The Book of James, Part 7:
Ask God for Wisdom

Review:

Last lesson, two weeks ago, we discussed trials and tribulations that James says we are to consider joy.  Remember that the Greek work is actually the pressure that God puts us under.  We discussed the difference is a test and a temptation.  A temptation is from Satan, it is designed to make us fail.  A test (trial) is God's way of letting us understand our strengths and weaknesses and to help us decide how to improve.

James even told us why this is important: testing our faith produces endurance.   Remember that the Christian walk is a marathon, not a sprint.  The Christian walk is a journey from a new birth at conversion toward perfection, but the goal will not be achieved until we are with Jesus.  We are each a work in progress.   As Pablo Casals said at age 95, "I still practice six hours a day because I think I am making progress."   Every day we need to be growing in our relationship with Jesus, because we should still be making progress, no matter how long you have been practicing.

Remember, each of us is here:

  1. by God's appointment,
  2. in His keeping,
  3. under His training,
  4. for His time.
Today: Ask God for Wisdom:

Today we are going to talk about learning to lean on the Lord.

There's something in us that resists relying on the Lord.   Take prayer -- do you pray as a first resort or as a last resort?  If we were brutally honest, most of us would say, I live by the philosophy that when all else fails, pray.  That's just how most of us are, with the exception of Carol and a few of you prayer warriors.

An extreme example of this self-reliance is Ted Turner.   A USA Today article spotlighted multi-billionaire Ted Turner.  Turner was the Time Warner Vice Chairman who also happens to be the country's largest landowner with more than 1.6 million acres, on which he runs his herd of 17,000 buffalo...., many of the acres of land and herds of buffalo are here in New Mexico.  Turner believes in anything that promotes peace, harmony, understanding, and brotherhood.

Pat & I had the occasion to hear Ted Turner speak to an audience in Atlanta a few years ago.   Without the knowledge of what I am about to tell you, we were underwhelmed.  He was unpolished, crude and egoistical.   Other than that, we liked him.

Toward the end of the article in USA Today, Turner explains his motives: "You know, I'm not looking for any big rewards.  I'm not a religious person.  I believe this life is all we have.  I'm not doing what I'm doing to be rewarded in heaven or punished in hell.  I'm doing it because I feel it's the right thing to do.  Almost every religion talks about a savior coming.  When you look in the mirror in the morning, when you're putting on your lipstick or shaving, you're looking at the savior.  Nobody else is going to save you but yourself."

I think he will get to eat those words one of these days.

I think a lot of the world would agree with Ted.   I hope that most of us in this room would not, but we live like it.

In the passage we are about to get into, James shows us several different ways that we can lean (rely) on the Lord.  Discipleship equals dependence on the Lord.   Relying on the Lord is not an option; it's mandatory.

This humorous prayer by an anonymous author illustrates the importance of relying on the Lord:

What are some things we rely on instead of God?

Did you ever think that leaning on something or someone other than the Lord is a form of idolatry?  Consider this:

Henry Blackaby writes, "An idol is anything you turn to for help when God told you to turn to him for help."

 I read a great story about a father who watched through the kitchen window as his small son attempted to lift a large stone out of his sandbox.  The boy was frustrated as he wrestled with the heavy object because he just couldn't get enough leverage to lift it over the side.  Finally the boy gave up and sat down dejectedly on the edge of the sandbox with his head in his hands.

The father went outside and asked, "What's wrong, Son?  Can't you lift that rock out?"  "No, sir," the boy said, "I can't do it."   "Have you used all the strength that's available to you?" the father asked.   "Yes, sir," the boy replied.   "No, you haven't," the father said.  "You haven't asked me to help you."

I wonder how often we're like that little boy.  We're trying to do it all ourselves and we just don't get it done.  Instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment, we feel frustrated, discouraged and defeated.  Maybe our heavenly Father would say to us the same things that this father said to his son.  You haven't asked me for help yet.

Are you relying on the Lord?  Are you asking Him to help you in everything you do?

In the next seven verses of James Chapter 1, James gives us three "A" instructions.

  1. Ask God For Wisdom (1:5-8)
  2. Accept a Lower Place (1:9-10)
  3. Appreciate what Really Lasts (1:11)
1. Ask God For Wisdom (1:5-8): The theme we're following in this section is learning to lean (rely) on the Lord.  One way we can rely on God is by asking Him to give us the wisdom we need for daily living.

What are some areas of our lives where we need God's wisdom?

Notice how wide open James' statement in verse five is.  He doesn't limit it to wisdom related to church or ministry.  He says "If any of you lacks wisdom" -- implying a lack of wisdom in any area of life.

Let's consider some of the words in these three verses and what we can learn from them:

If -- In Greek there is more than one word that can be translated "if".  The word here is ei and is used when the statement following is assumed to be true.  That makes sense.  Every human lacks wisdom, so the if could be restated as "since you lack wisdom", because we all "lack wisdom"; we all need God's wisdom.

What are some areas of life where we lack wisdom?

Every place that we need it.   We do not have the ability as humans, to have Godly wisdom.

Any of you -- God doesn't reserve His wisdom to certain people; it's available to any and all believers.  I do think that God's wisdom is available only to believers.  Remember that James is writing to believers, not to unbelievers.  God's wisdom isn't limited to people in ministry or those who go to seminary. Consider what we're told in the following passage: Lacks -- What does the word "lack" suggest, imply to you?   According to Webster's Dictionary, "lack" implies an absence or shortage of something essential or desired. Wisdom -- It's important for us to understand that James didn't say, "If any of you lacks knowledge".  He said, "If any of you lacks wisdom".   In James 3, we're going to learn more about the character of wisdom.  But before we go any further, we need to understand how God defines wisdom.

We live in a culture that is characterized more by "wise guys" than wise people!  The lack of wise people is certainly not due to a lack of knowledge.  All of us have heard reports on the "knowledge explosion" that has take place in the last half of the 20th century: "Since 1955 knowledge has doubled every 5 years ... Our generation possesses more data about the universe and human personality than all previous generations put together".   If you're a parent, or a grandparent, you don't have to be convinced of this knowledge explosion -- just try to help your kids or grandkids with their homework!

If knowledge alone could bring happiness, then our society would definitely be a heaven on earth.  But in spite of all our knowledge there seems to be little improvement in the quality of life.  America has one of the highest rates of violent crimes (murder, rape, assaults) of any country in the world.  Alcohol and drug abuse are pervasive problems.  The family as a basic component of society is probably the weakest it has ever been in the history of our country.  The "dysfunctional family" seems more the norm than the exception.   Knowledge alone is not enough - what we need is wisdom.

The words "wise" and "wisdom" are used over 350 times in the Bible -- clearly an important theme.  The book with the greatest emphasis on wisdom is Proverbs, with over 100 references to wisdom in its 31 chapters.  Here are just a few of the references to wisdom in Proverbs.   What can you learn about wisdom from the following verses?

Don't depend on yourself.   Ted Turner is in for a shock.   He is leaning on the wrong post. Wisdom is a blessing, a gift from God. This blessing of wisdom is invaluable, the more valuable than assets.

I always enjoy hearing about celebrity auctions.  You know what I mean -- it's where they take a bunch of stuff that belonged to Elvis or Frank Sinatra or Marilyn Monroe and sell it to the highest bidder.  It never fails to amaze me how much people are willing to pay!

People pay for that stuff because they see it as valuable.

As a Christian, do you value wisdom?  Do you value God's Word?  How important is it to you?  What would you be willing to "pay"?  Would you get up earlier to have a quiet time?  Will you give up a Saturday evening or a Sunday morning to be taught wisdom?"

I think part of what this verses teaches is that God is the source of wisdom and recognizing that there is a God and acknowledging His place in the universe and in our lives is the starting point for becoming wise.

The Hebrew word for wisdom is chokmah.  It's an interesting word because it can be translated "skill" as well as "wisdom".  Wisdom is the practical application of God's Word to daily living.

The Greek word translated as wisdom in James is sophía which directly means "wisdom".

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Next week:

...we will continue with James 1:5 and wrap up the first "A" of this section