When you find yourself experiencing an enduring trial, what do you need the most? Would you be surprised to discover it is wisdom? Would wisdom have even been on your list? Well, it’s at the top of James’s list and would be his primary concern for those to whom he writes in the midst of their “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). You are no doubt familiar with this verse:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God…” James 1:5
Actually, I’m assuming you are very familiar with this verse. But you might not be familiar with the context of this verse. And context is critical to understanding the point and purpose of these divinely inspired words. They were penned for the good of our souls when trials arrive in our lives. You see, this verse tends to be our go-to verse for guidance in general. It is often a verse we reference and apply when we have significant decisions to make or for the common stuff of daily life where we lack wisdom. Now, it is good to turn to God in prayer inspired by this verse, and it is not my intent to discourage you from this practice. Not at all. But it is my intention to inform you that James didn’t write this to the original readers to address matters of general guidance. This verse was originally written to those in the midst of severe trials and meant to address their most important need in trials: wisdom. This is what they needed most. Nothing has changed. We need wisdom, too. And the best news of all would be that this promise hasn’t changed.
So what is this wisdom we need so that we might benefit from our trials, grow in steadfastness, perseverance, and endurance as God intends through our trials? Doug Moo gives us a helpful description of this wisdom in his commentary on James:
“Wisdom is the means by which the godly can both discern and carry out the will of God.”
Wisdom is discerning the purpose of God and skillfully applying the word of God in the midst of a particular trial for the duration of that trial. So the gift of wisdom is the ability to perceive the trials of life and their divinely designed purpose as James has described in 1:2-4 and respond skillfully to these trials in attitude and practice. Such wisdom is a gift from God! J.I. Packer describes the effect of this gift:
“The effect of his gift of wisdom is to make us more humble, more joyful, more godly, more quick-sighted as to his will, more resolute in the doing of it and less troubled than we were at the dark and painful things of which our life in this fallen world is full…a wisdom that will find expression in a spirit of faith and a life of faithfulness.”
Hey, I want more of all the above! And I need more of all the above, particularly in a painful, perplexing, and prolonged trial. This wisdom is critical and not optional when we meet trials of many kinds because only by this gift of wisdom can one perceive the purpose of trials, respond appropriately to trials, and ultimately benefit from trials. All too often when I meet a trial, my tendency is to complain about the trial. My impulse is to ask “Why? Why me? Why this? Why now? Why so long?” James informs me that what I most need is wisdom, namely, “Wisdom from above” (James 3:17). James makes eye contact with me and says, “Stop asking why, CJ, and start asking God for wisdom.” Tim Keller helps us to understand the importance of this wisdom when he writes:
“The stakes are high here. Suffering will either leave you a much better person or a much worse one than you were before. Trials and troubles in life, which are inevitable, will either make you or break you. But either way, you will not remain the same.”
The stakes are indeed high here. Actually they couldn’t be higher. Our trials will either make us or break us. They will either leave us better or bitter. And the gift of wisdom is the difference maker. This is what we need the most in our trials. And does James have good news for the Christian in this regard! And though you are no doubt familiar with this verse I pray you read it with new eyes:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God…” James 1:5
James directs the believer to the source of all wisdom and the priority of prayer for wisdom in the midst of trials. Trials are where we learn to rely upon God. Trials exceed our human resources and quickly exhaust human strength and therefore drive us to God in prayer. This is part of the gracious purpose of God for trials. Trials remind us of our need for God himself. Trials remind us of our weakness and prayer reminds of God’s greatness and graciousness. Mr. Spurgeon eloquently reminds of this when he writes:
“In seasons of severe trial, Christians have nothing one earth in which to trust, and we are therefore compelled to cast ourselves on our God alone. Happy storm that wrecks us such a rock as this! O blessed hurricane that drives the soul to God and God alone!”
May God give us grace and give us wisdom by his grace to perceive the storm of our trial as a happy one because its intent is to drive us to God alone and wreck us on “such a rock as this!” So when the storm hits, we are to driven by divine design to God in prayer in order to ask God for what we need the most: wisdom. And we should have no reluctance to approach God and ask God for wisdom because James reveals the disposition of God toward his children who make this request:
“…let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
This is one massive promise. How can James make this massive promise? James can make this massive promise because this massive promise is informed by his doctrine of God. James makes this massive promise because of the generosity of God! James knows that God is wildly generous with his grace and gifts. It’s his nature to give. It’s who he is, what he does and what he loves doing. How can something so important as wisdom be so easy to acquire? It is easy to acquire only because God is gracious and generous. The God of all wisdom is wildly generous and he loves to give wisdom to his children, particularly in the midst of trials, to sustain them in trials. And this shouldn’t surprise us because God has already displayed his generosity in sending and sacrificing his Son on the cross for our sins. So it shouldn’t be difficult for us to trust him to give us the wisdom we need and he has promised to those who sincerely ask for wisdom so that they might please and glorify him in and through their trial.
So do you find yourself in a painful, perplexing, prolonged trial today?
You need wisdom.
God is generous and eager to give you wisdom.
This post is based on a message I preached this past Sunday at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville entitled “A Generous God for a Difficult Trial.”