Everybody claims to want it .... and it's pretty obvious that not everyone has it. But although we may laugh at the follies of other people, we are most acutely conscious (unless we're insufferably conceited) of a lack of wisdom in our own lives - - - when we make mistakes, or bad decisions, or foolish choices. But did you know that, according to God Himself, wisdom can be yours for the asking? Not "wisdom" as the academics define it; not philosophical insight or theoretical expertise. But real, practical, priceless wisdom. God says that He's willing to give it to anyone who asks.
But there's a catch ...
From the word of God: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with 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 1:5-8).
James, the third member of Jesus' "inner circle" (along with John and Peter), is writing to his fellow Jews of the first century. Many of these had come to believe in Christ as their Saviour and Lord, but not all; James is writing to both groups. And the Jews treasured wisdom: they cherished the writings of David and Solomon, as well as the Book of Job, which they still call "wisdom literature." In this passage, James says that if any man simply asks, God will give him wisdom, without "upbraiding" or scolding him for asking. (He won't say, "You dummy! How dare you ask Me such a thing?") That's quite a promise!
But, as I said, there's a catch. Not because God is tricky, or playing cat and mouse, but let's face it: there's a "catch" to almost everything in life, and this is no exception. In fact, this "catch" is really very helpful, because God tells us how to ask for wisdom.
It has to do with being "double minded," and it's something that most of us have experienced at one time or another - - - maybe at many times. And it's extremely dangerous: because being "double minded" doesn't just prevent a man or woman from receiving God's wisdom; it can absolutely devastate their entire life.
"Double mindedness," obviously, might be seen as the opposite of singularity of purpose: lack of focus, or divided loyalties, or conflicting desires. Look at some very simple examples: a heroin addict who hasn't "fixed" in a couple of days will think of one thing, and one thing only: getting her next fix. She's not thinking about a television program or her children or getting a new car; her attention is completely focused on getting that needle in her arm again, as soon as possible. She's not "double minded" at all! At a different level, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon and Barack Obama had one focus, one overriding, crystal-clear thought throughout their adult lives: they wanted to be elected President. Of course they loved their families, and made money, and all the other normal, human things: but the focus of their lives was achieving that goal. They were not double minded.
And if they had been .... they probably wouldn't have been elected.
Most of us aren't heroin addicts or presidential candidates; most of us just want to live our lives. If we're Christians, we want to live them in a way that will please and glorify God. We want to accomplish His will. And we need wisdom for this. So, God invites us to ask Him for it: but warns us that it won't work if we're double minded. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with 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.
Someone says, "Wait a minute! You mean that if I ask God for wisdom, that's supposed to be all I think about? Waiting for the wisdom to hit me? I've got a family and a job and responsibilities. What's wrong with thinking about those things?" Nothing's wrong with that; we're all in that position, and that's not what "double minded" means.
But you can't simply say, "God, give me wisdom," and then go about your daily business, thinking about whatever happens to attract your attention for a moment, and forget about the request. Yes, you have responsibilities, and you even have pleasures, and none of that is a problem. The problem comes when you hesitate, when you doubt, when you're torn between seeking God and seeking something contrary to God and His will.
There's nothing wrong with having a job, or choosing the right school for your children, or even enjoying a moment or an hour of relaxation. The problem comes when these things run contrary to God's ways, and you know it, and you can't make up your mind. "I really want God to give me wisdom ... but right now I need to figure things out for myself." "I really want God's wisdom, but maybe I should wait to ask until I've whipped this sin problem, which I'm kind of enjoying." "I really want God's wisdom ... but I really want something else more."
That's being double minded. To put it simply, it's the opposite of faith - - - or one of the opposites of faith. It's not exactly doubting, on an intellectual level; it's more like refusing to make a clear choice between receiving God's wisdom, or going your own way.
And here's the horrible truth: hundreds of thousands of Christians live their lives in exactly this way. They have a measure of God's wisdom available to them (they have the Bible, after all); but they never receive the personal, tailor-made individual wisdom that God wants to give them, because they're constantly shifting back and forth in their minds. I've experienced this. Perhaps you have, too. And God simply won't honor that kind of game-playing, that kind of halfhearted desire for His wisdom. His wisdom is too precious. Let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
There's another consideration, and it's frightful. This matter of double mindedness has ramifications far beyond receiving God's wisdom, or not receiving it. This kind of indecisive, faithless fence-straddling can actually drive us crazy, and/or bring chaos and ruin to our lives. Our brains were not designed to hold all these conflicting and contradictory desires and aspirations at one time. If you "seek God" with half your heart, while the other half seeks something else, you'll be unstable in all your ways. You won't succeed at anything, because you've committed to nothing. You're just like the waves of the sea, the tides at the shore, constantly rising and falling and changing. There's no stability. And, although you can get away with this internal conflict for a few years, or a decade, eventually your life will begin to crumble around you. Things will fall apart. There will be losses. And I wasn't being facetious: it can drive you crazy. You're a man or a woman; if you're saved, you're made in the Image of God. Your Creator did not intend for you to be a wave.
Speaking of waves ....
I can think of a man who was double minded, for just a moment, and it nearly cost him his life. But you already know the story.
And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
Huh? "Thou of little faith?" Lord, He's the only one who had enough faith to get out of the boat!
Peter's faith was real, and his expectations of Jesus' power and deliverance were real. That was one part of his thinking. But when he made the mistake of looking down at the waves ... well, at that moment he became double minded. And the results could have been catastrophic. Jesus wasn't rebuking the man who got out of the boat; He was rebuking the double-minded man who was thinking about the waves.
Double mindedness. It keeps us from receiving God's wisdom, and it keeps us from living the sort of peaceful and productive lives that God intends for us. I'm not a great fan of Bible commentaries, but this matter was summed up very well by Matthew Henry, commenting on James 1:8: "When our faith and spirits rise and fall with second causes, there will be great unsteadiness in all our conversation and actions. This may sometimes expose men to contempt in the world; but it is certain that such ways cannot please God nor procure any good for us in the end. While we have but one God to trust to, we have but one God to be governed by, and this should keep us even and steady. He that is unstable as water shall not excel."
But we don't have to be double minded. We can ask of God, and keep our eyes on Him, and our hearts with Him .... and wisdom will be but one of the blessings He gives us.
What a Saviour! What a Lord!