INTRODUCTION: Someone has said that knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together and make sense of them. The people to whom James wrote this letter had problems with their praying. When we are going through difficulties, what should we pray about? James gives the answer: ask God for wisdom.
I. ASK FOR WISDOM (verse 5)
Why do we need wisdom when we are going through trials? Why not ask for strength, or grace, or even deliverance? We should pray for wisdom for this reason: we need wisdom so that we will not waste the opportunities God is giving us to mature in our Christian lives. Wisdom helps us understand how to use these difficult circumstances for our good and for God’s glory. This kind of wisdom comes from God. It is a gift from God. God’s wisdom enables a person to make decisions as God would make them, and solve problems the way God would solve them. In his search of the source of true wisdom, Job cries out, “But where can wisdom be found?” His answer is that wisdom is not found among the living on this earth; it is not found in the depths of the sea; and it cannot be purchased with precious stones. Finally Job declares, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.” True wisdom has its source in the true and living God. We all have a natural tendency to be selfish in our prayers. Some of us recall how we were tempted to ask God for special help when facing a difficult examination during our school days, but in our hearts we knew He would not bring to our minds material which we had not studied. Prayer is not a magical formula enabling believers to escape self-discipline and hard work. However, it isn’t selfish to pray for spiritual wisdom – the ability to meet life’s problems and to make decisions that will please God. King Solomon, with all his knowledge, realized that unless the Lord gave him spiritual wisdom to direct his actions, all his human skill and learning would be of littlevalue. President Abraham Lincoln was impressed with this truth during America’s Civil War. A personal friend of his once wrote, “I had been spending three weeks at the White House as the guest of the President. One night – it was just before the Battle of Bull Run, I was restless and could not sleep. From Lincoln’s bedroom I heard the low tones of his voice. Looking in the door that was slightly ajar, I saw a sight which I have never forgotten. The tall Chief Executive was kneeling before an open Bible. He did not know that I could overhear his agonizing prayers as he pleaded, ‘O Thou great God that heard Solomon in the night when he prayed and cried for wisdom, hear me. I cannot lead these people. I cannot guide the affairs of this country without Thy help. O Lord, hear me and save this nation.’ ” The answer he received is now history, for the Union was preserved. Lincoln found that James 1:5 was not an idle promise.
II. ASK IN FAITH (verses 6-8)
James not only explained what to ask for, but he also described how to ask. We are to ask in faith. The greatest enemy to answered prayer is unbelief. The story is told of a small town in which there were no liquor stores. Eventually, however, a nightclub was built right on Main Street. Members of one of the churches in the area were so disturbed that they conducted several all-night prayer meetings, and asked the Lord to burn down that den of iniquity. Lightning struck the tavern a short time later, and it was completely destroyed by fire. The owner, knowing how the church people had prayed, sued them for the damages. His attorney claimed that their prayers had caused the loss. The congregation, on the other hand, hired a lawyer and fought the charges. After much deliberation, the judge declared, “It’s the opinion of this court that wherever the guilt may lie, the tavern keeper is the one who really believes in prayer, while the church members do not!” We smile at this story, but it suggests how faithless we sometimes are when we offer our prayers to God. Even the first-century Christians were guilty of such unbelief. Acts 12 tells us that after Peter escaped from prison, he went to the house of Mary, where many were praying for his release. When he knocked, Rhoda came to the door. Hearing his voice, she ran back to the “prayer meeting crowd” and announced that the apostle Peter was outside. “You are out of you mind!”, they said. But when she insisted, they kept saying, “It is his angel”. Well, Peter kept on knocking at the door, and when they finally let him in, “they were astonished” at the way God had answered their request. May our attitude be different when we pray! Let’s believe God and expect the answer! God loves to honor the prayers of those who earnestly seek His wisdom and want His will for their lives. Verse 8 talks about a double-minded person. A double-minded person is a person who has a civil war going on inside him continually. Two heads may be better than one, but a double-minded person is no good at all. There is a smooth, shiny lizard called a skink. This little animal wouldn’t attract any crowds at a zoo, but if one of these lizards showed up with two heads, one on each end of its body, that would be quite a spectacle. A newspaper had a picture and a story about the two-headed skink I just described to you. It was found by a homeowner in Jacksonville, Florida, and it was an illustration of absolute frustration. When it tried to run, its two legs moved in opposite directions. It was running like mad but going nowhere! That’s the fate of a Christian who is trying to go his own way, and trying to serve the Lord at the same time. This is also true of the Christian who is more concerned about pleasing others than he is about standing up for the truth. There was once a preacher who was approached by some members of his congregation concerning a disagreement in the church. After stating their grievances, they said some vicious things about the people they disagreed with. Responding to their complaints, the preacher said, “You’re right; you’re absolutely right!” The next day, the other group came to his home and told their side of the story. The preacher listened quietly, and when they had finished, said, “You’re right; you’re absolutely right!” His wife, working in the kitchen, overheard everything. As soon as the parishioners left, she rushed into the living room and said, “You’re just about the most wishy-washy individual I’ve ever seen.” To that he immediately replied, “You’re right; you’re absolutely right!” There are so many Christians who are unwilling to take a stand on issues. Some are afraid; others just don’t like to make decisions. But God wants us to know His Word, to pray for His wisdom, and to take a stand for what we believe. Then we’ll feel secure in the Lord’s strength, and then our prayers will not be hindered. But when we do take a stand for what we believe, let’s do it with the wisdom and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.