One of the most common prayer requests, after the request for help and healing amid sickness, is the prayer for wisdom. Indeed, all of us frequently find ourselves asking God for the knowledge or skill for living life and handling difficult situations—like those we heard about in the Sunday sermon. The Bible itself commends such prayers and even offers a guarantee.
James 1:5 (NASB95), But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
What a promise! If you need wisdom for life and ask God, God says that he will happily provide it to you! But the question is: how will God provide you his wisdom?
We may suppose that, when we pray for wisdom, God will just secretly zap down know-how to us from heaven, but this is a faulty expectation. Though God is certainly capable of miracles, even the imparting of immediate, supernatural knowledge (e.g. 1 Cor 12:8-10), he chooses in this age to work through much less flashy means. For example, though God could speak his saving gospel directly to sinners or send his angels out as supernatural heralds (cf. Acts 9:3-8; Rev 14:6), God chooses instead to use a “weak” church of redeemed sinners and the “foolish” declaration of the gospel to save souls (1 Cor 1:18-30; Rom 10:14-15). In a similar way, God answers our prayers for wisdom not by spectacular signs and wonders but by giving us understanding as we pursue certain practical means to wisdom. Let’s briefly consider those means; I can think of four:
1. God’s Word. God primarily provides us wisdom as we study and hear explained his perfect revelation. After all, the Bible itself claims to be our complete and sufficient wisdom for life, as it is the very mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16; Col 1:28; 2:2-10; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pt 1:2-4). Therefore, if we want to know true wisdom, we need to know God’s word (Prov 1:7; Psa 19:7-11). Expect that God will equip you with wisdom in response to prayer as you seek out and submit to his word.
2. Good Counsel. The Bible over and over again commends the wisdom of seeking the instruction, advice, and correction of those who are wise (e.g Prov 1:5; 11:14; 19:20; Eccl 7:5). Though all human counsel must be sifted through the perfect counsel of God’s word (Rom 3:4; Acts 17:11; 2 Pt 1:19), those who are knowledgeable and more experienced than we are can give us great wisdom for both spiritual and practical matters. Expect, then, that God will answer your prayers for wisdom as you obey his word of wisdom and seek out personal discipleship and instruction.
3. Thorough Observation. In the book of Ecclesiastes, many of Solomon’s wise conclusions come by way of observation, from what Solomon actually witnessed and carefully considered in his life under the sun (e.g. Eccl 4:1; 8:17; 9:11). Though our own study of life functions best when guided by God’s word and assisted by wise teachers, we can gain wisdom by our own observation and experience. Indeed, the Bible itself commends the gathering of information before giving an answer (Prov 18:13, 15; cf. Gen 18:21; Dt 17:6; Mt 18:16). Along with the above, therefore, expect that God will answer your prayers for wisdom as you diligently study the realities of the world and of your particular situation.
4. Painful Discipline. Often neglected in the application of James 1:5 is its context (vv. 1-18), which is all about suffering and trials. Specifically, James 1:2-4 clarify that we should rejoice amid trials because of what those trials bring us: completion of what we lack. And what do we lack? Well, righteousness, Christlikeness, and…(v. 5) wisdom! Thus, a main exhortation in verses 2-5 is to let God’s training trials instill in us the very wisdom for which we pray. Let us expect, then, that God will answer our prayers for wisdom by the formative and corrective discipline he provides (Prov 3:11-12; Heb 12:4-11).
We will all have moments in our lives when we just don’t know what to do. Those are perfect times to ask God for wisdom! But we need to do so with proper expectations. If we belong to Christ, God will answer our prayer by the means of wisdom God has ordained—and not with exhaustive knowledge, as if we could become masters of the world (Dt 29:29; Eccl 8:16-17), but with sufficient knowledge, with whatever we truly need to act rightly in our situation. Let us therefore both pray and act in faith to receive God’s promise.
Questions to Consider:
1. If we are not seeking out God’s ordained means for wisdom, are our prayers for wisdom really sincere? Should we expect God to answer them? Compare James 1:6-8.
2. Even though God’s wisdom to us is not exhaustive or able always to guarantee earthly success, why should his promise and provision of wisdom nevertheless fill us with confidence for facing life?
3. Where do you need wisdom right now? Are you praying for it? Are you following up with pursuit of God’s ordained means of wisdom?