I can hear the voices in my head that say “don’t pray for wisdom.” They come from everyone, including friends, peers, mentors, and yes, even pastors. Often, the phrase is followed with a nervous chuckle, or a sideways glance so that the listener gets the real message. What is the real message? Today, in James 1, we get an opportunity to look a little closer. Specifically, verse 5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask God who give generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
When I pull verse 5 out of James 1:2-12 and read it alone, I gain confidence. Wisdom is at my fingertips. All I have to do is ask. Why wouldn’t I want to be wise? I can’t lose. To do so, however, is like removing Christ’s ugly death from the gospel. It doesn’t work. Instead, we need to consider the whole message. Read now, verse 2 and 3. They say, “Consider it all joy my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” It is this verse that triggers the warnings from others. They know where wisdom comes from. James gets it right. It comes from “the testing of your faith.” This, then, is the beginning of wisdom.
What does testing of our faith look like? I don’t know the design, only God knows that, but I do know the outcome. Think of it like an automobile test. Engineers deliberately crash a car to show its weak points. Not only are they trying to make the car stronger, but also a safer environment for the driver. I think faith testing looks similar. When God reveals our weakness, he retools us and equips us so that we can be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (v4).
When I think of faith testing in that way, I become a little braver, but I still have a hang-up. I fear that God will apply wisdom to areas that I don’t want him to. It likely comes from areas of my life that I am neglecting or maybe in disobedience. When it comes to asking God for wisdom, I experience guilt or even shame because of my faulty life. The fear these feelings produce will inevitably keep me from praying for wisdom. Once again, we need to look closely at the scriptures for truth. Reading verse 5, I quickly see that God gives generously. It’s not until I look more closely that I see also that he gives “without reproach.” Do you know what that means? It means that God gives it without disapproval or disappointment. Wow, really?! Really. God gives wisdom generously with his full approval granting us success and good fortune.
I am thankful for James 1 and the truth provided about wisdom. I am also devastated. He reveals my complete lack of understanding. I see more clearly, today, that it is not wisdom that I lack. It is faith.