Last week we began our sermon series on the book of James. We’re working systematically through this book of NT.
• Visit blog weekly (sermon recaps/studies);
• Bring Bibles (Paper/Tablet) pen, marker, etc.
As we journey through this letter, it’s important to remember that the central theme of James letter is Spiritual Maturity. God's goal for our lives is what we’ve called ‘Christ Formation’ – daily becoming more like Jesus Christ. We take on God’s values, attitudes and character, so that we think, see and treat people as Jesus does.
Let’s Pray. Loving God, today as you meet us in this place, we ask that you would do what we cannot. Open our hearts and minds so we can receive all that you would have for us. We are your people and we desire to learn from you. Speak Lord, for we your servants are listening. In the name of Christ Jesus, Amen.
James writes to believers who were undergoing difficult suffering. Much of this suffering was in the form of persecution. These Jews had come to trust Jesus as the messiah, and because of this they were being ostracised and attacked. Imagine their shock as they read the opening sentences of his letter. Look at what James writes (v.2): ‘Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy’ (NLT).
How could James make such an audacious claim? How? Well, he was convinced that their suffering wasn’t meaningless. He understood that suffering was God’s way of developing spiritual maturity in them.
Beloved in Christ, we too can consider the troubles we experience this side of eternity as an ‘opportunity for great joy!’ I'm talking about real Christian joy, authentic joy, healing joy. Lasting joy that’s unshakable because it’s not fragile. It turns the deepest despair into the greatest delight! God will use your troubles to test your faith, and prove that it’s genuine! Trials will reveal what kind of faith you really possess! God will also use your troubles to develop your character and grow you closer to God. Character can’t be taught in a classroom, it’s developed in the school hard knocks, the school of life.
And here’s the best bit in all of this: God makes available all the resources we need to for testing times. That’s what we’re looking at today.
1. Troubles demand wisdom (v.5)
Wisdom is a staple we need and should ask for every single day of our lives. However, when waves of suffering come crashing down upon us the need for wisdom becomes palpable. The darkness of suffering can feel cold and devoid of hope; worse than this God can seem inattentive or even absent. And so a good measure of wisdom is needed to see the good in our trials and troubles.
The twelve apostles had such wisdom. Look at Acts 5:41, where Luke writes: ‘the apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus!' They rejoiced at the suffering they experienced on account of Jesus. The Apostle Paul did as well.
So what is wisdom? Someone once said that ‘knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put the together. Wisdom is the right use of knowledge’. So wisdom is much more than just knowledge. For James, wisdom is practical discernment (in this text wisdom is connected with suffering); the ability to make wise decisions in difficult circumstances. Here’s a truth we need to grasp and hold on too: The wisdom needed to handle your trials the right way comes from God. You can’t buy it or acquire it any other way.
2. Wisdom demands Prayer (v.5)
How then do we get this wisdom from God? Good news... James tells us that it’s not difficult to obtain. Turn to verse 5: ‘If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you’ (Acts 1:5). So how do we get wisdom to handle our trails? We ask! Highlight or underline verse 5 and write in the margin of your bible: THIS IS HOW I GET WISDOM.
God is our sufficiency. He has everything we need: including wisdom to handle trials. And so we’re invited to ‘approach God’s throne of grace with confidence’ (Heb 4:16) through prayer and to ask for wisdom! This shows us the importance of prayer. Prayer becomes our resource. Prayer constructs a pipeline from God’s sufficiency to our inadequacy.
Mary had been having a hard time of things. Even though she served her church faithfully (as the pastors secretary) and loved Jesus with an abiding faith, she was going through great trials. She had recently suffered a stroke that made life difficult. Not long after this her husband went blind and was moved to hospital. She was sure he would probably die in that unfamiliar room.
Mary’s pastor saw her in church one Sunday morning and assured her that he was praying for her. Mary asked her pastor “what are you asking God to do?” Slightly startled by her question the kind pastor replied “I’m asking God to help you and strengthen you through this trial”. “I appreciate that,” Mary said, “but pray about one more thing. Pray that I’ll have the wisdom not to waste all of this!”
Here’s the thing...this woman had grasped and fully understood the meaning of James 1:5! There is nothing wrong with praying for a trial to be lifted, or for God to take away our pain and suffering, but more than these God seems to desire that we ask him for wisdom. And he promises to give without rebuking us. That's more good news! God doesn't remember the last time we squandered the gifts he gave to us. He doesn't hold it against us and demand something from us. He is a truly faithful and giving father. So anxious to give us everything we need...including wisdom for trials. So dear sisters and brothers in the faith, we need to ask God and know that he is faithful.
Like woman in our story, each of us needs wisdom so we won’t waste the opportunity God is giving us to mature; wisdom to bring glory to God and leave a lasting impression on those around us.
3. Prayer demands faith (vv.6-8)
When we ask God for wisdom, James tells us that we need to do so in faith. Look at verses 6-8: 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. 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do (James 1:6-8 NLT).
We don’t pray with a wavering faith (being pushed around), or a double-minded person (one mind trusts God, no sooner that other mind says troubles are too great for God). We must pray in faith. But be aware, here’s a real point of confusion. What does it mean to pray in faith? Some think it means that we pick something we want God to do, then psych ourselves up to believe that God will actually do it. That’s really just positive thinking. This isn't any different to some new age attempt of 'willing' something enough until the universe gives it to us. This is unbiblical and a perversion of truth, an attempt to manipulate God into giving in to our demands (no matter how noble they may be).
Worse still, this understanding (and practice) can leave us disappointed and angry at God. We lament to ourselves: “I tried it, I asked God, I believed it with all my heart and God did nothing”. The fact that we might do this isn't God’s problem. He's not to blame for this false prayer waffle, the real problem lies with us.
So...the prayer of faith isn’t believing that God will do something WE WANT DONE! The prayer of faith is believing (trusting) that God will do for us what he has promised to do in His Word.
Let me say it again: The prayer of faith is believing that God will do for us what he has promised to do in His Word. Put another way, it's trusting that God will be true to the promises we read and hear in His Word.
Our Loving God never changes. He's always stays the same and he is always true to His promises. God has promised that that he will resource us with wisdom – and so we trust in this promise. We may not feel that we’re getting wisdom. You don't 'feel' wisdom in a situation. However, as the years pass and we look back on our troubles, we'll see that God has indeed been faithful. And even if it doesn't seem that way, God has still been faithful.
Today, God is inviting you to place your life and his hands and to trust him to lead you. So ask for wisdom and trust that we will keep his promise and resource you with all you need in your troubles. Amen.