If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask Him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. James 1:5-8
Have you ever read the novel, Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens? Or maybe you have seen one of the film versions of the story?
There is an iconic scene which always comes to my mind when I read James 1:5.
Oliver Twist is one of the many boys finding themselves unfortunate enough to be residents of the parish workhouse. The boys are fed three meager meals a day of thin gruel and are starving. Almost mad with hunger, they decide one of them must ask for more food. Lots are cast, and the task falls to poor Oliver.
That evening, after the boys had finished their allotted helping of food, Oliver approaches the master, a fat, healthy man, and asks for more gruel. The master is shocked, horrified, and greatly offended at the request. He raises his ladle and aims a blow at Oliver’s head.
News of Oliver’s impertinence spreads quickly making its way to the board over the parish workhouse and the Chairman of the Board, Mr. Limbkins. Oliver is instantly placed in confinement, and a note is posted on the workhouse gate offering a reward of five pounds to anyone who will take Oliver. Asking for more was the unpardonable sin and young Oliver Twist had committed it.
It is a great difficulty to be in desperate need, dependent on the generosity of another, only to find the person selfish, cruel, and without an ounce of compassion. This scene in Oliver Twist is heartbreaking and, I think, relatable at some level to all of us.
Have you ever needed more and been afraid to ask? Maybe you needed more from a parent, more from a boss, more from a spouse, more from a teacher, or more from a doctor, but you weren’t confident the person able to meet your need was compassionate toward your circumstances?
Maybe there have been times you have asked for more and were ridiculed, rebuked, or rejected, but James assures us this is will not be the case when we need wisdom from above.
God is generous with wisdom. He pours it out, fills our bowls, and welcomes requests for more. He will not rebuke us or turn us away. He will fill our bowls to the brim yet again. It is His joy to be generous with wisdom because it is His pleasure to see His children walking in wisdom.
And when is it we have the greatest need for wisdom? Is it not when troubles come…times of testing and trial as we face a difficult decision, a crisis, or a season of suffering? Here we see our need for wisdom connected to the troubles spoken of in the previous verses we looked at last week.
If the troubles of life are to produce spiritual endurance in us, then we will need wisdom to steward our troubles well.
There is but one requirement for God’s generosity. When we ask for wisdom, we must ask in faith in Him alone. We are not to have a divided loyalty between God and the world.
First, what does it mean to be in faith? To be in faith is to have placed one’s hope for salvation solely in the finished work of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus, his death and resurrection, that we are made right with God and can boldly approach His throne and make our requests known (Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 4:15-16) . No one can come to God the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6).
If Jesus is not your Lord and Savior, you have no means through which to approach God, no name under which to make requests of God, and God is not bound to do one thing for you.
Additionally, there are some who attempt to have God and this world. They practice a form of faith before God, but they desire to have this world, too. As James puts it, their loyalty is divided, but a divided loyalty is no loyalty at all.
Though they may practice christianized religion (2 Timothy 3:5), their hearts belong to this world and they are busy about the work of laying up their treasures in the here and now (Matthew 6:19-21). They are happy to use God to achieve their ends just as they are happy to use any means which seems profitable in the moment.
In times of trouble, they cry out to God for His help, His rescue, or His wisdom, but they approach Him in the same way one would approach a genie in a lamp. The lamp is rubbed and the expectation is that the wishes will be granted. There is no loyalty to the genie except to the degree the genie is useful. If another means arises seemingly more useful, their loyalties quickly shift (Hosea 7:14).
What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22
Nothing proves a person’s loyalty like obedience. Jesus said, If you love me, obey my commandments, John 14:15. A person with divided loyalty will often reject God’s way for the world’s way if the world’s way seems more advantageous. They try to be a friend of God and a friend of the world, but friendship with the world makes one an enemy of God (James 4:4).
James says people with divided loyalty are like a wave of the sea blown and tossed by the wind. They have no anchor for their souls. They are carried along by cultural trends and the latest whims. Their lives reflect the instability of our fallen world. As the world goes, so go they. God says they should not expect to receive anything from Him.
Who do we listen to? Who do we obey? That proves our greater loyalty.
Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment, Proverbs 9:10.
When the Lord isn’t feared, He isn’t obeyed and our lives become marked by foolish decisions and instability. (Proverbs 14:12)
This point really stuck out to me. Are there areas in my life where I’m asking for God’s help, for God’s wisdom, but I’m not obeying what I already know to do? I think this is a good place for us to pause and ask God to search our hearts and anxious thoughts and point out areas where we are in error or disobedient so that we can address it, repent of it, and follow Him along the right path (Psalm 139:23-24).
It is important to note that the word waver is not in rebuke to Christians who struggle and wrestle under the weight of their troubles. David, the man after God’s own heart, often struggled under his personal troubles and the troubles he witnessed in the lives around him. He had hard questions and he wrestled with them, but even as he struggled he did so before God claiming God’s promises and God’s character to anchor his heart. His struggles were in faith; His loyalty was to God and God’s way.
There are three means through which God works His wisdom into our lives. In all three, He works by the power of His Holy Spirit which lives in all who have placed their faith in Him (John 14:26; Ephesians 1:14; Romans 8:26-27).
- His Word – The Bible is God’s Word for us. It corrects us, teaches us, prepares us, and equips us (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God works in us to make us wise and godly as we study His Word and apply it to our lives.
- Prayer – As we communicate with God in prayer asking for wisdom, making our requests known, and confessing our fears and doubts, we are actively placing our trust in Him. He will lead us and guide us in the way that is right. (Philippians 4:6-7; Proverbs 3:5-6)
- His people – Other mature Christians can be a source of wisdom and encouragement when troubles come. They can help us see a way forward as well as the dangerous pitfalls that may come with our particular trial. (Galatians 6:2; Proverbs 15:22; 1 Thessalonians 5:11)
God cares about our troubles; He is concerned with our sufferings. When we are in need and come to Him for wisdom, we will not find Him a cruel master such as Oliver Twist encountered, but a Father eager to see His children succeed and to supply all necessary for His children’s success.
When troubles come, we need to avail ourselves of all the ways God works in our lives (His Word, prayer, Christian community), we need to commit to His ways (obey), and we need to ask for His wisdom. He will be faithful and generous in its provision.