asking (Jam 1:5). With humans, it’s very easy to wear out someone’s generosity by staying at their house too long, continually asking for things, etc. But with God, James says that’s impossible. He will not reprimand us for asking for wisdom. He won’t say, “Oh! You again!” or “What did you do with the wisdom I gave you last time?” or “What took you so long to ask?” God won’t do that to us; therefore, James encourages us to boldly seek God for wisdom in our trials. God is wise; he is generous, and he is gentle. He wants to bless us. The more we understand God’s character, the more our faith will increase.
This is the same logic Christ used with his disciples in Luke 11:11-12 when encouraging them to pray. He essentially says, “Don’t human fathers, who have sin natures, give good gifts to their children? Well then, how much more will God give good gifts to his children when they ask—including the ministry of the Holy Spirit?” Christ wanted the disciples to reflect on God’s good character, so they would, in faith, pray to God for good things.
Likewise, James is trying to make sure these suffering saints know that God is good, even though their trials might suggest differently. In James 1:13, he does the same thing when he says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God.’” Later, James says every good and perfect gift comes from God, which in context includes our trials (1:15). James probably continually emphasized God’s good character in the context of trials because, in the midst of trials, we are more tempted to doubt God’s love and care for us. Often when we go through trials, Satan tries to attack our view of God. He says, “God doesn’t love you! God doesn’t want to bless you or care for you! If he did, why would he allow this to happen?” As with Job, Satan’s desire for us is to doubt God and then curse him. We must be aware of this tendency and temptation in our trials. Therefore, James continually emphasized God’s good character to these suffering saints as a protection for them and to help them not only stand in trials but receive God’s best during them, including wisdom.
If we are going to receive wisdom, we must ask God first before others, pray continually, and pray in faith—in accordance with God’s Word and character. Then God promises to give us wisdom—his strategy for our trial—so that we can mature through it.
Application Question: In what ways has God, at times, used trials to help you grow in your prayer life? How has the teaching about “praying in faith” for things been abused by the church? How can we have faith while praying for things that are not clearly revealed in God’s Word?
To Gain Wisdom for Our Trials, We Must Be Fully Committed to God
For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.
When James challenged these believers to not be double-minded, he wasn’t just referring to not doubting (v. 8). It’s not just referring to a person who is up and down with believing God will give him wisdom or not. “Double-minded” can literally be translated “double-souled.” James seems to be pointing to a deeper problem amongst these scattered Jewish Christians. To be double-souled is to be uncommitted to God. It suggests a person that asks God for wisdom but who isn’t sure he will even follow what God says. If he likes what God says, then he will obey. If he doesn’t like what God says, then he will do what he already wanted to do.
Evidence that James is referring to an uncommitted believer is in how he addresses the same people later in the letter. In James 4:4, he describes them as adulterers and worldly. He says, “Adulterers, do you not know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever decides to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy.” Then, in James 4:8, he calls these same believers “double-minded” and for them to “cleanse” themselves and make their “hearts pure.” To be double-minded means to be worldly—wanting to live for God and the pleasures of the world at the same time.
However, James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.” John 15:7 says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you.” Likewise, Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” There is power in the prayers of those who are fully committed to Christ and living by faith. Worldliness and compromise make our prayers ineffective, which was the double-minded believers’ problem. If God blessed them while they were living in sin and pursuing the world, it would only encourage further sin instead of repentance. As James taught, answered prayer is often tied to righteous living (5:16).
If we are going to gain wisdom to grow from our trials, we must be fully committed to the Lord. The prayers of the righteous, who live by faith, are effective. But, double-minded, worldly believers will receive nothing from God (1:7-8)—they will have ineffective prayer lives. Therefore, instead of maturing through their trials, the trials will be wasted and continually repeated until the double-minded repent and devote themselves to the Lord and to living by faith.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced double-mindedness—wanting to live for God and for the pleasures of the world, wanting to know God’s will but not sure if you would follow it if you knew? What are some of the consequences of being double-minded? How can we rid ourselves of double-mindedness so we can gain wisdom to grow in our trials?
Pastor Steve Cole shares about Joni Eareckson Tada in his sermon on this passage. He said,
Joni Eareckson Tada, as most of you know, was paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident when she was 17. She wrote this about her suffering (Joni [Zondervan], p. 154):
God engineered the circumstances. He used them to prove Himself as well as my loyalty. Not everyone had this privilege. I felt there were only a few people God cared for in such a special way that He would trust them with this kind of experience. This understanding left me relaxed and comfortable as I relied on His love, exercising newly learned trust. I saw that my injury was not a tragedy but a gift God was using to help me conform to the image of Christ, something that would mean my ultimate satisfaction, happiness—even joy.
That is God’s wisdom on how to endure a major trial with joy! She did not get that wisdom from the world. She did not make it up herself. It came from God, through His Word. If you need God’s wisdom for how to endure any major or minor trial with joy, ask Him in faith and He will give it.5
How can we gain God’s wisdom to grow through our trials and not waste them?
- To Gain Wisdom for Our Trials, We Must Recognize Our Need for It
- To Gain Wisdom for Our Trials, We Must Continually Pray for It
- To Gain Wisdom for Our Trials, We Must Be Fully Committed to God
- Let’s confess our need for God and his wisdom and ask for forgiveness for not seeking him as we should.
- Pray for God to supply wisdom abundantly and the strategy for this specific season of life.
- Pray for God to give perseverance, joy, and ultimately make us more like Christ.
Copyright © 2021 Gregory Brown
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1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 340). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 340). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (p. 36). Chicago: Moody Press.
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