To deviate from the truth can never be wise… The wisest course for the disciple is always to abide solely by the Word of God in all simplicity.

—Dietrich Bonhoefer

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5-8).

What a surprise! What joy! We can, in God’s good time, be all we were meant to be—mature, whole, complete, lacking nothing (James 1:4). That’s a truth to get us up and get us going!

At the present time, however, we all lack a good deal, and especially do we lack wisdom. God, however does not mock or ridicule our foolishness. We can ask for what wisdom we need and "it will be given generously and without reproach." "God gives wisdom without twitting," to trot out John Bunyon’s quaint translation.

Wisdom is a practical matter. Theologian and grammarian Fenton Hort said that wisdom is, "that endowment of heart and mind which is needed for the right conduct of life." Wisdom is not the product of philosophical speculation or intellectual accumulation; it is God’s gift of rare beauty to our souls. It is, as I said in the introduction, the "beauty of holiness." If we need that wisdom, James assures us, we can ask for it and it will be given.

And, once again, what do the wise look like? Well, for starters (and only for starters) they’re reasonable, flexible, forgiving, peaceful, caring people, given to friendly visits, small acts of courtesy and kind words. They don’t look sagacious or pious. They’re just humble, transparent, simple folks who are gentle to the core. Wisdom, as Solomon would say, will have softened their face (Eccles. 8:1).

Wisdom, Spurgeon said, "is the beauty produced by (God’s) workmanship in us." It cannot be generated from within; it must come "from above" (James 3:14). We have to ask for it. But when we ask for it is graciously given with no strings attached.

I have to ask myself from time to time, "Am I wising up as I grow older, or am I just getting to be another old fool?" Suffering can make us bitter and mean–spirited, or, by God’s grace it can make us better. So much depends on which way we’re growing.

Life is relentlessly dynamic. We’re either growing more gracious and easier to get along with as we age, or we’re growing into cranky old curmudgeons whom no one can stand to be around. (They call it "going bad" in Narnia.) The question is this: which way are we growing?

Here is James’ promise: when trials beset us and we lack wisdom—when we’re tempted to fall into meanness, moodiness, ill–temper, bitterness and other bad behavior—we can ask for it and "it will be given…." If, in the midst of our troubles, we ask for God’s help he will hear us.

However, James goes on to say, when we ask, we must "believe and not doubt," Here "doubt" has nothing to do with honest questions of faith, but with equivocation, being "double–minded" or "two–souled," to use James’ exact word—wanting holiness, but not wanting it, if you know what I mean.

The two–souled person is divided, unsure that he wants to do what God has asked him to do. This is John Milton’s Mr. Facing Both Ways. This is young Augustine and his bifurcating, delaying prayer: "Lord, make me pure—but not yet." This is the man on the fence, who, James assures us, "should not think he will receive anything from the Lord." He is like "a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind...." He is "unstable in all he does"—erratic, fearful, restless, clueless, useless.

Jesus prayed at the moment of his greatest trial, "Not my will, but yours be done." In the midst of our troubles, when we ask for the wisdom of God’s will we must, like our Lord, be willing to do it. Only then can the gift be given. As George McDonald said, "God will carry us in his arms until we can walk; he will carry us when we cannot walk, but he will not carry us if we will not walk."