Wisdom in Trials (James 1:5)

Sometimes when a pastor preaches verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible, he comes to a passage which he is not sure will apply to anyone in the congregation that day.  I can assure you that the verse we are studying this morning is NOT one of those verses!  We are looking at James 1:5, which talks about asking God for wisdom in trials, and I have NO problem knowing that this applies to many of us here today, including myself!  Many of us are right in the midst of trials, and we need the wisdom that God has to give us.  The good news of scripture is, He promised that He will!  Let’s read the chapter together and then see what verse 5 tells us about finding God’s wisdom in our trials.


     “But if any of you lacks wisdom”.  Now, one of the first things we need to understand here is the context of this verse.  Someone may want to claim this as a promise for wisdom in general, and that might not be totally unjustified, but its specific context here is the trials that verses 1-4 just referred to.  It specifically refers to the need for wisdom in times of trial and testing.

     That’s not hard for us to picture.  In the midst of our trials, we wonder, “Why is this happening?  What am I supposed to do?”  We talked last week about how God has purposes for our trials.  If we can see a purpose in what we are going through, it can be encouraging to us, so we need God’s wisdom in our trials.

     A.T. Robertson, the Southern Baptist Greek scholar, reminds us that in Greek, this phrase “if any of you lacks wisdom” is a first class condition in Greek, which means the “IF” can be translated “since”!  In other words, what it is saying is, “SINCE you DO lack wisdom.”   This is not just some abstract theoretical problem.  This describes where so many of us actually are, right?  We DO lack wisdom!  We don’t have the answers to our questions.  We DO need to understand what is going on with us!  We can very well translate this, “SINCE you lack wisdom”!

     Robertson also tells us that the word “lack” here is a banking word, meaning a “deficit” or “shortfall”.  We talk about the national “budget deficit”, but the Bible says that each of us has a personal “wisdom deficit”!  We do not have, on our own, the wisdom that we need.

     That brings us to this word, “wisdom.”  The Greek word for wisdom is “sophia.”  It doesn’t mean just “knowledge” but knowledge that is applied in practical, godly ways.  Biblical wisdom is the ability to see things from God’s perspective, and to apply knowledge in practical ways.  For example: we don’t know how we should respond in our trials.  We ask: what is God doing?  Is He trying to tell us something?  Is He going to open a door to ministry through it?  Is He trying to purify us or grow us?  Is He going to raise us up to be a witness to Him through it?  What course should we take through this?  These are practical questions – and that is what wisdom is; it is the ability to see things from God’s perspective and apply it in practical ways.  This is what we need in our trials.    

     Too many people have “knowledge” – but they don’t apply it to their lives.  In fact, this is what James criticizes later in this chapter: “be DOERS of the word, and not hearers only, who delude themselves.”  He could easily have been speaking to American churches in the 21st century! There is way too much “knowledge” in the American church today, and way too little “wisdom”!  I think it was Mark Dever said we have a “toxic buildup” of knowledge in the American church today that we have never applied.  We go to Bible study after Bible study after Bible study, and “learn” all these truths that we never apply to our lives.  We don’t need more “knowledge” in the church; we NEED wisdom.  We need to be able to see things from God’s perspective, and apply His truths to our real-life situations. 

     We especially need wisdom when we are in times of trial and testing.  WHY is this happening to us?  Our response is going to depend somewhat on what the purpose for the trial is!

     I got a note from one of our men this week, who is going through a particular trial at work.  He is seeking what God’s purpose for this trial might be.  He asked: “How will this trial be resolved?  Do I just wait until it runs its course?  Or if God has put me in this, is there no way that I can end it, and I just have to wait until HE ends it?  Or is He driving me to go in a certain direction that I am not seeing, or to learn something that I am not learning?”

     These are excellent questions, and the very questions that many of us should be asking in our trials, because there are different things God may be doing:

  • is this trial showing you that you are not saved, and that you really need to commit your life to Christ?
  • is it testing the faith that you really DO have, so that you need to just persevere in the direction you are going?
  • OR is it a chastisement for a sin, and you need to repent of it and take a new direction?  If so, you will never come out of this time of trial until you do! 
  • OR, is there NO sin in your life that caused this, but God is allowing you to go through a painful experience so that you can minister to others, and He is opening up a new ministry for you through this trial?
  • Is He using this to build perseverance in you, and to mature your character and make you more like Christ?
  • Is He giving you an opportunity to glorify Him by the way you endure this?

Which is He doing in YOUR trial?  We need wisdom to see things from His perspective and apply it to our lives in our trials.    

     In many areas of life, realizing your need is the first step towards getting help.  So it is with wisdom.  The first thing you need to do is recognize that you do not have the wisdom you need, which should then drive you to ask God for it – which bring us to our next point:


     “Let him ask of God”, James goes on to say.  The One we need to ask for wisdom is GOD.  He says, “Let him ask of God”! 

Proverbs 3:5 says: “do not lean on your own understanding” – instead, ask God!   Don’t just go to your friends; don’t just see what everyone is saying on television or on the internet.  They don’t have true wisdom. 

In Job 28, Job asks,

“But where can wisdom be found? … Man does not know its value, nor is it found in the land of the living.  The deep says, ‘it is not in me’; and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’ … Pure gold cannot be given in exchange for it, nor can silver be weighed as its price … Where does wisdom come from?  And where is the place of understanding?  Thus it is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the sky.  Abaddon and Death say, ‘With our ears we have heard a report of it.’  GOD understands its way, and HE knows its place.”

Job says wisdom is not to be found with anyone or anything here on earth; real wisdom comes from GOD. 

     The Greek here where James says, “Let him ask of God” is “para tou theou” – literally, “from the side of God.”  This is a great picture!  It pictures wisdom as being right there at God’s side, which just what Proverbs 8:30 says: that when God made the heavens and the earth in the beginning, that Wisdom “was beside Him, as a master workman.”  God’s wisdom is right at His side, at His very heart – we can ask it from Him.  Wisdom comes from God: “Ask of God”! 

     One of the great examples in scripture of someone who asked God for wisdom in her trials was Rebekah in Genesis 25.  Rebekah was pregnant with twins, and :22 says that “the children struggled within her; and she said, ‘If it is so, then why am I this way?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord.”  She could tell that something was going on inside of her – it was a “trial”, as many of you women would understand! – and so in her trial she went to the Lord for wisdom.  She asked: “If it is so, then why I am this way?”  What was God’s purpose for what she could feel going on inside of her?  She did JUST the right thing with her question: it says “So she went to inquire of the Lord.”  And when she did, God told her about how the two children inside of her were two nations who would always be struggling together.  But the point for us today is that in her trial, Rebekah took her need for wisdom to the Lord.

     Rebekah serves as a model for us all in a couple of ways: FIRST in that she was not content to just “go along” with this trial without knowing WHY these things were happening.  She wanted to know what God’s purpose in it was.  That is what all people of faith should do.  We believe there is a God; so we believe that there is a purpose for everything.  This is one of the things that separates us from unbelievers; indeed, it is what separates from the animals!  Think about it: even animals endure what happens to them – but they don’t seek any “reason” or purpose behind it.  But God has made us higher than that; He has made us in His own image.  We are to seek His reason and purpose behind everything that He sends our way.  To fail to seek God’s wisdom in our trials is not only to disbelieve, but also in a sense to fail to be human!  So Rebekah was wise first of all, because she sought wisdom for her situation.

     And secondly, Rebekah went to right place with her need for wisdom.  Genesis says: “So she went to inquire of the Lord”.  That is exactly what we need to do too.  Take your need for wisdom to the Lord.  “Let him ask of God”, James says. 

     Well, what does it mean to “ask of God”?  How do you seek God’s wisdom?  There are several ways:

  • first, seek His wisdom in prayer.  This passage says, “Let him ASK of God.”  Asking is prayer.  Seek God in prayer, and ask Him for the wisdom you need.  But that doesn’t mean to just ask Him once and walk away!  In Greek this is a present active imperative; it means: “KEEP ON ASKING!”  This means that your prayer to God for wisdom is be constant and continual thing. 

     Proverbs 2:2-4 describe how diligently and persistently we are to seek the Lord’s wisdom:

“Make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; for if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures, THEN you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God.  For the Lord gives wisdom …”.

That passage makes it clear that God “gives” His wisdom to those who “SEEK” it like for hidden treasures – not to those who “sit around waiting for it”!  So we are to SEEK God’s wisdom continually in prayer.  But there are also a couple of other things we should do:

  • Secondly, seek His wisdom in His word.  RCH Lenski wrote: “Wisdom does not come down out of the sky.”  God’s Spirit makes gives us wisdom in His word!  Search His word.  Look specifically for what the Bible says about the thing that you are going through.

But may I discourage you from doing the foolish thing which people often do: just flipping open your Bible and asking God to give you His answer wherever you put your finger down?  I can’t say that God has never used that, but I don’t recommend it.  He can “hit straight licks with crooked sticks”, but that is not the best way to find God’s wisdom.  God is a God of order, of Providence – seek Him in a daily, systematic way in His word, asking for wisdom as you go.  I have found that if I just go through my normal, daily Bible reading, God as a God of Providence will give me insights where I am already reading that apply to whatever I am going through.  So the best thing you can do is to look for what God says to you in your normal daily Bible reading.  If you are NOT reading your Bible every day, you need to begin!  You have virtually no hope of finding God’s wisdom for your life if you are not reading His word consistently! 

  • third, you can also seek God’s wisdom through godly counselors.  Someone asked me this week: “Is it wrong to seek counsel for an issue in my life, or should I just try to handle this on my own?”  The answer is NO!  It is not wrong to seek wise counsel.  God made us to need each other.  Seeking godly, Christian counsel is one way of seeking God, through the agency of the people He has gifted with His wisdom and insight.  But make sure that it IS godly, wise, Biblical counsel that you are getting, and not just a well-meaning friend who is not walking with God, and who does not have an intimate knowledge of His word.  I see some of the biggest mistakes made by people whose friends tell them what they want to hear instead of what God says in His word.  Go to someone who will tell you the truth!  If you will, then that godly counsel can be an important element in seeking God’s wisdom.

Henry Blackaby’s rule for finding God’s will from his study, “Experiencing God” is tried and true: seek God in prayer, in His word, through circumstances, and through godly counsel.  We need wisdom; let’s ASK for it from the right place – “Let him ask of God.” 


     When you need wisdom, and ask for it from God, James says He will give it to you: “And it WILL be given to him.”  He says that God “gives to all generously and without reproach”, so “ASK”!

     James had most likely heard Jesus speak those famous words in Matthew 7:7-11: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will opened unto you … If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father give what is good to those who ask?”  Wisdom is “good”; so we can have confidence that God will give us His wisdom if we ASK Him like James commands here. 

     Notice the strength of this promise:

  • “If ANY of you lacks wisdom”
  • “He gives to ALL”
  • Not only does He give, but He gives “generously and without reproach”
  • and “It WILL be given to him”! 

This is a strong, strong promise.  Anyone in this room can claim it: ask God for the wisdom you need, and He will give it to you.  God’s wisdom is NOT just something for the minority elite.  James tears down a lot of false ideas about God in his book.  Last week we saw that he assaulted the idea that “bad things happen to bad people.”  No, he told us, trials happen even to God’s people, for His purposes.  This week, he attacks the common Greek notion that it is only the “elite” who can have “sophia” or wisdom.  James say, NO!  “God gives (wisdom) to ALL”!  This should be encouraging to every one of us; YOU can have God’s wisdom:

— you don’t need to be a Greek Bible scholar to get God’s wisdom.  You don’t have to have a PhD or a seminary degree. 

— You don’t have be so good that you “deserve” to have God’s wisdom.  It is not reserved only for those people who have never made a mistake.

NO!  James says “He gives to ALL generously and without reproach”!   This should give hope to every one of us here:  whoever you are, YOU can ask for God’s wisdom for your situation, and be confident that He WILL give it to you. 

     He gave it to Rebekah in Genesis; when she “inquired of the Lord”, He showed her that there were two “nations” inside her, who were contending with each other.  God gave her the wisdom she needed to understand what she was going through.  He did the same thing for Daniel, and Joseph, and others in scripture – and He still does the same thing for us today.  He will give us wisdom in our trials when we ask. 

     Some of you are going to find that your trial is revealing that what you really need is to be saved.  This happened to my wife Cheryl in high school.  She was dating a young man, and when they broke off their relationship, she was heartbroken.  In fact, she looked for comfort, and she found that there was nothing there to help her in her time of need.  She realized that even though she had “gone down to the front” when she was a child, she had never really trusted Christ as her Savior, and His Spirit was not in her heart – because there was nothing there when she needed it.  In the middle of her crisis, she bowed her head in her bedroom and asked Jesus to save her, and though she was still hurting, there was now a peace in her heart as the Holy Spirit truly came into her life as she was saved.  Right afterwards, God gave her Psalm 147:3, that He would heal up the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.  God used Cheryl’s crisis to show her that what she really needed more than anything else was to be truly saved.  It may be that way with some of you today.  Perhaps God has allowed something very difficult and painful to come into your life, to reveal to you that your most important need is to give Him control of your life, and be saved. 

     Or He may show you some other specific purpose for the trial you are in.  He did for me when I had graduated from seminary in Ft.Worth, but had not found a church to serve.  Here I had sacrificed to go through school, had made it through, graduated, now had our first child, but after months and months, nothing had opened up.  One day, I was just desperate, and asked God to show me what was going on.  After all my preparation, WHY hadn’t any church called me yet?  God reminded me of Romans 8:28, that He was causing everything to work together for His purposes.  His purpose for my life is to make me like Christ – we see that all through the New Testament.  I had just done a study of the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-12 are a portrait of the character qualities of Christ which He wants to build into our lives.  That day, the Lord took me through each one of those 8 qualities, and showed me how He had, or was in the process of, building every one of those qualities into my life through that year I had been waiting to serve.  I came out of that year a different person, a better person, a more Christ-like person, than I had been.  He showed me that He had been using that trial to make me more like Christ.  And it was not long after that, that He placed me in my first church as pastor.  God answered my prayer and gave me the wisdom to understand what He was doing in my life through my trial.  James 1:5 says that He will do the same thing for you. 

     Does this mean that God will always show you every specific reason why you are going through everything?  No.  Sometimes the “wisdom” God gives you is that you just can’t know the answer right now.  For example, I Peter says that the Old Testament prophets sought to know what person or time the prophecies they were making applied to.  It says in :12 “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you …”.  In other words, they were not going to get the answer in their lifetime.  The “wisdom” they had to accept was that they would not know the answer until eternity.       

     There are things in our lives which are like that too.  Some of our difficulties and trials may serve a purpose for a future generation in a way that is unknown to us – and must REMAIN unknown to us.  And God’s answer for us is going to be that we just need to accept that by faith.  But if that is His answer, I believe He will show us that too.  He will give you a peace even to accept what you can’t understand fully.  But your responsibility is to seek His wisdom in your trial.  If you will, God says He will give it to you.  He says, “If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of God … and it will be given to him”!    


— If you are going through a trial, are you asking God WHY?  Don’t just “endure” what you are going through, like an animal; look for something more.  Seek God’s wisdom for your trial.  Use this time to pray and seek Him.

— Some of you might have asked God for answers, but you are not really “seeking Him as for hidden treasures” like Proverbs talks about.  You aren’t giving hours to Bible study and prayer.  Commit yourself to truly SEEK His wisdom.

— Others of you may be asking for wisdom, but you are asking the wrong people.  You are talking to your friends and others – but not really to people who know God’s word intimately.  You need to bring your situation to some godly counselors.  (There are some here at the front of the church today …)

— You may be just like my wife Cheryl was a few years ago – God has allowed this trial to come into your life to show you that you really need to ask Jesus to be your Savior.

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
This entry was posted in Book of James Sermons: What Real Faith Looks Like and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Wisdom in Trials (James 1:5)

  1. g says:

    Thanks! I gleamed from this message. May God give you His continued strength to stay above your circumstances.

  2. Richard says:

    good morning, I believe that I was led to read this specifically during the trials I am facing. You have so much clarity and I feel “wiser” – I cried out to God for wisdom in my trials and he sent me to this webpage. It has helped me greatly. Blessings to you and your ministry.

    • Shawn Thomas says:

      Amen; thank you for your testimony Richard. God is good, and He graciously hears when we cry out to Him. Grateful for His providence, and that He might use this to minister to you. Thank you for your blessing!

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