“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.”James 1:5-6
I remember early in my Christian walk memorizing this passage and committing to it as a lifestyle. At the time I don’t think I fully understood what James was saying, but the Spirit called out to me and placed it as a burden on my heart. However, as time went on I grew deeper in my relationship with Jesus and the Spirit continued to illuminate this passage.
When the bible refers to wisdom, we first need to understand what that is. The Greek word used in verse 5 is sophias, from the root sophos meaning skill or wisdom. It displays not only understanding, but a level of competency and insight into a particular subject or idea. This idea of wisdom is in contrast to the idea of knowledge which expresses recognition and a knowingness of a subject or idea. A good example of this contrast could be taken from a high school history class. Most people know that the Allies prevailed in World War II, however it requires wisdom to truly understand the war’s causes, it’s effects, and the price paid by everyone involved as well as it’s impact on subsequent generations up to this very day.
Therefore, when James writes that we should ask God for wisdom, he’s not referring to knowledge about God, but insight into His thoughts and nature. We should each seek to have a deeper understanding of not just the things we are to do and not do as believers, but to seek God’s divine wisdom as to why we do those things. Why does God tell us not to get drunk (Ephesians 5:18, Galatians 5:21; Proverbs 20:1, 23:29-35; Romans 13:13; etc.)? Because we say and do stupid things and get into trouble when we are not sober minded (1 Peter 5:8). For some that means not drinking, and for others that means enjoying alcohol in moderation – the Spirit will highlight that to each of us based on what He knows is best for us.
It also means that we ought not simply make decisions based on data points and proven strategies, but to put that knowledge into the context of God’s call on our lives. This means that sometimes, when God wants us to join with Him in something that seems crazy or irrational, we can understand Him well enough to trust Him. It doesn’t always mean we get some earthly reward for our obedience, but we have the benefit of joining with God in His work in our lives and in the lives of others as well as the benefit of growing closer with Him.
However, while verse 5 is a promise that God will give us wisdom if we ask, verse 6 explains the conditions of this promise. “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting…”. This is where a lot of us get caught up, and ultimately it’s where we can begin to grow in wisdom with God. We live in a postmodern world that does not love Jesus or believe the bible, so already we have an uphill struggle. Many of us went through a public school system which teaches from a secular humanist perspective. This period of education and indoctrination (not meant as a pejorative as that is essentially what most forms of academic education are) do make it difficult to some degree to have the kind of faith that we can ask God and trust that He will do it. That may sound wrong, but there’s a reason that God grants faith as a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:9) and that’s because we are prone to doubt.
However, faith is also grown by experience. By growing deeper in intimacy through obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit we are able to discern what He is saying to us and to be in line with God in what we ask for. It allows us to ask for wisdom from our good and generous Father and to trust that He will provide what we need.