Wednesdays With … James: Don’t Forget to Ask this One Thing of God

My three-year-old daughter was completely taken aback as she slowly approached the hauntingly beautiful and somewhat unsettling creature perched on a low branch just off the hiking trail. Even she couldn't speak as she stopped to watch it slowly swivel its skull from left to right, scanning out over the lake presumably in search of prey.

Her experience with this bird of prey reminded me of this classic children's nursery rhyme.

A wise old owl lived in an oak
The more he saw the less he spoke
The less he spoke the more he heard.
Why can't we all be like that wise old bird?

There is wisdom to this wisdom. I've benefitted most from listening to everyone else talk in a meeting before speaking myself. Proverbs 10:19 states, "When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is prudent."

Yet it is unwise to keep our mouths shut when we need wisdom. Pride or insecurity are the main culprits here, yet we may not attain the faith of integrity James calls us to without asking God for the wisdom we need to live it.

Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly—and it will be given to him.

There are at least two important things to ponder from this loaded verse.

First, I don't believe James is being facetious when he says, "Now if any of you lacks wisdom." There are plenty of moments when we have the wisdom we need without having to stop and pray.

Second, there are likely two reasons why we should ask God for wisdom we lack: because God gives "generously and ungrudgingly." These two words in the CSB are the translation's attempt to make sense of the Greek word aplos. "Generously" is the most common English translation, and it's correct but likely insufficient. A thorough study of this unique word leads most to conclude that James is mostly highlighting God's unwavering commitment to give wisdom when we ask. As Douglas Moo explains, "The evidence suggests that James is not so much highlighting God’s generosity in giving as his single, undivided intent to give us those gifts we need to please him."

The practical takeaway is not fashionable, but forceful: when we lack the wisdom we need to do as God asks us to do, we ask Him for it in prayer and He gives it to us. The perpetually wise John Calvin put it this way:

Since we see that the Lord does not so require from us what is above our strength, but that he is ready to help us, provided we ask, let us, therefore, learn whenever he commands anything, to ask of him the power to perform it.