Psalters: 320, 60, 174, 100
Preached in Lacombe PRC – 2002
James, instrument of God to write this particular part of God’s word, comes to us in these few verses in a very positive, straight-forward way. He speaks out of a conviction that is given him by the Holy Spirit who guides him in his speaking. Very emphatically he says here, “Let him ask of God. It shall be given him.” No wavering there, no doubt, but a simple straight-forward statement, very positively put. And again later on he says, “Let not that man who wavers in his asking, think that he shall receive anything of the Lord.” We see two different kind of men here.
One word, that which we learn from this passage, is that God is always faithful in supplying the needs of His children. Never can there be any doubt about that. The Lord is the all-knowing, He is the all-caring, He is the God of love, that looks upon us in and through Jesus Christ. And whatsoever our need is, He does supply, even though that may not always be to the measure that we think it should be, or in the manner that we think it should be. God knows what it should be and that’s what we get -- always just the right thing in the right amount and at the right time. And if we fail to receive anything from the Lord, never is the fault with God. It is always with us.
So James speaks in this epistle quite often of prayer, always stressing our need for prayer and the certainty of being heard when we pray as we should. It is to that, that we draw our attention this afternoon under the theme:
GOD’S ANSWER TO OUR IMPATIENCE
I. IN WISDOM
II. THROUGH PRAYER
III. BY FAITH
I. In Wisdom
It is a special gift that James sets before us. That gift is wisdom. That, he says, is what we should be praying for. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, and it shall be given.” There are different ways in which we can say that. That is, other words can be used for the word, “wisdom.” One of the phrases that can be used is “good judgement.” A wise person is one who shows good judgement. Or there is the word which we probably do not use quite as often, but yet not all that unfamiliar, the word, “prudence.” A wise man, then sees everything in the proper light. And seeing things in the proper light he then makes a sound judgement with respect to what he sees. And having made that sound judgement, he then acts in harmony with that sound judgement.
The opposite of wisdom, of course, is foolishness. Or, to use another word, folly. The fool never sees reality as it is. His eyes are blinded, or he looks through dark-colored glasses. But he never can see something which is reality, and understand that that is the way it is, that that is reality. He sees something. He looks at it. He sizes it up. And he never comes with the right and proper conclusion. It is always wrong. And because he has not sized up the matter correctly, because he has made an improper judgement, therefore he acts foolishly and ends up in disaster.
In another book of the Bible, namely Proverbs, we come across this whole aspect of wisdom very much. Repeatedly there is reference made to wisdom and to its opposite, foolishness. In Proverbs, the point of view is always the spiritually wise man and the spiritually foolish man. The wise man is filled with the fear of the Lord. That is the only kind of wise person you can have, truly wise. There is the wisdom of the world. But we are not talking about the wisdom of the world. We are talking about real, true, godly, scriptural wisdom. Such a man is a man who is in the Lord. He fears God. He knows God is the true and living God. He knows that not merely as a fact, but he knows this true and living God as his God. He can look at the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and say, “He is my God.” That is very personal. It is not just an abstract truth, disconnected from ones life. But no, he can look upon that Triune God and say, “He is the God of my salvation in Jesus Christ.”
That same man who looks upon God as such, looks at himself and knows that he is very foolish. You see, he looks at himself and he can size himself up correctly. He is not inflated. He does not have a bloated opinion of himself. No, he sees himself as a wretched, miserable, sinful creature. And that of himself, he has nothing to contribute to his salvation. That makes him humble. He is meek. He knows that naturally he is foolish. So in his foolishness he sins. He knows what he is supposed to do, but he doesn’t size that up very correctly, so he does what he wants to do, that is according to the flesh. And, of course, in so doing he offends God. He makes himself guilty in the sight of God. Such a one needs God’s forgiving mercy every day. As children of God we see that. We know that. We know that we are dependent upon God and His mercy, that never can we be without it.
He also needs the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit, that he may love God and walk in love. That is what we call wisdom’s ways. It is when we walk in wisdom’s ways that we are walking in harmony with the will of God. We are walking in the way that God has set out before us. And that we can do only under the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit.
There can be no doubt but that James has in mind wisdom from that spiritual point of view, that is the wisdom of a sincere child of God, wisdom as we should make use of it in our lives.
Last week we looked at the first four verses of this chapter. There we see that James limits this wisdom to our dealing with the many temptations that confront us from day to day. Maybe we have personal problems. We all have some kind of problems at one time or another. Maybe we have family problems. We seem to have those too, more often that what we would like. Then again there are problems that pertain to our work or to our business.
This summer we had a drought. The effects of it are still with us. It affects directly those who farm the land. So you have farming problems. When the farmers have problems, then city people have problems because farmers buy their products. And if the farmers have no money, then they buy nothing from those that are in town, so it mushrooms. So everybody has problems, problems with their business. These problems often create in us sinful desires. We don’t have what we need or think we should have. How can we get it? Sometimes you almost become desperate. “How can I get by? How can I make a living?” So we are tempted to cheat a little bit, to lie. Of course that certainly is not walking in the way of wisdom. All that is foolishness. But that is what confronts us when we have problems.
Thus there arise within our minds sinful thoughts. Maybe even these come to fruition in sinful words and actions. But whether we are filled with doubts and fears or anxieties or depression or even bitterness or a tendency toward rebellion, in any case we know that this is foolish of us, a foolishness that is sinful before God. In fact when we do these things and act so foolishly maybe even our prayers are hindered. We know we have done wrong. And so there is a burden of guilt upon our souls. We are aware that what we lack is true, spiritual wisdom to deal with our problems in a true, spiritual manner. So this weighs down heavily upon us.
And our Lord knows this. He knows all of our weaknesses and our frailties. We have seen that before. As we look at the minor confessions in the back of our Psalter, we know that the Lord has added unto the preaching of the Word, the sacraments because He knows our weaknesses and our frailties. You see, the sacraments are given to us to strengthen our faith, given to us in addition to the Word. So in many different ways, indeed, the Lord knows our weaknesses and our frailties and knows exactly what is necessary to strengthen us. So the Word of God which He gives unto us brings this out. When the Lord God comes to us in the Holy Scriptures, and when He speaks to us from the pulpit through the proclamation of the gospel, He brings out into the open our foolishness, so that we are made aware of our foolishness through that Word. Then something strikes home. That is what it does. God takes us, turns us inside out, holds us up and says, “There it is. See it? See?” He forces us to see ourselves as we really are. He forces us to see the reality of the situation, because we are held in the light of His Word. That is why. The Lord knowing that knows exactly what to do. He brings us to our senses. As we said, He causes it to hit home.
If, then, any of you lack wisdom in the hour of temptation, so that you fall into sin — Yes, that anyone, we must all confess, is I. We all must say that. There is not one of us that is exempt.
Scripture does not simply expose us. Scripture does not only tell us, “Here is the problem.” No Scripture is very unique in that, not only does it expose the problem, but it provides us with the solution. James had said in the previous verses that we must learn to regard these problems that arise in our lives, as coming to us from the hand of God.
That, then, is the first thing that we must know. Whenever we have any of these difficulties, it was not just chance. It was not fate, or percentage. We say, “Well, 50% of the time you can expect something like that to happen. So we happened to hit it this time.” Oh, beloved, nothing comes to us by chance. God does not send these things to us with an evil intent, but with the very purpose that our faith may be tried as by fire. And that we may be strengthened in that faith. If things are always well for us, what happens? We get to be a little loose. We don’t call upon God as often as we should. We begin to feel independent, that we’re not dependent upon the Lord God for anything. So we let things slip, spiritually. We start to take things for granted. So God has to haul us up short. He sends us difficulties. He sends us problems in all of these various aspects of our life. He sort of grabs us by the scruff of our neck and says, “Now listen here. You are not listening very well. You are not looking at things through the eyes of My Word.” So He causes us to sit up straight and to look at things from the viewpoint of wisdom, so that we can see things as they should be seen.
What God is doing here, as we learned last week, is teaching us patience. As we saw last week, we must learn to let patience have her perfect work. We must let patience work to the finish, until God’s purpose is reached and we are the better children of God for it. In other words, we must be wise. We must learn patience. Even then that stresses how foolish we are, how totally lacking we are in the grace of patience. What foolishness is ours, just because we lack the wisdom to be patient. Surely we need the guidance of God’s Holy Word.
II. Through Prayer
It is exactly for that reason that God comes to us this afternoon with the words of our text. “If any of you lack wisdom..” (We can emphasis this. Put it in capital letters and underline it.) “Let him ask of God.” Putting that into one word, “We must pray.” That is what James is telling us to do. That is what God is telling us to do, through His servant. That, of course, is good sound advice in every circumstance of life. You and I, children of God, must always make all our needs known in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. Not just when we feel like it. Not just when it is convenient. Not just when we think, “O, I’m in absolute dire straights. Now I see the necessity of it all.” No, our life must be a life of prayer. Praying to God should be just as natural as breathing air. That is our life. That is how we should be living. Always before God in prayer.
Our lives, then, must be lives of prayer, so that we never dare to undertake anything, or venture forth without prayer. We must always realize our dependence upon God so completely that we pray without ceasing. And we are admonished to do that. “Pray without ceasing,” the apostle Paul says. So the communication lines between heaven and us must always remain open and used. It is so easy to say, “Well, I’m too busy. I’ve got to get up quick and go here and go there. No time.” We say that quite often with respect to a lot of different aspects of our spiritual life. It was Martin Luther, I believe, and if it wasn’t Martin Luther, it was John Calvin, but it was one of two that said, “The busier I am the more I pray.” Because he knew that the busier he was, the more he had to do, and the more difficult it would be, so all the more he needed the grace of God and the guidance of His Holy Spirit. So the more he had to do, the more he prayed. Now we think opposite of that. The more we have to do, the less time we have to pray. We say, “when I have more time and a little extra time, then I can sit down or I’ll go upon my knees and pray to the Lord. I’ll make up for it.” Really, the more we need the Lord, the more we should be on our knees before the Lord.
Prayer. It is really, as we see then, a wonderful gift of God. Prayer is more than simply coming to God and asking Him some things. Just think of it. Prayer is communion between the Most High God and us. And we are no more than little tiny specks of dust. But yet we have the privilege to be in the presence of the Almighty, thrice-holy God, He Who resides in the heavens above. We have entrance to Him.
Who of us, if we wanted to, could simply to go to the Prime Minister’s office and say, “I’d like to talk to him.” You would have to go through a number of different means of security, you would have to talk to secretaries, you would have to have some kind of clearance, and he would say, “I really don’t need you, and I really don’t want to discuss what you have to say. So, no, I have more important things to do than talk to you.” That is what you would probably hear. You don’t need an appointment with God. No, He is not like some dignitary or professional. God does not have an appointment book. So we are not limited to certain office hours. When we call upon God we are not going to get a recording and say, “The office, sorry, is closed for the moment. Call again at such and such a time.”
Oh, the Lord does not work that way. We do not need a telephone. We do not need a computer. We do not need any of these modern devices used for communication. No, at all times, any time, we have a direct line of communication between God and ourselves, that is available to us all the time. We will not get a busy signal. He will not say, “The lines are overloaded. There’s too many calls coming in at this moment.” Or, “A storm has taken down the lines.” Or, “A satellite is temporarily out of commission. It will be in service as quickly as possible.” No. We don’t get any of those messages. We have an open line to God. We can call upon Him any time that we please. And we can do it all at once. All of God’s children over the length and breadth of the earth can do it at once. And everyone of us will be heard. None of us will have to wait in line. Oh, we will be heard immediately. There we can pour out our souls. We can tell Him all of our cares and all of our problems. We have burdens. We cast our burdens before His feet. We have needs. We tell Him. And we can rest assured that He who dwells in the heavens understands. Always He lends a ready ear. He hears and He answers prayers.
And this word of God which we have before us this afternoon is very emphatic about that very point. It impresses upon us that God certainly hears the prayers of His children. He does not withhold from one, while He freely gives to another. No, God is not that way. Every one of His children are always heard. God is not stingy, or to use a longer word, parsimonious. Stingy, scrimpy. No, He gives abundantly. He does not begrudge us anything in anyway, but freely bestows every good and perfect gift.
This too, is expressed in our text. We don’t have it in the English language here, but in the Greek language it is expressed even more strongly than what we have here in the English. If I would take the Greek language now and translate it word for word, as it is in the Greek, you would read, “The liberally-giving-to-all, and never-upbraiding God.” So it is taking God and describing Him as the one Who liberally gives, as the one Who never upbraids. That means it belongs to the very nature of God to give. He is the liberally-giving God. In that sense, God and ourselves are direct opposites. It belongs to our nature, to our very being, to receive. We are empty vessels. Nothing in them. No, we are empty. We must be filled. And the only way that we can be filled is from the fullness of God. And that is true with respect to every second of our existence. We cannot say on one day, “Well, I have a pretty good supply today, but tomorrow I might be in need. I can see that there are a few extra things that have to take place.” No, by nature we are always empty, and the only way that we can be supplied is from the goodness of God. We stand before Him, and only stand before Him with out-stretched hands, awaiting all things from God. God is the giving God, the over-flowing fountain of every good and perfect gift.
We can make it a little stronger. Not only is He the liberally-giving-to-all God, but God makes no exception. It often appears to us as if some of God’s children receive all that they need from the Lord while we so often are needy. What we must understand, (remember that this is God’s gift to us, this proper knowledge, this proper wisdom) what we must understand when we think these things is that God shows no partiality, but gives what is needed to each of His children according to his need. We may think we know what is good for us. But remember we are looking at ourselves with eyes that are clouded. We do not have perfect vision yet. So we have to wear glasses. The glasses that we must put on is the Word of God. It is the only way that we can see things clearly. We must know that God knows what is good for us. He withholds no good gift from those who fear Him. We may not look at each other and say, “Well, why does he seem to have more than what I do, and all the time, and I don’t have very much.” You got what you need. Period. Anything more that you desire is covetousness. That is a sin. That is a breaking of the law of God. You have what you need. God sees to that. Do not forget that. We may not look about ourselves with eyes of envy, and rebel. Oh, we have exactly what we need according to our need.
But we can make it even stronger. Not only does God make no exception with respect to His giving. But He gives liberally. Often we can see that in nature. You look at a forest and you see thousands and thousands of trees. You are amazed. The ground is covered with trees. And then you stand before that forest, (we don’t see it all, because we just see the first line of trees), but if we would go on a high hill or in an airplane and look from above, we could see thousands and thousands of hectares of trees. We think there is no end to the trees. We look at a giant oak tree, and all the little brown acorns. The ground later on seems to be covered with them. We look at the stars that are in the sky. We cannot even begin to number them. They are innumerable. Yet God seems at times to give us a meager existence, or a limited amount of grace. We think that we could use much more. We say, “Well, my burdens and my trials, seem to outnumber the necessary graces to bear them all.”
These kinds of thoughts we must suppress. We must take God at His Word. Do we not confess that God is perfect? Do we not confess He is truth, not only, but, His Word is truth? So that when He speaks to us in the Holy Scriptures, we have the truth of the Word of God before us. We must believe that. We must accept that, no exception. So yes, we must take God at His Word; not when we feel like, but all the time, in our daily lives. Because God is a liberal God. And He bestows abundant gifts upon us.
And if that were not emphatic enough, there is that other phrase which we have not looked at yet, and that is, “And He upbraideth not.” When we come to God, He does not find fault with us when we ask. He does not remind us that we are unworthy of His gifts. He never complains that we come too often and says, “Well, you’re taking up too much of my time. Don’t you know that there are many others that have needs as well? So you better assess yourselves before you come again. My time is precious.” He does not say that. He does not upbraid us, but always regards you and me, His children, in love. He looks at us as those who have been redeemed with the blood of Jesus Christ. We are precious in His sight.
So God, out of His fullness, freely bestows grace for grace, even one gift of grace upon another. That is what the Apostle John mentions in his account of the gospel. We receive from Christ grace for grace. That means you have a grace here. You have a grace there, another grace. You just keep piling them on top of each other. Grace for grace. That is the idea of that phrase. That is how God bestows that upon us. He is our Father. He shows abundant mercy and infinite compassion.
Does that mean then that God is going to take away all of our problems? That all of a sudden He is going to relieve us of all of our cares; He is going to take away those heavy burdens that are crushing us? No. Not at all. The Bible does not say that. Does He continue to try us? Oh yes, He continues to try us. Circumstances likely do not change. The difference is that He gives us grace, spiritual wisdom to be patient under our burdens and to trust in the Lord for His fatherly care.
III. By Faith
A lot of times you may think that in your particular situation your prayers remained unanswered. “It seems as if my problems, instead of being alleviated, are only getting worse.” How can that be? You become more and more troubled, more and more depressed. Doubts and fears seem to multiply. Heaven seems as if it were a closed door. You pray, but it seems as if the prayer does not rise above the ceiling of the room in which you presently are. There is no answer from heaven to all your pleadings. You become discouraged, so discouraged, that you feel as if each prayer that you utter simply dies upon your lips. That is as far as it goes.
We said a while ago that we have problems. Scripture points them out to us as well. But it also provides us with the answer. As we said already, quite early this afternoon, the problem, the fault does not lie with God. We must realize that our prayers remain unanswered exactly because of us. We are called to do a bit of soul searching. Because James just does not say, “Pray.” “Call upon God.” No, he says, “Let him ask in faith.” That is how we come unto God. Not in doubt, not wavering, “For he that wavereth is like the wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”
James speaks of a double minded man. That is one who cannot make up his mind one way or the other. Today he is of one opinion, and tomorrow he thinks the opposite. First he goes in one direction; then he makes an about-face and goes in the other direction. He staggers about then, like one who is drunk. He is easily swayed, first of all by one influence and then by another influence. So he is like the waves of the sea. They change with the direction of the wind. So as the waves go here, and the waves go there and whichever direction, so man is unstable.
Such a one may be a Sunday Christian. He forgets all about his religion on Monday. Or he may be like Israel in Ahab’s day. Remember Elijah standing upon Mt. Carmel, addressing the Israelites? “Why halt ye between two opinions? Either God is God, Jehovah, or Baal. You can’t have both. You can’t halt between the two, like one walking along the sidewalk with one foot in the gutter and one foot on the sidewalk, up and down.” You say, “Well, that’s foolish.” Yes, it is foolish. But that is a man who is double minded. He is unstable in all of his ways. See we cannot have God and Baal, God and Mammon. We want to enjoy the mammon. We want to enjoy the things of this world. We want to enjoy sinful things. And we keep God on the back burner, as a reserve for when we really need Him. “When things get rough, then I always have God behind me to prop me up.” Is that your God? I should say not. That is not the God of Scriptures. That is not the God that James presents to us here. So, no. We must not be unstable in all our ways. We must not be like that drunken man.
But think a little bit. Ask yourself some questions. Do you pray for something, and yet cherish the secret hope that God will not give it to you? Or at least will not give you too much of that good thing? We know what we must pray for, so we pray for it, but we really do not want it, so we even hesitate as we pray. Is that how our prayers go? Do we pray for forgiveness of our sins without actually being sorry for them? We know that we have done wrong. We know that we are to call upon God for forgiveness of those sins, but we really like those sins. We really do not want to stop sinning those sins. Is that the kind of prayer we present to the Lord? Do you ask for deliverance from sin, when you really are determined to continue on your evil way? Scripture condemns that, you know. Scripture condemns that emphatically. Only he who confesses and forsakes his sin, finds mercy. Do you pray as the Lord Jesus Christ taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” and yet have no intention of fighting that temptation? What kind of prayer is that? You can understand why God does not listen to that prayer. You are not coming in faith. Do you pray for patience (that is one of the things that James mentions here) yet never try “to let patience have her perfect work?”
This is what James has to say about that man. He says, “Let not that man think that he will receive anything of the Lord.” God refuses to answer our prayers because our prayers are sinful. What does God do then? Instead of sending relief, He often lets us walk in our sinful way, that we may discover that everything we do is staggering from one path to another, from right to wrong, from good to evil, so that we are perfectly wretched. God will do that. But God does not do that because He wants to hurt us. God does not do that because He wants to be hard on us. By no means. But God is going to do that so that He, as a teacher, will teach us the error of our way to bring us to repentance, to bring us to our senses, so that we seek Him with our whole heart and do that in faith.
The Father chastises those whom He loves. That is speaking of the reality, God Himself. Parents do that too, don’t they, and that is what they should be teaching their children. If you love your children, then you are going to chastise them when they do what is wrong, because you want them to grow up to be God-fearing children, to walk in the ways of the Lord and the ways of the Scripture. If they don’t do that, they must be properly chastised. That is the work and the exercise of love. God does that as well with us. When we walk in sin, He certainly is going to chastise us, so that being chastised, we will see the foolishness of our ways and turn unto that which is good. We will call upon Him in prayer, and in faith we will seek forgiveness.
Now do you lack the wisdom to do that? Well, you are not alone. By nature we all lack that wisdom. That is why James comes to us and says, “By all means then, pray for grace. Pray for the grace to be prudent. Pray for grace to make a good judgement of God’s dealings with you. Learn to walk in the way of wisdom.” And yes, that requires prayer. That is what James is telling us. Much prayer, praying day and night without ceasing. As we said, our lives must be lives of prayer. We must take all of our burdens and cast them upon the Lord, in confidence. And of course in that word confidence you have ‘c-o-n’ with ‘fidence’, which is the Latin for faith. We must take all of our burdens, and in confidence, that is in faith, bring them to the Lord. He cares. That is what the Apostle Peter says. I think it is chapter 5. You can look it up if you like. We must cast all our cares upon Him, for He cares for us.
And He has shown how He cares for us by sending to us His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He has shown His love in the highest possible way, in the gift of that Son. And the result, can only then be peace, abundant peace in your heart and in your mind. So that gives joy. That is true joy, joy in the Lord, a joy that is unspeakable, a joy that is full of glory. You see, God has never yet failed His people. That is the message that we must always carry within our hearts. God has never once in all the history of mankind ever failed even one of His children. There may be many times that it may look like it, when it may seem like it, when we may, what we would say, be in desperate straights. But God is not only watching, God does not only know, but God is directing.
All of these things are under His direction because He knows what you need. You may not always like it, just like a child may not like his licking, that spanking that he gets or she gets from the parents. But the parent does it in love, to correct. So the Lord knows exactly what we need. And when we need it He gives it to us. And in His giving to us, we are made wise. We are then patient. We then have comfort because we see ourselves as we are in Jesus Christ, chosen, saved, redeemed, delivered, and ultimately glorified. So it is, to belong to Christ. So it is that we must call upon the name of God. Do that in prayer, casting all of our cares upon Him.
Rev. Rodney G. Miersma (Wife: Sharon)
Ordained: September 1971
Pastorates: Hope, Isabel, SD - 1971; Pella, IA - 1978; First, Holland, MI - 1981; Wellington, NZ - 1987; Immanuel, Lacombe, AB - 1996; Foreign Missionary to Ghana, W.Africa - 2003; Loveland, CO - 2006
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