Understanding the Means of Wisdom

Scriptures: James 1:5
by Jacob Abshire on May 21, 2023

My friends know that I appreciate a lifted, heavy-duty Jeep. But, there are times when it is less than desirable—long-distance road trips, for instance. Jeeps are gas hogs, loud and bumpy. Certainly not enjoyable for long hours on the highway. However, I can make due. What stumps me every time is when I need to drive some lumber home from the local depot. I have to call for help.

One night, my friend handed me the keys to his supercharged Dodge Ram. It was more than enough to do the job. I hopped inside and inserted the key, but it wouldn’t turn. It was stuck. I searched for a button that might unfix the key and found nothing. I tilted and turned the steering wheel to dislodge it, but nothing. I was ready to load some lumber, but I couldn’t get the engine to turn. Dumbfounded, I banged on his door and interrupted his dinner, “Is there a trick to turn the ignition?” He smiled, “Yea, use the other key.”

It’s easy for us to be like that when it comes to the spiritual resources of Christ. Although we have a supercharged life (Jn. 10:10), we often insert the wrong key. It doesn’t turn the engines. It doesn’t activate the graces. And James wants us to run on all spiritual cylinders. So he tells us that the key that turns the engine of wisdom is prayer.

“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

Prayer was an important subject to James. He begins and ends his letter with it (Ja. 1:5; 5:12-18). One person told me that prayer in the epistle of James is like the sourdough buns on the burger—sweet and holding the meat together. Likewise, it holds the Christian life together. This is particularly true when we face trials.

The psalmist, being tried by the reality of the wicked succeeding and the righteous seemingly failing, wrote this: “When I thought how to understand this [quandary], it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end” (Ps. 73:16). If the first step in being triumphant in trials is to recognize your lack of wisdom, then the second step is to go to the sanctuary of God through prayer. Only then can you activate the engine of wisdom. You must pray.

Prayer is a simple thing, but it is far from small. Imagine yourself in the presence of a king whose riches span the earth. He is giving you an audience, bending his ear to listen to your deepest disturbances and greatest gratitudes. All the resources you might ever require are easily dispensed at the wave of his hand. You need only to speak. Charles Spurgeon said, “To pray is to enter the treasure-house of God and to gather riches of an inexhaustible storehouse.” James says, “Let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (Ja. 1:5). With that said, let’s consider five truths about asking God for wisdom that leaps out of this text.

The Sense of Poverty

Every genuine Christian has identified his spiritual poverty before God. Jesus came for the sick, not the healthy (Matt. 9:12). So, those who recognize their spiritual bankruptcy receive the riches of eternal life. “Blessed are the poor,” Jesus said, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). The psalmist captured it wonderfully as well, “The poor man cried out, and the Lord hear him and saved him out of all his troubles” (Ps. 34:6).

We are all spiritually poor, having a debt we cannot pay. But God, “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands,” paid the debt from HIs riches (Col. 2:14). What brought us to the feet of our King keeps us at the feet of our King. The Puritans wrote in the famous book of prayers, The Valley of Vision, “Take me to the cross and leave me there.” The mark of a genuine believer is a heart that beast with humility. He knows his poverty so well that he will not tell God but ask God” (Ja. 1:5).

The Simplicity of Asking

I once sat across the table with a man who couldn’t get past the fact that he could not stop sinning. It was at a local shelter, and I was explaining to Him the good news of Christ. He admitted, “Yea, that is good news,” looking down at the table where his hands now folded his ticket for food, “but I’m pretty sure I’ll sin again tomorrow.” Regardless of how many different ways I hammered the truth of God’s forgiveness on him, the man couldn’t fathom a God who would pay the penalty for sins he would commit tomorrow.

In our own ways, we are a lot like this man. We tend to complicate the grace of God when we are distracted by our own works. So a third truth for us to consider is the simplicity of asking. James doesn’t tell us to recite hail Marys, journey on sacred pilgrimages, remain in confessionals, or even do a little jig. He said to “ask God” (Ja. 1:5). The key that turns the wisdom engine is easily attained. We already have it. “My burden is easy, my yoke is light,” said the Lord (Matt. 11:30). “Ask, and it will be given” (Matt. 7:7). It’s simple. You can start today. Ask God.

The Source of Wisdom

Desperate sinners turn to the all-providing “God who gives” (Ja. 1:5). It is no surprise that James tells us to ask God when we need wisdom. For God is the source of wisdom. Nevertheless, all of us, most of the time, turn to others instead of God when we face trials. We forget the proverb, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding,” including the understanding of others (Pr. 3:5).

The book of Job is historically called a book of wisdom. In it, the writer describes how human beings search for wisdom in all parts of the universe but need to turn to God instead. “Where shall wisdom be found?” (Job 28:12). “It is not found in the land of the living” (Job 28:13). It is not in the depths of the earth, nor in the stores on the market (Job 28:14-19). “From where, then, does wisdom come?” (Job 28:20). Only “God understands the way to it, and he knows its place” (Job 28:23). Why? Because “he established it” (Job. 28:27) and gives it to those who humble themselves before Him (Job 28:28). We ask God for wisdom because He is the only one who has it. “The Lord gives wisdom” (Pr. 2:6). “There is no wisdom otherwise” (Pr. 21:30). Until we turn to God for wisdom, we are looking in the wrong places. God is the source of wisdom.

The Supply of Generosity

If wisdom is within reach of the humble one who simply asks God, this next point is exciting. James says that God “gives generously” (Ja. 1:5). It might be said that most people, even those closest to us, are stingy with their resources and gifts. They wish to hold to them lest they need them later. But, this is not so with God. His storehouse is limitless (Col. 2:2-3) and abundant (Lk. 6:38). He will never run out of wisdom. And, it is His delight to give it. He seeks those who ask for His wisdom because He loves to give it away (Phil. 4:19).

The Greek word translated “generously” means “without mental reservation.” It is closely related to the words “without reproach” in the same verse but emphasizes the willingness to give repeatedly. It is like God keeps the water hose of wisdom turned on. He gives us no budget. He is not stingy. He is generous and doesn’t make you wait for a long time. He is eager and ready to point the hose your way. Jesus put it this way in Matthew 7:7-11:

“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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 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!”

The Selecting of Recipients

Now, let’s pump the brakes for a moment. Although God gives wisdom generously in quantity, He is selective regarding the recipients. James says God gives generously “to all” (Ja. 1:5), but it doesn’t mean His grace is all-inclusive and indiscriminate. King Solomon recognized this. He said, “For to the one who pleases him, God has given wisdom, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God” (Ecc. 2:26). God’s wisdom is stored up for those who fear God and please Him by ordering their steps according to His wisdom and grace (Prov. 2:5-6). 

This means God’s wisdom is withheld from the unregenerate (1 Cor. 2:14). It also means that those who are saved, but have no intention to obey God’s wisdom, will not receive God’s wisdom. This is evident in a couple of verses later. James says that a Christian who asks without the intention to obey God’s wisdom should “not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (Ja. 1:7-8). In other words, God’s wisdom is generously given to those in Christ intending to use His wisdom the way He expects.

The Singleness of Heart

A final truth to consider is that God gives “without reproach” (Ja. 1:5). The Lord doesn’t hold your past sins against you. He doesn’t hesitate when you ask. He doesn’t make a list and check it twice. He sees you as He sees His Son. The phrase means that God gives with singleness, not doubleness, not doubled worded, not double-minded, not wavering or double-souled. There are no two ways about Him. God is eager to give. He doesn’t second guess. If you ask for wisdom to use it in God’s way, He delivers.

Jeremiah describes the willingness of God to give to His children when they are in need. “You will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you,” says the Lord (Jer. 29:12). He doesn’t hold our past failures against us, nor I our future ones. He gives according to what He designs, not what we deserve. He has singleness of heart. He desires to lavish us with wisdom. This is the final truth that ought to motivate us to lay hold of the key that ignites the engine of wisdom.

Prayer is the Means of Wisdom

Someone once told me, “When life knocks you to your knees, you are in a good position to pray.” This is wisdom to live by. Trials are like a blow to the face. Even the most subtle trials can rattle your brain and make you see double, even double-minded. They can make it difficult to see where to throw punches, how to swing, and when to duck.

This is why they are trials. They are meant to knock the wind out of you until you feel inadequate and deficient. They humble you and bring you to your knees so that you are positioned for nominative blessing. As Spurgeon said, “No man can progress in grace if he forsakes prayer.” This is because prayer is the means of wisdom.

The Galatian believers forgot this. Paul chastises them, saying, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law or by hearing with faith? Are you foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:2-3). Like all believers, the Galatian believers trusted God for their salvation. However, they were not trusting Him for their sanctification. Don’t be like them. Don’t be foolish. Don’t try to turn the engine with the wrong key. Ask God for wisdom. He is the source. He is the generous giver. And, He is waiting for you to seek Him.

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