Gaining God’s Wisdom through Trials–James 1:5-8
This could only happen in New York City. It involves three sharply dressed businessmen. Two of them are standing behind the line in the underground, sardine-packed subway station, both wearing Hong Kong suits, both headed to important meetings, both poised to step right on the train once it stops, and both standing next to each other.
The third man is on the very train headed toward their station. He has just finished lunch–it wasn’t good, he’s feeling nausea, so he heads back to his office to take some Pepto Bismol. But the train is packed, the air-conditioning is broken, he is squished next to the exit door, he can only stand looking out the window. And already feeling queasy, he is now suffering from intense motion sickness with the flashing lights, bad lunch, sweltering heat, body odor and 35 mph blurry scenery rushing by.
As would happen, his train slows and his door opens directly in front of the two sharply dressed business suits, when suddenly Mr. Train bends over and vomits all over just one of the men. Amazingly, the other man standing next to him watches the other man get coated, but he is not hit at all with the stomach hose. Then almost humorously and abruptly, the vomit man stands back up, the doors close and the train moves on, leaving both men stunned by what has just happened. Both men had not moved much from their original spot, yet one of them is wearing train man’s lunch, and the other is completely stain-free.
When they both recovered, the one covered in vomit turns to his spotless subway brother and asks this one simple question—“Why me?” What do you do when life throws up on you? How many of you have asked that of the Lord, “Why me?” Who of you right now are going through a trial, where you don’t really understand what God is doing? And this AM, if you had to answer that question—“Why me?” What would you say? What are the biblical reasons for trials? Several bible teachers offer the following biblical answers to the question of, “WHY ME?” God’s reasons for trials.
First Trials test the MATURITY of your faith
Your wise, loving and all-powerful SAVIOR gives you trials in your life to assist you in taking spiritual inventory. He is showing you the strength or weakness of our faith. When a Christian becomes resentful, self-pitying or the victim when trials come into their lives, it exposes a weak faith. But the believer who depends on the Lord more, memorizes God’s promises, prays, and trusts expectantly while troubles get worse, is demonstrating a more mature faith.
In Exodus 16:4 the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction.” Trials test the maturity of your faith. WHY ME?
Second Trials are given to HUMBLE you
Paul tells us this, when he says in 2 Corinthians 12:7, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me–to keep me from exalting myself!”
God uses trials to keep you from trusting in your own self-reliance and pursuing your own self-satisfaction. You and I are blessed people. You have houses, clothes, food, cars, material goods, even discretionary money. And people who are blessed greatly become targets for the enemy. Satan will tempt the wealthy to look at their blessings as their own accomplishment, the result of their hard work, instead of the Lord’s gracious gift to them. The blessed start thinking their blessings are deserved, and they become proud, self-satisfied and not humble. So the Lord gives you trials to remind you all your blessings are from Him. James 1:17, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above.” WHY ME?
Third Trials wean you from your dependence on this WORLD
The more you accumulate in this world, like material possessions, knowledge, experiences, even recognition, the more you will be tempted to rely on those things instead of Christ, who created you, lost you, and died to buy you back.
What kind of things can steal your focus? Education, work success, important people, position, money, possessions, experiences, events, and other benefits that often are not wrong in themselves, but can easily become the priority of your heart and the focus of your trust. On one occasion, in the midst of a huge crowd, in John 6:5 to 6 Jesus asked Philip, “‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?’ This He was saying to test him; for He Himself knew what He was intending to do.”
Philip failed the test in verse 7 with a wrong focus, “’Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.’” Instead of trusting the Lord to provide, Philip looked only at their material resources, which obviously were far short of being able to meet the need. WHY ME?
Fourth Trials are used to give you HEAVENLY hope
The harder your trials become, and the longer your trials last, the more you’ll look forward to being with the Lord. Right? Paul knew his ministry was not finished, and that it was important for him to continue Christ’s work on Earth and for the sake of the Philippian church. Regardless, his heart longing while in jail was Philippians 1:23 to 24, “to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.” Trials cause you to long for Heaven. WHY ME?
Fifth Trials reveal what you really LOVE
Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac not only proved his faith, but also his supreme love for the Lord. Every true Christian desires Christ as their first love. Baby Christians and aged Christians all love Christ more than any relationship, spouse or child. Jesus was really pointed when he said in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” It is trials which reveal who or what you genuinely love. WHY ME?
Sixth Trials teach you to value God’s BLESSINGS
Your HEAD tells you to value this life you have, and your heart tells you to value pleasure and ease. But trials shock us out of our natural complacency, allowing your God-given faith to begin to value the things of God–like His Word, His care, His provision, His strength, and His salvation. Value eternal things.
Hebrews 11 reminds you that the heroes of the faith all rejected the things of this world for the superior goodness of God’s gifts, so the author in Hebrews 12:2 challenges all, to “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Trials teach you to treasure what God values. WHY ME?
Seventh Trials develop your spiritual strength for greater USEFULNESS
Paul confessed in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
The Puritan Thomas Manton perceptively observed that “while all things are quiet and comfortable, we live by sense rather than faith. But the worth of a soldier is never known in times of peace.”
A.W. TOZER said it best, “It is doubtful, that God can use anyone greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”
Believers who have been crushed by trials are those the Lord uses in the greatest ways. WHY ME?
Eighth Trials enable you to HELP others in their trials
In Luke 22:31 to 32, Jesus told Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter’s trials were given not only to toughen him up for greater usefulness, but also to prepare Peter to strengthen others, his brothers in Christ.
God has purpose in your current trial–God is working everything out for His glory and for your good. God is causing every circumstance and relationship, even those meant as evil towards you, to become a means to draw you, draw you, to Christ as your Lord and Savior. Or to cause you to become more like Christ, as His child. This is why James tells us to have joy in trials–combined with the understanding of God’s purpose and a submissive dependent will, you’re now capable of learning the reason behind your specific trials. WHY ME?
You can begin to understand God’s wisdom in the midst of the trial. Last week James said in verses 2 to 4, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
James describes your life on Earth as if life were one mugging after another. Life is like receiving a unique variety of beatings. The word “trials” can mean either trial or temptation. The context makes it clear. But when God allows a trial, He always does so for the purpose of strengthening your faith. So James asks, when life pushes you down and beats you up, what’s your response? Do you lay there and feel sorry for yourself? Do you complain that life is unfair? Do you question God’s wisdom? Or do you get back up and keep going?
You remember Eric Liddell of “Chariots of Fire”–I’ll never forget that early race when Eric was pushed down by another runner. He could have laid there, given up, felt sorry for himself and whined, complained to the official, or . . . he could’ve done what I would’ve done–run across the track and kicked that guy with my spikes. But he kept going. Do you? James taught us last week in verses 2 to 4 to have an enduring heart–to keep going. The world notices when you react differently to trials. You’re light and salt when, like Paul and Titus, you sing hymns in the midst of being unjustly imprisoned and placed in stocks. You prove the presence and power of Christ when you respond biblically to God’s will. Don’t cry, WHY ME?
But verses 2 to 4 says respond with joy, combined with an understanding of God’s purpose and a submissive will. Then James adds verses 5 to 8, ask God for wisdom. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” The believers, James is writing to were suffering greatly. What if this were you? They were driven from their homes, had lost all their possessions, and some were exploited by the rich. And all these tests of faith were tearing the church apart.
Those aren’t your trials, but you might be facing financial difficulties, the loss of a job, a difficult boss, a serious illness, a painful injury, the death of a loved one, relational fear, loneliness, criticism, weariness, frustrations with children or difficulties with parents. James says, “when” you face trials–not if you face various trials. These testing events are unavoidable and unwelcome intrusions into our lives. James says, instead of crying out, “WHY ME?”–ask the Lord, “Help me embrace it, Lord–give me the wisdom to know how to respond the way You want me to.”
Verses 5 to 8 say trust God will help you, believe your trial is His perfectly purposed will. How do I do that? Verses 5 to 8 contain three major steps. What are we supposed to do with trials?
#1 Ask for WISDOM from your giving God OBEDIENTLY Verse 5
“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Admit it–there are times, even though you know the Lord Jesus died for you, and your heavenly Father knows each hair on your head, and His thoughts toward you are more than the sand of the seashore. Even though you are confident He loves you–trials can expose struggles in your heart. You are wondering, “What are you doing, Lord? WHY ME?” At that time, believers need a special measure of understanding to help get through the difficulty. Your Father intends for your trial to drive you to prayer so you’ll ask Him for wisdom.
A strong faith is not based on feelings or philosophical thinking, but on the truth of God’s Word put into sound practice, which is wisdom. James tells us what wisdom is later in James 3:17, “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” Did you notice, James describes wisdom not by how you feel or by what you think, but by good fruits. James says wisdom is shown by what you do. Wisdom is truth in practice.
When you face a time of testing, you have a strong need for God’s wisdom. For James, the half-brother of Christ, raised Jewish, now born again Christian leader, wisdom is a practical expression. The Jewish culture loved wisdom, as the book of Proverbs proves–and the Jewish audience of the book of James recognized wisdom as understanding the truth of God’s Word, lived out in everyday life.
Greek thinking was–I have learned, so now I have got it. Hebrew thinking was–I have lived it, so now I have got it. That is biblical wisdom. For the readers of James, wisdom is the practical skill necessary to live life to God’s glory. Someone said, “Knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together.” The word for wisdom is sophia–it is more than knowledge. Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. A person might memorize the Encyclopedia Britannica, and yet live like a fool. Wisdom is more than intelligent understanding of knowledge.
A person might earn half a dozen doctorates, yet be totally blind toward spiritual things. All of us know people who are educated fools–they have brilliant academic records, but they cannot make the simplest decisions in life. Wisdom is living the truth of God’s Word. Wisdom is living like Christ in everyday life. This is why Proverbs warns in Proverbs 3:5 and 6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. 6In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Wisdom is applying biblical truth to everyday Christian living. And it’s wisdom which enable believers to be joyous and submissive when trials come.
So James says in verse 5, “But if any of you lacks wisdom.” This phrase is from banking—your account is short on wisdom. So what do you do? Simply stated, when you don’t know how to respond to your trial, what should you do? Answer—pray. What should we pray about, pray for? James says ask for wisdom. Ask the Lord, “How should I live through this trial?”
James chapters 4 and 5 expose that the people James wrote had problems praying. Regardless, when you’re going through a God-ordained life-difficulty, pray–ask your Father how to live during the trial, how to behave, what to say, and how to glorify Him in this trial. Pray for wisdom. Pray for strength . . . sure, deliverance . . . yes. But most of all, pray for wisdom, so you don’t waste the opportunity God has given you to mature. Wisdom allows you to use difficult circumstances for God’s glory and your good.
And listen to James–don’t pray just once. Look at verse 5, “Let him ask of God”–that’s a continual command, meaning let him keep on asking continually. This ask is not the ask for God to do something, but for God to give something–ask Christ to give you wisdom, which would be direction on how to live through your trial for His glory. And let him ask is a command–the Holy Spirit through James is not giving you personal advice, but a divine command to obey. This is not an option. The prayer for wisdom is mandatory.
Hey believer, when you are being tested and you are not driven to the Lord and not responding in dependent prayer, then you’re resisting God’s will and most likely will remain in the trial and even have it intensify until you do pray to ask for wisdom. Go to your loving God in prayer. Christ loves you and wants what’s best for you–and independent living is not best. Plus, remember the Lord is not miserly, cheap or hesitant in helping you fully.
What does James say in verse 5, “Who gives to all generously and without reproach.” This is one of the most beautiful promises in all of Scripture. James assures us it is the Lord’s loving desire to abundantly impart wisdom to His faithful saints. Generously carries the idea of singleness of heart, of doing something unconditionally and without bargaining. The only condition is that we ask. When we simply come in our trials asking God for His help and wisdom, He immediately and single-mindedly gives it to us generously.
Remember what Jesus promised you in Matthew 7:7 to 11, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 11If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”
The Lord is generous and without reproach. Reproach is to reprimand, cast insults, revile, or scold—none of that. The Lord will never cast even the mildest reproach on a child of His who comes seeking wisdom in time of trouble. Christ will not remind you of how undeserving you are, or even how dumb it was for you to wait so long before you asked in prayer. No, what does Christ say through James in verse 5? “It will be given to him”–without hesitation, without reluctance, without reservation.
God’s divine wisdom will be given to you, so you know how to live through your trial for God’s glory in abundance. God says, “I’ll fill your need, I’ll pour out my wisdom, I’ll direct your life–just depend on Me.” God intends that trials will drive you to greater dependency on Him, by showing you your own inadequacy. As with all His riches, God has wisdom totally available for those who seek it with a dependent heart–leading to verse 6.
#2 Ask your God with the right attitude, DEPENDENTLY Verse 6
A prayer that does not take God at His Word, that doubts His ability or trustworthiness, is worthless. Hebrews 11:6a warns,” Without faith, it is impossible to please Him.” James repeats this same truth with these words in verse 6, “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.”
James not only explains what to ask for (“wisdom”), but also how to ask (“in faith”). You are to ask in faith–ask dependently, ask in humility, ask knowing you need the Lord. Do not be afraid or doubtful here. This isn’t about you working up an ability to ask in faith–no, James here is talking more about asking in humility and not asking in pride. James will tell us later in this letter that he will give us the grace to ask in 4:6–just don’t be proud. God will give wisdom to you–just don’t doubt He is able. You can have plenty of doubts about your ability, your worthiness–but not His ability and His worthiness.
Your prayers can be denied and your requests for wisdom refused. Receiving wisdom requires dependent faith on Christ, a reliant trust on the Spirit, and a truthful understanding of the Father. James says in verse 6, “But he must ask in faith without any doubting.” Whoa! Doubting describes a person who is divided within himself–not merely because of mental indecision, but an inner moral conflict or distrust in God. Doubting here is not about weakness of faith, but more about lack of faith altogether.
James goes on to compare the doubting believer to the waves of the sea–up one minute and down the next. “For the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind” (verse 6). The person who doubts God’s ability or willingness to provide His wisdom is like the billowing, restless sea, moving back and forth with its endless tides, never able to settle, be stable, or consistent—never. Nothing is more uncertain, unpredictable, and unstable than a wind-tossed wave. It heaves this way and that, at the mercy of each howling gust of wind.
I’m always amazed how I can meet southern California people who are not trained on the beach and in the ocean. They don’t know what to bring to the beach. They don’t know when they need an umbrella and how to tie it down. They don’t even know how to open their beach chairs. Seen that? That’s just the beach. There’re even more laws for the ocean. One universal law of the ocean—never turn your back on the ocean! You’re gonna get killed. Waves are unstable, inconsistent, and untrustworthy–fun, but deadly.
Some of you are freaking out over verse 6, but you shouldn’t. James says there are two kinds of people. Listen, there are those who pray to God, depending on Him for help and wanting only His will. But there are also those who pray to God, depending on their prayer, wanting only what they want from God, counsel from others, to hear what they want, or to be pointed to God’s will. There are people who ask for help but they only want their will–doubters. And there are people who ask for help and they only want God’s will—faithers. Ask with a dependent heart, wanting only His wisdom and His will for your life.
James knew what happened to Peter. It was doubt that caused Peter to sink in the waves as he was walking toward Christ in Matthew 14. Jesus asked him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When Peter started his water walk, he kept his eyes on Christ. But when he was distracted by the wind and waves (trials), he ceased to walk by faith and began to sink. He doubted and almost drowned. Ask the Lord for wisdom, but keep your heart focused on Christ and what He wants and not what you want.
#3 Ask your God with the right relationship, LOYALLY Verses 7 to 8
“For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” The doubter is focused on his wants and his abilities and not the Lord’s. He’s not loyal. Such a person cannot “expect that he will receive anything from the Lord.” He is like Israel, who Elijah rebuked in 1 Kings 18:21, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” You are either living for the Lord, or living for yourself. You are either trusting His all-powerful, all-wise, sovereign will or you are trusting in what you want. He is either your master, or you are master. He is determining what is best, or you are.
Don’t be the make-believer, who Revelation 3:16 says is “lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, (and as a result, the Lord will) spit you out of My mouth.” Do not be the double-minded, so-called Christian. James uses double-minded later, in chapter 4:8, to describe an unbeliever–informing us what James means here.
The Greek word double-minded describes a church attender whose soul is divided between God and the world, between this life and the next, between Christ and themselves. They talk Jesus, but live for themselves. They worship, but don’t submit to Christ as Master. They’re double-souled, double-minded, in “Pilgrim’s Progress”, Mr. Facing-both-ways. This make-believer is a hypocrite who occasionally believes in God, attends church, but fails to trust Christ when trials come, thus receives no wisdom, no help, and no growth.
In the parable of the soils, the double-minded is the heart exposed in the rocky soil. The Gospel is shared, but what happens? Matthew 13:20 and 21, “The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises [trials] because of the word, immediately he falls away.” They were never saved in the first place, and trials exposed their superficial heart.
James adds in verse 8, “They are unstable”–which means unsteady, fickle, staggering, reeling like a drunken man. James is pointed here. Although this guy claims to be a Christian, his reaction to trials reveals he is an unbeliever. When he goes through a severe trial, he turns to human resources rather than singularly trusting the Lord for answers and for help. Or he becomes bitter and resentful and seeks no help at all. I know people like this–he does not renounce God, but he acts as if God doesn’t exist and God doesn’t care, or isn’t capable of delivering him from trouble. He knows some of God’s Word and refers to God’s love, but he refuses to avail himself of God’s divine resources.
James is saying the Lord will help you in your trials. But to receive wisdom and get the help you need from Christ to endure trials, you must not whine, WHY ME? But you must ask the Lord in prayer, depending on His character and promises–not your thinking, feelings, strength or supposed spirituality. Ask with a heart loyal to Christ as your first love, loving Him above anyone or anything else. WHY?
The only way you can ask in faith is to be given a faith by God. Faith is a gift from God and those who have it will exercise it. You’ll not trust God in trials unless you have Christ’s heart-transforming salvation and the Holy Spirit-indwelling power to live through you. You must be born again, made new, given faith to believe in salvation, and the same faith to live in sanctification. Do you have a converted heart, a heart of faith?
Like Joshua, who looked straight into the eyes of each Israelite and said, “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve–the false God’s of your day, or the only true God. Stop sitting on the fence, stop remaining in the middle, stop waffling in your indecision and say, ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’” No matter what trial you face in life, be hot for Christ, or be a cold rejecter–but do not continue as a lukewarm fake, like so many do today. You cannot serve two masters–either Christ is Master or you are the Master. His will or your will?
Stop whining. Stop being critical. Stop playing the victim. James said when you have trials, not if—“when”. Trials are coming to each of you–and stop comparing your trials to others. James said trials are various, sovereignly selected just for you! God picked your family, your environment, your race, your wealth, your looks—everything. Your trials were designed by Christ just for you. You are no better or worse than anyone else.
What crushes you doesn’t crush others–but everyone is crushed/trialed. Ask Him for wisdom to deal with your specific many-colored trials, but stop whining. To be a witness for Christ, to glorify God, you are to rejoice in trials, not complain.
Most of the wisdom you need, that James calls you to pray for, is already found in God’s revealed Word. This wisdom is already ours, available in hundreds of precepts, proverbs, parables and principles. The Law of Moses contains 613 commandments, many of them still relevant to your everyday life. Solomon wrote Proverbs in order to live by Heaven’s wisdom on Earth. The gospels and epistles are loaded with wisdom for marriage, family, work, relationships, finances and all of life.
The Bible is wise counsel, and the Bible speaks clearly, with absolute authority. So the big question is–are you following the content of the Bible? The wise man lives under the Bible. The fool and fake live over the Bible. All we have to do is read it, study it, meditate upon it, memorize it, and obey it.
Notice James 1:5, “Let him ask of God.” Then James 1:7, “from the Lord.” Trials were designed to draw you to Christ or draw you closer to Christ. Only when you do, will you find wisdom and joy in trial. To quiet your heart, talk with your Savior face-to-face by faith, and your heart will be at peace through any trial. Let’s pray.