Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
We begin our adventure with James on a good note; expectations running high. After providing his name and addressing his letter to the 12 tribes scattered all over, he jumps right into rich content with these verses. I used to think this was a really odd thing to say, you know consider it pure joy when you go through a trial. Yet James has a real point here, for we don’t normally develop perseverance in any field of endeavor without facing a trial of some sort, and living in this world, we will surely need perseverance. Let’s face it, nobody grows to maturity in life without developing some perseverance, and as time goes by, being immature ceases to be cute and moves into the category of unattractive.
Verse 5 has always been of particular interest to me; James makes it sound so easy. If you lack wisdom, ask God for it and He’ll give it to you. Personally, I’ve noticed that if I ask for wisdom, I get trials. If I ask for patience, I get trials. If I ask for perseverance, I get trials. Do you suppose there is a connection? I admit that this isn’t very scientific, anecdotal as it is, but James might be going somewhere like this in his thinking: Trials are an important part of spiritual growth and there is no way around that.
That brings us headlong into verse 6. When you ask God for wisdom, “you must believe and not doubt” and to be honest, it strikes me that this is where we sometimes go wrong. I don’t just mean because we might have doubts, but because we often draw the wrong conclusion from James’ remark. If I ask for wisdom and get a trial instead, is that because I doubted, or is it because wisdom comes from experience? All too often, the Sunday school answer to that is that we lack faith. This isn’t the point James is making here. His point is much deeper than that.
Look at what comes next: Someone who doubts is like a wave that is “blown and tossed by the wind.” This isn’t talking about someone who doubts God will answer their prayer with a sort of direct download of the “Wisdom App” it is referring to someone who doubts that Jesus is the Lord. That person is likely to be tossed on the churning seas of this world, never quite getting their bearings, always unsure, confused, adrift. This is where I used to ask my students, particularly the grad students a question: Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?
Well, do you?
The answer to that question, dear reader, is not only the key to understanding this passage, it is also the key to understanding most things. The person with doubts will receive nothing much, for they are “double-minded” and “unstable in all they do.” They are double-minded not because they are immature in their faith, but because they haven’t made their minds up; they are still holding back, holding on to the old life, seeking a compromise or a safety net. They are “unstable” because they haven’t entirely committed, and how can we learn to persevere if we hold back, straddle the fence and don’t commit?
Now you can see why I warned you to have your seat belts fastened, there will be some bumpy air at this altitude.