“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”
James begins his letter with one of the most inspirational and challenging statements that we can find in the Bible. He calls believers into a considered, reasoned, approach to the whole range of trials and difficulties that we find ourselves facing in our lives. James begins this passage with a call to “consider”. This word means to think, to reason through a set of facts that will lead us to a certain conclusion. The facts that guide this process of reasoning must have been well known to James and to the other New Testament believers that he was writing to. What are these facts? James tells us as he works through the letter. They are the facts that are contained in what James calls wisdom. This wisdom is not some nebulous information that comes to us as we are living our lives; it is the wisdom which is contained in the Word of God. If you lack wisdom, James counsels, then you should ask God for it. God who is generous with His gifts to His people will give it. He will lead you by His Spirit into a deepening understanding of the teaching and principles of God’s wisdom which are contained in His Word so that you can find your way to real growth in the trial that you are facing. The purpose of the trial is to cause you to grow into the grace of God, becoming a maturing disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ who perseveres in obedience to Him. This wisdom will also give you everything you need for living an overcoming Christian life marked by Christ centred and mature discipleship.
We must ask for this wisdom in faith. This means that we must believe that there is first of all wisdom from God to be had. It also calls us to believe that the wisdom we are seeking will be given in answer to our prayers. Prayerfully, in faith we therefore come before God in our trial seeking His wisdom in His Word and God provides it to us by grace. This is, I believe, expressed powerfully by John Newton in one of his Hymns from the Olney Hymns in Three Books, 1879.
“I asked the Lord that I might grow In faith and love and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know, And seek more earnestly His face.
’Twas He who taught me thus to pray, And He, I trust, has answered prayer;
But it has been in such a way As almost drove me to despair.
I hoped that in some favoured hour At once He’d answered my request;
And by His love’s constraining power, Subdue my sins and give me rest.
Instead of this He made me feel The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell Assault my soul in every part.
Yea more, with His own hand He seemed Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I’d schemed, blasted my gourds and laid me low.
“Lord, why this,” I tremblingly cried; “Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“’Tis in this way,” the Lord replied, I answer prayer for grace and faith.
These inward trials I employ From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthy joy, That thou mayest seek thy all in Me.”