Asking for Wisdom

In James’ letter to the early churches, he makes the claim that God will, without fail, give wisdom to any who ask without doubting. This is a staggering claim. What does it mean? Here’s the main passage (James 1:2-7):

2 Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord. 

There are apparently three conditions for receiving free wisdom from God:

  1. That those suffering through trials should be seeking moral perfection rather than mere relief.
  2. That God gives wisdom to those who lack it is the next. More on that later.
  3. Third, that they pray without doubting.

What does he mean by doubt? In this passage doubt appears to be more than “intellectual uncertainty.” Its more like “entertaining duplicitous thoughts about moral progress.” James elaborates by saying that such a man is double minded and unstable which is basically a hypocrite or a sloth. Or less damningly, such a man is an immature Christian who has little resolve in his pursuit of Christian virtue.

More proof of this may be found in James 4:2-3:

2 You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

In other words, unanswered prayer is due to requesting blessings which one will not use for good.

Back to the second condition. It reveals a profound reason we don’t find our requests for wisdom answered. We ask for wisdom which we do not lack. 

Often, as we face life’s trials and moral struggles we know exactly what we ought to do and what would benefit us most. Yet, we act as though we did not know. So we pray for God’s will and for wisdom, not because we don’t know, but because we do, yet, will not obey to the truth already in our minds. 

And so we ask for wisdom and we receive no answer because we ignore our wisdom, buried, as it were, like a coin receiving no interest, wondering why the master has nothing for us.

There is a fine line in the Bible between the fundamental goodness of man’s divine image and inbuilt moral intuitions and man’s deep moral corruption. But part of that corruption is that we look in the mirror of God’s natural and Biblical law and act as though we have nothing to change or as if God owes us specific advice when we don’t practice the wisdom we have.

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