In early 2003, while in college at FHU, we had our social club officers’ retreat at a house on Kentucky Lake. We arrived late Friday evening, so we didn’t see the lake until Saturday morning. When we awoke to see it and its surroundings, we were amazed that the lake’s surface was totally frozen. Prior to that morning, every time in my life I had seen a body of water, it was always moving. But not this time. It was still and it was solid. I always think about that lake when I read James 1:5-8.
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. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
The first clause of the passage reflects some of James’ almost-sarcastic humor. Who, exactly, does not need more wisdom? The “if” sounds as though it’s a limiting condition, but realistically, it’s a universal statement. Everyone needs more wisdom.
What are we asking for when we ask for wisdom? We commonly think of wisdom as more than just knowledge. It’s the practical application of knowledge. Another concise definition I’ve heard is, “Wisdom is the ability to see potential results before making decisions.”
During what situations, then, should we ask for wisdom? The easy answer is, “in everything.” But the contextual answer is that of trials that test our faith and reliance upon God (1:2-4). We need the Lord’s guidance, direction, and peace when our souls are tested by life’s hurdles. Trials easily become watershed moments; we either draw nearer to God and His people, or we push away from His goodness. Thus, we especially need wisdom in the face of trials. So we must ask for it. Additionally, the verb in the Greek emphasizes the process of “keep on asking.” We need wisdom continually, thus we must ask continually.
God guarantees that he gives wisdom. But it’s not a blank check. Notice how we are supposed to ask: without reproach, in faith, with no doubting. This is where it hits us the hardest. It’s easier to simply ask for wisdom than it is to confidently ask for wisdom.
James illustrates our doubting with the simple, but common, sight of water. Its waves are continually driven and tossed, he says, by the whims of the wind. Their direction, strength, and frequency are determined by forces beyond their control.
We will encounter countless storms, criticisms, and confusions in this life. But we cannot be controlled by them. We must be confident, trusting, and solid as we ask God for direction and guidance.