Nothing tests the sincerity of the heart motives behind our prayers like trials do. Why is that? Trials are custom-designed by God to reveal to us the idolatry that remains in our hearts, not so that He may gleefully watch us suffer or, God forbid, punish us for something Christ already sufficiently paid for, but in order that we may more deeply experience the transforming power of His grace toward Christ-likeness. Let’s face it: When we suffer, we too often pray in very selfish ways. Most commonly, we ask God to deliver us from our trial—to make life easier. But what if easier does not lead to true growth?
In the last post, we thought about God’s gracious purpose in our trials, that is, to test our faith in order that we may grow in the endurance that characterizes spiritual maturity. This is the reason we should obey the command to rejoice when we encounter various trials. When you and I disobey God’s command to rejoice then we work against the deeper works that the Spirit seeks to accomplish within us.
As already stated, another benefit of trials is their unique ability to test our prayers. The way we pray in the midst of suffering reveals our heart’s desires, whether we are more concerned with God’s glory or our own “comfortable life.”
TRIALS TEST OUR PRAYERS (vv. 5-8)
Trials test our faith by either moving us closer to dependence on God, demonstrated by submissive prayer, or further from God by feeding our innate prideful independence and sense of self-sufficiency. Listen to how James exhorts us:
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 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. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
- The promise (v. 5)
God’s promise to us is that He will give us wisdom in our times of trial. And He will not give it stingily, but generously and without reproach. Wisdom is “for the asking.” The phrase “if any of you lacks” indicates that James rightly assumes that we need wisdom, “we need God’s wisdom so that our trials will not be wasted” (James: Wisdom for the Community by Christopher W. Morgan and B. Dale Ellenburg).
God gives to us generously, that is, James calls God the constantly giving God. And when God gives His wisdom, He does it “without reproach,” without scolding us for previous sins, failures, or weaknesses. God does not give like we sometimes give. Sometimes we may say, “Well, what happened to the money that I gave you last time? Well, I guess I’ll have to give you more. But remember, don’t mess up this time.” God is not that way. When we ask for wisdom, it is as if He has been waiting to give it to us all along. All we have to do is ask for it.
When a believer asks God for wisdom in trial, that wisdom “will be given him.” The promise is clear: Ask the constantly-giving God for wisdom and He will give it to you. King Solomon prayed for wisdom and God answered by giving it to him.
It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing. God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you” (1 Kings 3:10-12).
God’s wisdom is truly there “for the asking.”
- The prerequisite (vv. 6a)
However, James makes it clear that there is a prerequisite to receiving God’s wisdom: “But he must ask in faith without any doubting.” In other words, we must keep on asking, not doubting—we must persevere in prayer instead of giving up the first time God does not give us a microwave answer.
Edmond Hiebert defines this kind of faith as “the wholehearted attitude of a full and unquestioning committal to and dependence upon God, as He has revealed Himself to us in Christ Jesus. It is the proper human response to the goodness of God.” This is the faith of the woman with the twelve-year hemorrhage who pressed through the crowds just to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. Her actions were motivated by a simple childlike trust in the goodness of God. And Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction” (Mark 5:34).
This kind of faith is “without any doubting.” It is without the back-and-forth wavering that too often characterizes us.
- The problem (vv. 6b-8)
This doubting reveals a problem, “for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” Adamson says in the New International Commentary on the New Testament, “The doubter is like ‘a sea of waves,’ now wind-driven toward the southeast, and now toward the northwest, with nothing that could sensibly be called progress.”
Verse 7 is a very strong rebuke! “For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.” When we ask God for wisdom, but do not truly believe He will give it to us, then we are acting double-minded. The picture here is of a mind “so filled with uncertainty and indecision that it cannot make any choice between the alternatives with which it is faced” (Adamson). In Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan calls this man: “Mr. Facing-both-ways.” He is a fence-walker. On one hand he wants to leave the lusts of his flesh, but on the other hand he delights in them so much that he does not want to give them up for God. The prophet Jeremiah reveals that this stems from trusting in ourselves, rather than trusting in God.
Thus says the Lord, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:5-8)
Trials have a way of testing our prayers to reveal whether we simply want relief from suffering or the more valuable possession of wisdom leading to spiritual growth toward maturity in Christ.
- What trial is God taking you through right now?
- Have you been responding in a godly manner?
- If not, confess your sinful response(s) to God and receive His generous forgiveness.
- How are you praying?
- What does the way you pray reveal about your heart?
- Are you asking God for His generous wisdom, or are you doubting Him?
- Talk to the Lord about these things.
- Ask Him to give you a heart to trust Him.