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. (James 1:5–8, ESV)
In today’s passage, James commands the Christian to ask God for wisdom when we find it lacking in our lives. James, however, reminds us how important it is to ask in faith, without doubting. Those who do not believe God will provide are compared to a wave which is at the whim of the wind. It has no real direction itself, but is driven by outside circumstances. We are to keep our faith anchored in a trustworthy God rather than have our environment and immediate situation dictate our belief.
So we know that we should ask God for wisdom and we know that we should trust when we ask, but an even more fundamental issue that I sometimes neglect is: what is wisdom anyway? I found what I thought was a pretty good answer:
It is legitimate to ask God for wisdom in each and every circumstance of life. How often we find ourselves lacking it! But we never need wisdom more urgently than when we are facing difficulties.
First, a word about wisdom. What is it? We must not confuse it with knowledge. Knowledge is information; wisdom is application. Knowledge is comprehending facts; wisdom is handling life. Knowledge is theoretical; wisdom is practical.
We can think of it in terms of driving a car. We can have very good knowledge of a car and not drive very well at all! Conversely, we can have little knowledge of how a car operates and still expertly handle it.
Life is a lot like driving a car. We are tooling along, and suddenly someone darts out in front of us, or a huge pothole appears. In those situations, we must know how to respond in such a way that we are able to preserve our lives and the lives of others.
The trials and difficulties of life are much like the driver who pulls in front of us or the potholes in the road. We are driving along the roadway of life, and suddenly a trial comes. We need wisdom to respond to that trial. We need to know how to respond in such a way that we do not encourage a mistaken notion about what Christianity is. We need to know how to respond in such a way that we do not dishonour God. We need to respond in such a way that we do not discourage our fellow-Christians.
How often Christians drive the car of faith into the ditch when a trial pops up in the road! (Roger Ellsworth, Opening Up James (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2009), 27-28.)
So when James exhorts us to ask for wisdom, we are seeking God for the practical skill to handle the situation we’re in. It’s a great thing to know that we have a God who not only has the resources for whatever comes our way, but he’s generous with them and wants to dole them out to all who are in need.