I suspect by the title, you know where I am going. Once again, it is one of those familiar texts that you have read multiple times and have heard many lessons from over the years. It is James 1:2-4, which says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” Being drawn to this text due to a conversation I had with someone this past week. One of the things mentioned in passing was this idea of wisdom and how, hopefully, with age, it would be more abundant. Isaac Watts wrote, “May I govern my passions with absolute sway, and grow wiser and better as life wears away.” I think it is beneficial to see how wisdom develops.
Precisely what is wisdom? There is a prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr called the serenity prayer, which goes like this, “God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Wisdom has to do with our ability to know the difference. What difference? Consider the definition of the Greek word used in this text: broad and full intelligence, the knowledge and practice of the requisites for godly and upright living. Wisdom is the by-product of gleaning from God’s word the truths He yearns for us to learn and then using what we have learned to make decisions that glorify Him. Okay, now let’s put this idea in the context and see how this often works.
We can often develop during a trial, or at least it can be. Why? “Trials” here means an adversity, affliction, troubles of which, in the case of these Christians, were not of their own doing other than being Christians. Their attitudes had to be developed and should see these trials as an opportunity. WHAT? How could they begin to be…joyful? If I understand it right, it was dependent upon what their attention was on; either the turmoil or on God working in them to grow wiser. For me, in my life, I believe one of the things that have hindered me at times from becoming wiser, is my lack of patience, especially under duress. I don’t want to wait, because I see no purpose in what is taking place. Augustine once said, “Patience is the companion of wisdom.” Why the need for patience? So that the trial which we face can “have its perfect work.” When tested, before wisdom can come forth, there must be a tilling of the heart, and patience must grow roots. It is the fertilizer necessary for understanding to develop in our lives. This process takes time! Proverbs 14:29 says in part, “A patient man has great understanding…” Could it be that patience enables us to see with greater clarity the areas of our life that need growth, and that same patience enables us to take advantage of the opportunity the trial has given us to grow? When we exhibit patience, the testing is allowed to become the proving ground of our faith. It helps us to “be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” In that process, we can take joy because that process is making us more like the One we love, Jesus.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all liberally
and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
As often as I have read this verse in its context, I think I have grasped something I never realized before. When we recognize that we need wisdom and trust that God can provide it to us liberally. God invites us to ask Him for it. But, did you realize that in asking God for wisdom, imploring Him to help us to grow, we could be asking Him to bring a trial our way? When we face various struggles, we gain wisdom. There is no way around it.
Stretch us, Lord, but keep us from breaking. Push us, Lord, but don’t let us fall. Help us, Lord, to become more like You. And if that means we must face adversity, then create within us a joyful heart that confidently knows by faith that the Master artist is at work in our lives and He is making a masterpiece.