Facing testing times with a mature outlook demands insight beyond oneself. One arrives at a necessary recognition: “if any of you lacks wisdom” (1:5). The qualifying “if” should not mislead anyone. The words should be understood to mean: Since individuals among you are deficient in wisdom. The text implies that some believers came short of the wisdom that was needed to turn trials into triumphs. James fixed on individual responsibility to recognize this fact.
To face life’s quizzes with the right outlook requires continual intercession—perpetual requests to God. When a person needed wisdom, James wrote: “Let him ask God…” (1:5). The phrase does not imply permission as much as it does a mandate. The habitual duty of one who is deficient in wisdom must be to ask God continually for insight. James must have been recalling Jesus’ repeated teaching. Jesus stressed persistence in prayer.
Surely, James and his readers understood verse 5 to be an allusion to Solomon’s youthful request for wisdom (1 Kings 3:7). Solomon begged God for wisdom that would be equal to his task. God quickly gave him the requested wisdom for a specific, difficult problem or case (1 Kings 3:16-28). James assured all believers that each one had the same privilege before God as the famous king had.
God’s Generous Goodness
God does not give with a closed fist; He gives with an open hand. He is a God who gives to all persons liberally (Jas. 1:5). Generously and simply, God gives the asking believer wisdom. His gift is without reservation, hesitation, or calculation for a return gift. The text implies that God gives a person wisdom without any secondary motive or deceit. He gives with a single-minded generosity.
James literally called God the giving God. The force of the expression is difficult to translate. God’s giving is not so much an act as it is a habit. He must give as surely as the sun must give light as it burns or as a flower gives fragrance as it blooms. God’s giving is part of His nature. When believers ask Him to give wisdom, they do not ask Him to do a strange thing.
When a person asks God for wisdom, God gives such wisdom positively: He gives “without reproaching” (1:5). God does not rebuke, criticize, or complain when one asks Him for wisdom. James specifically meant that God does not reproach the believer for what he/she did with God’s last gift. He never says: What did you do with the last gift I gave you? You have wasted everything else; why should I help you now? No, God does not despise ordinary, blundering people who come again and again. That God gives is wonderful. That He gives liberally is more wonderful. One may go to Him a thousand times. One may go with needs as great as a vacant ocean. One even may go to Him after years of ingratitude. God does not reproach those who ask.
God’s Giving—People’s Receiving
James moved from the quality of divine giving to the quality of human receiving. Attention shifted from the willing Father to the waiting child. The seeker for wisdom in trials must pray in a single atmosphere. “Let him ask in faith” (1:6). The petitioner must approach habitually, with faith in God’s character and in His ability to give. The best comment is Hebrews 11:6: “Without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” The Christian must come to God with a wholehearted confidence that He will heed one’s request.
Even more emphatically, James urged believers to come “with no doubting” (1:6). The Greek word for doubting suggested a critical state of mind constantly hesitating and being indecisive. Such an attitude always debates with itself about God’s character. It oscillates between belief and unbelief. What specific doubt did James have in mind? He seemed to indicate that an inner civil war exists between trust and distrust of God. This may be at the point of God’s ability to grant one’s request or at the point of His willingness to do so. Others have thought that James had in mind a practical doubting which wavers between God and the world. Such a prayer hesitates between friendship with the world and allegiance to God. (See 4:4.)
When believers pray with doubting and wavering, they demonstrate a radical defect in their approach to God. James vividly portrayed such a person as a “wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (1:6). Divine wisdom cannot be given to a mind that is tossed here and there by doubt about God’s character. James knew from the storms on the Sea of Galilee what a maverick wave could do to unsettle and frighten people. (See Luke 8:24.)
Christians who are blown about by doubt and disbelief in their prayer life face disaster. God insists only that one believe that He exists and that He has the kind of goodwill toward the one praying that a father has toward his children. Do you see a gathering storm of instability in your life? God wants you to pray and not to be like the wind-driven surge, but to be like the strong current of a rapid river that sweeps away obstacles as it bears steadily onward into the ocean of divine grace. As always, Jesus said it best: “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and cast into the sea,” it will be done. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith'” (Matt. 21:21-22).
What is the result of the kind of “seasick” praying that James described in verse 6? James warned emphatically: “That person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord” (1:7-8). Such a wavering Christian might make an unwarranted judgment. He might imagine a divine answer to such divided praying. James set the record straight: Such praying receives neither wisdom for trials nor anything else. With the phrase “that person,” James disassociated himself from the doubting individual with a hint of disapproval or contempt. Divided praying finds that heaven is a brass canopy.
Indeed, the divided person is “double-minded” (v. 7). Literally, the Greek word can be rendered two-souled. James coined a word that was used nowhere else in the Greek language before his time. Doubting, wavering praying literally houses a divided mind or heart. The Old Testament provided James with this concept. Every Jew repeated daily that God is one and should be loved with an undivided heart (Deut. 6:4-5). Doubleness of heart is the essence of sin in the Old Testament. (See Ps. 12:1-2.) The essence can be caught by visualizing someone who straddles the fence.
Further, the divided person who is drawn in two directions reveals instability in “all his ways” (Jas. 1:8). His heart reflects the instability of a kingdom where no one person rules. With the fickleness that characterizes a boy who loves one girl friend today and another tomorrow, so that person prays. As Moffatt translated: “He is… wavering at every turn.” What is worse, his praying affects his whole conduct in life in all that he does. Vacillating prayer leads one to an indecisive walk. Such a divided person displays instability throughout his life. One who cannot trust God may not be trustworthy.