Recognizing Your Deficiency of Wisdom

Scriptures: James 1:5
by Jacob Abshire on May 18, 2023

One afternoon I received a phone call from my mother. She was both excited and deterred. In front of her was a new Hewlett-Packard touchscreen. At the time, it was something from the future, loaded with apps and buttons and fancy sounds—everything you might need in a personal computer, and then some. She called it the Cadillac of computers. “Jacob, it’s on, now what do I do?”

Respectively, this is how many of us act in the Christian life. Receiving Christ is like setting up a supercomputer packed with all the glorious bells and whistles of divine grace. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (Eph. 1:3). We’ve got it all. Now, what do we do with it?

In Christ, we have everything that Christ has. All the resources we need to live a righteous life (2 Pet. 1:3) are at our disposal when His Spirit enters our body (Eph. 1:13). However, we haven’t the wits to click on the spiritual application. God has outfitted us with a Bugatti Chiron, but we’ve trained with the Peel P50. We don’t just need a new driver’s manual. We need a new paradigm.

When we are converted from life to death, we are completely furnished with the resources to live the life of Christ. However, a transformation has to occur for us to lay hold of it. It is a transformation of the mind (Rom. 12:2). Just as my mother needed the knowledge to operate her new computer, we require the wisdom to operate our new life. 

James understood this. He wanted his audience to access all the new programs available and to have all their processes and microchips firing at the greatest capacity. He wanted maturity in the faith. And he recognized that trials are God’s pathways to produce it. “It’s on, now what do I do?” James says, “You ask for wisdom.” Wisdom is the keystroke that activates spiritual applications.

Wisdom is the keystroke that activates spiritual applications.

“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

In the epistle of James, we learn that trials are God’s tools meant to establish the quality of our faith to improve the maturity of our faith. God never fails in accomplishing the work behind the trial. Therefore, every trial is unique. It may feel like you’re repeating a trial, but God is merely upgrading your faith one microchip at a time. So, all trials can be received with joy (Ja. 1:2).

These truths invite a couple of conclusions. First, the existence of a trial implies that you require some improvement. My father-in-law has repeatedly said, “The good Lord ain’t done with me yet!” This is so true it deserves a wall decal in the living room. The fact that we are still enduring the troubles of this world indicates that we still require some spiritual upgrades. Until we meet God in heaven, the good Lord ain’t done with us yet.

A second conclusion unfolds from the first. If you need some improvement, you must be lacking in some way. James urges us to let trials run their course so “that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Ja. 1:4). In other words, if you are being tried, you must be imperfect, incomplete, and lacking in something. Now, to put it all together: The evidence of a trial is an indication of a need.

Recognizing Your Poverty

In a story found in John’s gospel, Jesus calls some condemning Jews to confront their sin in a rather skillful way. A group of Scribes and Pharisees shamelessly interrupt Jesus while He is teaching in the temple. “Teacher,” they said after throwing a woman in their midst, “this woman has been caught in the act of adultery” (Jn. 8:4). They were trying to pigeonhole Him (Jn. 8:6). “Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women,” they spitefully intended, “so what do you say?” (Jn. 8:5).

It didn’t work. Jesus, possibly saddened by their shameless disruption, “bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground” (Jn. 8:7). The Jewish leaders continued antagonizing, probably becoming more infuriated with His apparent disregard for their question. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her,” He finally responded (Jn. 8:7). The contempt was so thick, you could taste it.

Jesus didn’t reject the Law. He didn’t prohibit the punishment. He had no intention of sweeping this under the rug. However, He shifted their attention to the bigger issue. It was not the woman’s sin that was brazen, but theirs. At this very moment, they were testing the Law Giver with the Law that He gave. Holding stones in their hand, they were ready to condemn a woman for adultery while actively participating in adultery that very moment. She was guilty of sinning against her husband. They were guilty of sinning against God.

With great forbearance, Jesus turned the tables to help them see their greater sin. “Guys, do you not see what’s happening here? Do you not recognize that you, at this very moment, are adulterers against God?” He knew that no one, besides Himself, was without sin. And, He wanted them to see it.

This is how to understand the meaning behind James’ words: “If any of you lacks wisdom” (Ja. 1:5). It’s a rhetorical condition. It could be read, “when you recognize you lack wisdom,” because we all belong to the “any,” otherwise we wouldn’t be tested. The evidence of your trial is an indication of your need. The first step in being triumphant in trials, then, is to recognize your lack and put the stones down. You don’t have the jump on wisdom.

Prompting Your Humility

Could James have been more direct? Maybe so. But have you ever noticed the difference between self-discovery and external observation? When we discover our shortcomings, we are more motivated to improve than when someone points them out. 

Outside observations are generally more challenging to accept because we haven’t navigated the steps that led to our sin. Moverover, we are natural self-preservers. We keep our guard up even with our friends. When God sought Adam in the garden, Adam hid behind the trees (Gen. 3:8). When God found Adam in the garden, Adam hid behind an excuse (Gen. 3:10). When God confronted Adam in the garden, Adam hid behind his wife (Gen. 3:12). This is man’s self-preservation at work. It is our natural response to observations of sin.

There is nothing to hide behind when we discover sin in ourselves. We have no weapon to defend ourselves from our conscience. It presses in upon us and convicts us at our deepest parts. Is James doing us a disservice by insinuating that we may not have any lack? No, he is being helpful. Recognizing your need motivates you in a powerful way to attain that which you lack. It introduces hunger. It stirs up conviction. And this is the substance of humility.

Failing to recognize your need for wisdom will guarantee a trial’s persistence.

Humility is the primary disposition between one who recognizes his need and doesn’t. Without it, we remain proud and self-confident. We need nothing from God, so we don’t turn to Him. I hear the Lord saying, “Let him who is without the need of wisdom complain about his needless trial.” Failing to recognize your need for wisdom will guarantee a trial’s persistence. The sure way out of a test is through humility. That’s right, God ain’t done with you yet.

Finding Your Solution

We lack all kinds of things. Don’t we? In financial trouble, it is easy for us to recognize our lack of money. In times of emotional trouble, it is easy for us to recognize our lack of friends. However, in spiritual trials, spiritual wisdom is what we lack. James is specific. He doesn’t say we lack strength, intelligence, money, gusto, primo, or enthusiasm, but a lack of spiritual “wisdom” (Ja. 3:5). 

Wisdom is the link that ties all other resources we have in Christ together. Wisdom brings the functions of grace to life. It unlocks the gifts of God to ignite the engine of perseverance and godly works. If you want to activate the spiritual resources you have in Christ, you need heavenly wisdom.

Robert Johnston, the author of an exegetical work on James, defined wisdom as “the queenly regulative discretion which sees and selects worthy ends, and the best means of attaining them.” By this, he simply means that putting on wisdom is like putting on spiritual glasses that allow you to see things the way God sees them while also recognizing how to get His help.

Ancient Jews understood wisdom to be related to the practice of righteousness. For example, when Solomon was enthroned as King, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask what I shall give you” (1 Kin. 3:5). What do you suppose the new king asked? A better, maybe longer life? Deeper pockets? Early retirement? New iPhone? These are the kind of things we ask God for, isn’t it?

Solomon asked for one thing—wisdom. Solomon recognized that wisdom is the key that unlocks righteous living according to God’s will. To have godly wisdom is to have it all. Here is his response:

And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore 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?” (1 Kin. 3:6-9)

He didn’t patronize God to get what he wanted. The Lord saw his heart and knew he did not secretly want “possessions, wealth, honor” or “long life” (2 Chron. 3:11). The king wanted to have “an understanding mind” to steward God’s resources the way God desires. He knew that if he could live by God’s will, he would succeed in all things. Even as the great king, Solomon recognized his lack.

Seeing the way God sees unleashes an unlimited scope of benefits for you. Two of which are immediately apparent in James. First, wisdom will help you see the pathway to enduring trials. As Paul reminds us, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). Wisdom is like a lamp that lights the path of righteousness when trials have darkened the way.

Second, wisdom will help you see what God is accomplishing in you through the trial. Remember that a trial indicates that God is performing spiritual surgery to make you more mature in your faith. The psalmist, when he saw that the wicked were succeeding and the righteous were failing, wrote this: 

“When I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.”

Psalm 73:16

James’ use of a rhetorical question is meant to provoke self-examination because the first thing we should do when facing a trial is to recognize that we have a lack of wisdom. Until you acknowledge this, you will not grow in faith. Wisdom is given to those who need wisdom, not to those who believe they have it already.

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