What to Do When You Struggle to Obey

James 1:5-8


[5] If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  [6] But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  [7] For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;  [8] he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.


Last week we looked at the command by James to look on trials as joy because of the effect they will have, which is our Christian maturity.  We looked at the proper assessment of who we are which is what James calls a slave of Christ, the proper attitude which is counting trials as joy, and the proper effect of the trial which is our spiritual endurance. 


Well, you probably said to yourself that sounds real good.  I know that is what the Bible says.  I believe it to be true.  I know that it isn’t an option but a command.   I really want to obey but where do I begin? 

Our Dilemma

I believe we can all relate to the truth that understanding something and actually doing it are two different things all together.  Giving our assent is not the same as doing it.  We can say amen all day long but that doesn’t accomplish obedience.  So, where can I get the resources needed to obey God?  Does God command things from us and at the same time we lack the ability to carry out?  The answer to that question is “yes”. 

Sometimes we know things with our mind, head knowledge, but when in the midst of the battles of life we forget.  Here is one that James has written down so we won’t forget.

1- Trials Require Wisdom-

[5] If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 

Our Lord knows us.  He knows the first weapon we need to endure a spiritual battle, in a godly way, is wisdom. 

It’s important that we clarify what God means when He uses the word wisdom.

A-    What is Biblical Wisdom?

If wisdom is a critical part of our arsenal of weapons to fight spiritual battles then we must clearly understand what it is.

Simply put, what Scripture is referring to when it uses the word wisdom is, the ability to discern right from wrong, good from evil, with the intent on being obedient.  One scholar has said it this way: Wisdom is the endowment of the heart and mind which is needed for right conduct.

1 Kings 3:5-12 (ESV) 

    At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.”  [6] And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day.  [7] And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in.  [8] And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude.  [9] Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

    [10] It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.  [11] And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right,  [12] behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. 

Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom so he could discern right from wrong and make proper judgments for God’s people.  This is the idea that Scriptural wisdom is the ability do discern good and evil. 

Paul knew of this wisdom and asked God for it on behalf of other believers.  Paul’s prayers for the churches.

Philip. 1:9-10 (ESV) 

    And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,  [10] so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 

Col. 1:9-10 (ESV) 

    And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,  [10] so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 

This is the wisdom required to handle trials God’s way. 

Speaking for myself, I don’t have this wisdom.  I don’t have anything that even resembles wisdom like this.  Where are we to get biblical wisdom?

          B-   Where Do We Get Wisdom?

[5] If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 

It can only come from somewhere outside of ourselves, ask God. 

2- Trials Require Prayer (vs. 5)

ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 

          A-  Ask God Expectantly

Just like Solomon asked God for wisdom, we are to ask for wisdom.  This isn’t a divine suggestion, it is a divine command.  We are commanded to count trials as joy and we are commanded to ask God for the means to count them as joy.

A prayer for wisdom while experiencing life is exactly what God wants us to do.  It pleases God when we admit our need and seek it from Him.  He is glorified by His needy people.

Matthew 6:6 (ESV) 

    But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

          B—Ask God Repeatedly

We are to be diligent in our asking.  We are to be persistent in our prayers.

Jeremiah 29:11-14 (ESV) 

    For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  [12] Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  [13] You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart,  [14] I will be found by you, declares the Lord.

This word ask in the original language is an ongoing asking.  It is keep on asking.

Why should we pray and ask God for wisdom?  Simply put, God has it and we don’t.  That is the basic Christian position. In other words, wisdom comes from above. It’s a matter of pure vertical sovereign grace. It is a gift of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

          C—God Answers Abundantly

God, who gives generously to all without reproach

Our God is a giving God.  He isn’t greedy with his giving to His children. 

You see James’ logic? There are Christians who are lacking wisdom. But the problem does not lie with God. We know that he “gives generously to all, without finding fault.”

Where do you think the problem is?  The problem lies in us, that we are not asking for wisdom with an attitude that pleases God, or we aren’t asking at all.

James 4:2 (ESV) 

    You do not have, because you do not ask. 

James begins to tear away some of our preconceived notions about God.  We believe God is somehow like us. 

Perhaps we would give based on past performance.  We might say, You blew it the last time I’m not going to give it this time.  Or we might give someone something and never let them forget it.  We might even remind someone how undeserving they are to receive our gift.  Not God.  He gives without reproach.

Paul speaks about God’s giving in this way,

Ephes. 3:20 (ESV) 

    Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 

Speaking on the phrase in this verse: He gives without reproach, Here are a couple of great quotes.

God does not cast anyone in the teeth—Tyndale

God does not criticize the humble lest anyone should fear to come too often to God—Calvin

The greatest human barrier to people becoming wise is their refusal to take seriously the possibility that they can change, that God will help them to overcome their need. 

There is, however, one condition to receiving wisdom through prayer:

3-  Trials Require Faith (vs. 6-8)

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  [7] For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;  [8] he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

          A—One Must Ask in Faith

But let him ask in faith

The promise of wisdom is only given to those who have faith in God.

One way to prove our faith is to keep on asking. 

Jesus echoes the verses we read from Jeremiah 29.

Matthew 7:7-11 (ESV) 

    “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  [8] For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  [9] Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  [10] Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  [11] If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 

We know God loves His children.  If evil people can give good things then we know God definately will give good things to His children, we simply need to ask in faith.

Hebrews 11:1 (ESV) 

    Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 

Hebrews 11:6 (ESV) 

    And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 

James tells us to ask for wisdom in faith.  He doesn’t say ask for the new car in faith.  Then he gives us the same thing stated in a negative way.

          B—One Must Ask Without Doubting

with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

Picture a cork floating in the ocean.  The wind and waves control it.  It moves wherever the waves take it.  There is no stability in the life of the cork.  It’s the same way in the life of the doubter.  Doubt is distrusting God.  Doubt exposes our lack of faith. 

When people doubt they are like an oscillating fan. 

Trust God-Don’t trust God-Trust God Don’t trust God-Trust God…

Or like people watching a tennis match…

Really, what we are saying is we don’t believe God is who He says He is in Scripture so we are going to trust ourselves.  We trust ourselves before we trust God.  What kind of faith is that?

They are torn between their two masters, the real God and the idol of self. 

Doubt exposes our idol worship. 

James knew that idols make for poor resources when experiencing real trials.  Since we have no wisdom inside ourselves, it is only from the true God, who loves us, that we can receive spiritual resources to endure real trouble. 

[7] For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;

A doubter should not think God will grant his plea for wisdom because he isn’t really asking for wisdom in the first place.  He already believes himself to be suitable for the spiritual battle. 

Our faith and our doubts are both directed toward God.   One says I believe God is all sufficient, the other says, I believe myself to be all sufficient.  The doubter doesn’t believe correctly about who God is and what God can do.

 [8] he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Many scholars believe James may have invented this word.  They can’t find it anywhere prior to the book of James.  It is used twice in his book.  They find it used elsewhere after the James uses it here.

double-minded- To be double-minded is to have mixed thoughts.  It is to be pulled in two opposing directions. 

Original language actually says a “man of two souls” or a “two personed person”.

Thomas Manton says, I have read of a profane wretch that bragged he had two souls in one body, one for God and the other for anything

It truly is a divided loyalty, spiritual schizophrenia.

Jesus taught on this very topic when He said:

Luke 9:62 (ESV) 

    Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Jesus also tells us:

Matthew 6:24 (ESV) 

    “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones speaking on this verse, says, Man is always trying to mix things up that cannot be mixed. Still worse is the fact that he persuades himself that he can do it successfully.

We must ask God for wisdom in faith and not be double-minded.

The prophet Elijah was facing an unstable nation of double-minded people. They worshipped the Lord, but they also worshipped the pagan gods. They might keep a shelf of small icons of Baal before the front door, and as they went out and in they repeated a prayer to Baal, but they also prayed to the Lord. Elijah confronts them on Mount Carmel, and he tells them this cannot go on.

1 Kings 18:21 (ESV) 

    And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”

God is a jealous God.  He expects a single passion directed toward Him.

We must ask believingly and single-mindedly.  God is looking for single-minded faith.

Not many things astonished our Lord while He was on earth.  Faith was one thing that did.

Luke 7:2-10 (ESV) 

    [2] Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him.  [3] When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.  [4] And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him,  [5] for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”  [6] And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.  [7] Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.  [8] For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  [9] When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  [10] And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.

What the Centurion was saying is this,” How great a being you are, Sovereign Lord.” His whole posture before the Lord Jesus Christ was one of worship and humility and hope.  The Centurion asked in single-minded faith.

If we are going to receive wisdom we must also have a single-minded faith.

Jesus came into the world for Centurions, Sinners, for those beaten down by the world.  He came to give eternal life.  He came to save sinners, Paul says of whom I am chief. Are you equiped to endure trials with Joy? Do you have the wisdom required to do so? If not pray and ask God to give it to you. He is loving and generous. 


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