...you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:3-7)
This verse has kept coming into my mind repeatedly of late. My attention keeps being drawn to the specific words highlighted above as key to understanding, appreciating and most importantly experiencing the promise embedded in this passage of receiving wisdom.
Do I need more wisdom? That's a given and hardly needs expressing. But then again, expression is a form of admission which is an important part of deepening a relationship through honesty. Without getting real first it is impossible to progress very far in a healthy relationship with anyone. So admitting my need, my inadequacy, my true condition and lack of wisdom is a vital first step toward connecting with and experiencing the life-giving power of God in His gospel. Another word that encapsulates this is the word confession which simply means 'to agree with'. God knows everything, but to synchronize with Him and enter the process of restoration into a vital relationship with Him, I must start by agreeing with His assessment of the problems that continue to reinforce any rift between us.
This passage is part of James' discussion about the role of trials in the life of a Christ-follower. He leads us to see trials as opportunities to develop in maturity and to develop stability of character. Trials are not punishments to avoid but rather experiences that tend to expose areas of our heart and character that often need adjusting. Of course growth cannot happen in our lives without our cooperation, thus the inclusion of awareness of what is really going on is vital to help us cooperate with God's lesson plan for us. This is where our need arises to receive wisdom and discernment from God in order to better align our perceptions with the way God views our situation and the plans He has regarding us.
James picks up again and explains more about the nature of this wisdom from God in chapter 3 where he unpacks more clearly the kind of wisdom God wants to give us:
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. (James 3:13-17)
The parts of these passages that have impressed themselves on me most intensely of recent are the complementary words in chapter 1 that pair to each other in verses 5 and 7. In verse 5 James clearly says that God is a giver of wisdom and if we ask for it, wisdom will be given to us (also in an interesting way, and I want to also touch on before I am done here). Then in verse 7 the complement of God's 'givingness' we see its counterpart in our need to receive what we have requested.
Some years ago it began emerging in my awareness that the problem we so often encounter when we fail to experience the wisdom we ask for of God, is due entirely to our own lack of reception and in no way is to be blamed on any lack of release or provision on God's part. If I do not receive the wisdom I ask for from God, according to James, it is due to my own condition of double-mindedness and unbelief, the same mindset that prevented the disciples from receiving so much that Jesus had been offering them throughout His entire time with them on earth. Because of their confused and even contradictory ideas about what God was like, they were unable to effectively appreciate or receive the enormous resources of wisdom that was readily available to them for three and a half years.
I recall the words of Jesus after His resurrection making a stunning offer that used to puzzle me a great deal. When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:22)Yet there is no record of them receiving that offer until nearly two months later. We need to grasp the importance of receiving as related to God's giving. It was not until Jesus had returned to heaven and the stubborn, proud, self-focused disciples finally humbled themselves and allowed the teachings of Jesus to go much deeper into their hearts that they began to appreciate and actually embrace the wisdom of God. Only then were they ready to receive the Spirit of God that would empower them to publicly display the true glory of God that Jesus had offered them previously.
Unfortunately we find ourselves in a similar condition as were Jesus' disciples before their willingness to humble themselves and get real before Pentecost. It is no lack of desire on God's part that prevents us from experiencing the power of His Spirit in our lives or have the wisdom of God in our hearts and minds. Rather, it is our unwillingness to embrace the real truth about what God is like and how He feels about us, revealed clearly in the compelling revelation of God in Jesus while on this earth. So long as we cling to similar dark views of God as those cherished by the disciples and their religious systems that prevented them from seeing the true kingdom Jesus was setting up, we too will lack wisdom and may often blame God for not giving it to us. We must realize that the true cause of this disconnect is purely our own resistance against allowing Jesus to our false perceptions about God with the glorious truth that is revealed through Jesus enlightenment of our minds and by healing our hearts.
When James speaks of double-mindedness, he refers to our penchant of believing contradictory things about God simultaneously. Yet this is like trying to drive a car by pushing hard on both the accelerator and the brake pedals at the same time. The result will not be a smooth ride but rather enormous frustration at best and ultimately damage to the vehicle. Jesus warns us in Revelation that it would be better that we were either hot or cold, not double-minded. James insists that unless we get our foot off the brake and embrace the real and only truth about God as it is in Jesus – the truth about His goodness, unconditional love and forgiveness as most clearly demonstrated during the closing hours of His life on earth – it will remain impossible for us to receive the kind of wisdom that is from above.
Mingling dark views of God with the glorious light of truth that is often too bright for us to be willing to accept, results in a mind trapped in contradictory and incompatible beliefs and a heart locked in fear. So long as we remain in this disabling mindset we will find it impossible to embrace the plain truth that James points out here – that God is generous and that there is absolutely no shame, reviling, suspicion, denigration or implied threats on the part of God connected with His desire to give us the wisdom we need. Again, it is never a lack of desire or willingness on the part of God that prevents us from having the wisdom He longs to gives us far more than we desire it ourselves. If we fail to receive the wisdom we need from God, it is either that we failed to even ask for it to start with, or our conflicting opinions about Him lock us inside so that we are incapable of accepting what He is generously offering us.
When James says, the doubter...must not expect to receive anything from the Lord, in no way is he suggesting that God is unwilling to give us wisdom as requested. Our lack of reception is entirely due to our mindset, in our resistance to believe in the consistent goodness, generosity, kindness and unconditional love of the Giver creating a condition in our mind disabling us from being able to accept the gift we need most apart from how much we may need or want it. This is the curse of unbelief.
The true message in the parable of the ungrateful debtor by Jesus comes to mind at this point. If the original debtor in this story (located at the end of Matthew 18) had believed and accepted the unconditional forgiveness given by his master in the story, he not only could have immediately experienced overwhelming peace and joy, he would have never felt compelled to abuse anyone else he imagined owed him something. Likely the funds he had loaned the second servant originated in what he himself had borrowed to start with, so the forgiveness extended to him eliminating permanently his own debt would, by extension, have applied equally to everyone he thought was indebted to him.
This parable (that is often tragically misinterpreted) actually teaches the very opposite about God and about judgment from what most people presume it conveys. A careful examination of this story reveals that not only did the master never withdraw his forgiveness of the obscenely large debt owed to himself, but actually reiterated his forgiveness again. The horrific outcome experienced by the stubborn debtor was not one imposed on him by the master but rather was the natural result of his own choice to repay the debt himself and reject the truth that he was really forgiven freely. The torture he was now doomed to experience was not imposed on him by an offended master punishing him for his debt or how he had treated the second debtor; rather, cherished lies in his own heart destined him to experience the internal torture of a condemning conscience that is always a result of resistance to the truth about God when one is brought into close proximity to the presence of true forgiving love.
James seeks to clarify the real cause of the problem so many of us experience, that of not receiving what we want, need or request from God. The debtor in the above parable needed to be free of his oppressive debt, yet he refused the very relief provided because he resisted humbling himself to accept unconditional forgiveness. His problem then was not that he remained or returned to being unforgiven, but rather that he failed to receive, believe and bask in the forgiveness that was a permanent reality.
Likewise, too often our reactions to unanswered prayer requests is to assume negative things about God, to imagine that God is at least part of our problem because He must be withholding what we want for some reason. Maybe He is seeking to manipulate us into doing something He wants from us in exchange for giving us what we ask from Him. Tragically this commercial view of God is part of the deep infection of self-ambition permeating the human race ever since our first parents doubted God's generosity and embraced lies suggested by the enemy. We now imagine that our relation to God is dictated by earning and deserving rather than unconditional love, grace and forgiveness. Like the proud debtor in the story of Jesus, determined to pay back what he owed rather than embracing unconditional forgiveness, we feel we must somehow do something in order to leverage God to give us something in return. But God is not interested in a commercial relationship with His children and will never allow such shallow thinking to interfere with His desire to relate to us as family instead of business clients.
These same lies still haunt us today and largely remain the cause of our inability to accept many things we need and request from God. Unbelief in the pure goodness of God as revealed in Jesus (in contrast to the goodness purported by the 'other' tree in the garden) is the sole cause why we often fail to obtain wisdom we so desperately need in order to benefit from trials and suffering in our life.
As these thoughts have been circulating in my mind the past few weeks, deepening their impression in my own heart, I have found myself asking God for wisdom as I realize my lack of it. At the same time I am asking God to remove my own doubts about His generosity as well as to expose even deeper subtle hidden lies in me that cause me to feel that if He gives me wisdom there are strings attached. These fears that God might exploit me in some way lie at the very core of sins' roots deep within my subconscious and keep sabotaging my ability to fully rest in His love for me. Yet as the Spirit prompts me to challenge these life-long lies and to allow the light of the true glory of God to expose and expel them, I can choose to focus on the light God brings to me exposing my false fears as well as to replace fear with trust in His healing love and truth.
Even as I write these words and seek to articulate what is emerging in my own mind in real time here, I am experiencing waves of emotion and relief as His healing love moves like physical waves through my body. The true gospel is indeed a transforming truth that has unlimited power to affect not only my thinking and my feelings about God but affects the physical body so that over time it can reverse the effects of the curse in every area of my existence.
The bottom line truth is that God always wants what is best for me, and desires only what will work toward the final resolution and elimination of sin throughout the entire universe. Until God's personal reputation is fully vindicated and all charges, accusations and insinuations about Him have been fully exposed and resolved, the universe will never be safe and God will remain unable to govern freely the way He always governs – through uninhibited love. His government requires complete freedom for all, and those who choose His service live free of fear and in complete loyalty to Him and to His ways of love because of their appreciation of His methods and character.
Because the enemy of my soul has the ability to block God when I allow him authority to do so, God is actually blocked from providing many things I ask for because of my unbelief. Most of us have little awareness of both the enormous power that our own will has to affect our circumstances as well as the truth that both sides in the supernatural realm require our permission/authority to operate in our lives and prevent the other side from carrying out their plans. Too many assume that because God is all powerful (many have a false conception of God's sovereignty), then nothing can prevent Him from having His way. Yet that view of God is actually a projection of our own selfish perception of power and reflects the way we would do things if we had infinite power to do everything we wanted. This view of God is satanic in origin and not like Jesus. As a result we make God out to be more in our image rather than embracing Jesus as the only way by which we perceive what God is actually like.
If I cling to contradictory ideas about God and His ways, I give authority to Satan allowing him to reinforce and deepen the confusion and darkness his lies produce in my mind both about reality and God. This is an unavoidable principle. What I express with my mouth emanates from what I allow to circulate in my imagination and becomes the pivotal factor in who is given access to my soul and who is allowed to steer the direction of my life. This is why it is so dangerous to indulge in negativity, gossip, criticism or fault-finding. The Bible refers to all these things as cursing. Cursing is not so much about using 'bad' words but rather is through giving expression to negativity, either about others, about God or even about myself. Giving expression to such sentiments and opinions puts the supernatural on notice that I affirm sentiments from the powers of darkness making me a target of powerful influences from the kingdom of lies to operate more efficiently in my life.
This is what James is addressing in this passage. He warns that by entertaining doubts about God, about His scandalous generosity and His attitudes while responding to my requests, my very doubts become authorization allowing Satan to strengthen my doubts and interpose himself between God and my heart, blocking me from even being able to receive the very things I need and request. Satan is allowed to strengthen lies in my heart because I give him access through my choice to doubt the truth God brings to my attention and by indulging in negative talk. James also points out that it is my will, my chooser, my decisions as to how I will relate to the truth as revealed by Jesus that determines which version of God I subscribe to and consequently which kind of God is given access to my soul.
How can I break the gridlock of unbelief in my own heart and have my heart unlocked and empowered so I can actually accept, embrace and receive what I ask for from God?
The secret of power is in the piece of divinity that every moral creature in the universe has implanted by design and with which we decide the direction of our destiny. It is our will, our power to make choices internally irregardless of capacity to implement those choices or not. Our power to think and make free choices is what one author calls our kingly power. Irregardless of our surrounding circumstances, each one of us has this divine freedom to choose for ourselves which supernatural power will have access to our mind, our heart and who can influence our destiny. Additionally, this power to choose for ourselves can never be taken from us by anyone. God fiercely protects our freedom to choose, whether or not we appreciate it or even when we reject Him. It is vital for us to appreciate this truth, for without freedom to choose for or against God with no threat of harm or enticements to bribe us, it is impossible for us to enjoy the agape love relationship with God or with others that we are designed to enjoy.
The only way we can lose our ability to choose freely who we will allow to govern our life and who determines by repeatedly rejecting God's gift of love for the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10). Then we can so permanently damage our own capacity to respond to love that our heart and will becomes impossible to repair. Only then will we find ourselves unable to respond positively to the gentle drawing of the Spirit of Truth and Love and be found beyond the power of mercy to salvage us, to fit us to live and thrive in the presence of pure love, joy and freedom. This is the sin against the Holy Spirit that is unforgivable, not because there is any lack of forgiveness on God's part but because there is no working receptor available within us to believe in or synchronize with His love.
I now find that when I ask God for wisdom according to this promise in James 1, I can challenge any lingering doubts about God's generosity or subtle premonitions that God might get upset if I misuse His gift. I now ask God to flush my unbelief into the open so I can be aware of them, to confess them honestly and give God authority to eradicate them using the wonderful truths that James emphasizes here. I can choose to affirm that God really is generous and to renounce all notions that might question or contradict that reality. I can affirm and reassure my heart that when God offers me wisdom there is nothing to be afraid of from Him, that He will never come back latter to censure me for how I might have inappropriately used what He gave me. As I decidedly choose to embrace these wonderful things about God, at times it feels almost too good to be true. Yet I find that my receptive ability to believe what He is unconditionally offering me is being healed and I have increasing assurance and boldness to consciously accept, embrace and experience what I have requested. I really can be free from the fears that doubt always produces as I give God full access to heal, transform and renew my mind and heart.