If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
As we continue in our study of the book of James, we see that the author has packed a lot into the first four verses. He has challenged us to a radical new way of thinking about our trials. He has helped us to see them as authenticators of our faith, as tools God uses to build perseverance, to perfect us and to complete us.
And in keeping with this trend, verse five is also loaded with vital spiritual truth.
By way of introduction, it is important that we are being exhorted to take a specific action: to ask of God.
What are we to ask of God? Well…wisdom, obviously. But, unsurprisingly, there’s more to it than that. In fact, in closely examining this verse, I find at least three specific prayers we can pray, based on this text.
God, help me to realize that “I don’t got this”, and that’s a good thing.
One of the greatest exacerbating factors in the midst of any trial is our own pride. We want to demonstrate to God and the world that “we got this”.
But notice the way this verse begins, using the word “lack”. We’ve seen that word before, in the previous verse: “…that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” Thus we have a clear continuation of thought between verse 4 and verse 5. It might be helpful to read the beginning of verse 5 this way: “And speaking of lacking, one thing that you just might be lacking, and that God is trying to build into your life, is wisdom. If that’s the case, you should ask of God…”
So when we are asking God for wisdom, we are tacitly acknowledging that we don’t have it, and that we are depending on Him to give it to us. We don’t like this. It runs against our grain. It makes us feel helpless. It makes us feel totally dependent on God – which is exactly where we are supposed to be.
God, teach me to fear You.
It is important to remember that the wisdom we are talking about is not simply an “experience is the best teacher” kind of thing. No, we are looking at something much deeper, much more profound.
The same Holy Spirit that inspired James tells us in Proverbs 9:10 that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Thus, God, through our trials, is teaching us to fear Him.
You see, if our trials reveal in us an exaggerated idea of our own capabilities, they also serve to reveal a diminished view of God. There is a great re-alignment going on. We must decrease, He must increase.
God, show me your goodness.
One of the more frustrating aspects of life as a foreign missionary can is dealing with government bureaucracy. In addition to the labyrinths of paperwork and official agencies to be navigated, one encounters at every step tired and jaded public employees who are not the least bit interested in helping you with your specific needs.
Come to think of it, this is not unique to foreign countries. Any American who has dealt with the DMV will readily identify with the above paragraph.
And it is important for us to understand that God does not treat his children this way.
James gets it. He points out in this verse that God wants, is eager even, to give us the wisdom for which we ask. He is not stingy. He does not play favorites. He is not looking for excuses to withhold good things.
Of course, here he is echoing the words spoken by Jesus and recorded in Matthew 7
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 he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being 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!
I am convinced that our “tight-fisted landlord” concept of God is based on the way we treat others and are treated by others. And here is yet another way where James is urging us to re-format our thinking. God knows all about us, and yet He is eager to impart to us that which is best for us.
And the longer we think about that concept, the more revolutionary it becomes.
**Banner image: St. Peter in Prayer by Matthias Stom (source)
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