Obey God and Do What You Want
Exploring Decision Making and God’s Will
Prayer and Decision Making
NAU James 1:2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Verses 2-4 urges believers to think joy during trouble; no matter how small or great the trouble is. Be patient. Endure it. Big dividends await those who do; nothing short of spiritual maturity.
But, what happens, if in spite of everything, we do lack something? We are not fully mature as the “lacking nothing” phrase of v 4 pictures? The problem is that I can’t quite do it. Thinking joy and enduring escape me? What then? (Note that “lacking” connects vs 4+5.)
1. God recognizes that Christians will inevitably allow trouble to trip them up 5a
Once again, it is God to the rescue! This is always the way it is. We mess up and God fixes up! Our situation is bleak. This is a difficult pill to swallow. We don’t easily admit that we can’t solve our problems.
a. We are often missing an essential gizmo
The one thing we most often need we often don’t have – wisdom. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. It is moral discernment regarding the practical conducting of life. It is knowledge put to practical use. Proverbs 4:7 says wisdom is “supreme, therefore get wisdom” (NIV).
Here wisdom is the ability to understand and deal with trouble in such a way that we can think joy and endure. In other words, it is the ability to understand and do what God requires of us! The ability to sort things out and select the best course of action so that we can obey and honor God
Sometimes however, we are destitute of the wisdom needed to do this. The term "lack" (leipw) might be a banking term (Robertson) – our balance is not adequate to make the purchase. The one thing we need, we don’t have!
Case Study: Not having a pipe wrench the first time I tried to repair the kitchen sink. It was impossible until I bought one.
b. Thus, we should expect to need help in handling trouble
Circle the word “if”. Grammarians call this a first class condition. “If any of you lack wisdom” (and you do)…. So here’s the deal – there were actually some Jews in the Diaspora who didn’t have the wisdom necessary to respond correctly to trouble. They didn’t have their act together. They were struggling!
Does this sound familiar? You bet it does! We fit right in. Some of us, maybe all of us, will experience times when we just don’t seem to be able to handle trouble correctly.
2. God offers a possible solution for dealing with trouble 5b-8
This is the “then” of an “if”…”then” phrase. Pay attention. Listen closely. Here is the first thing you should do. Maybe it would be helpful to take a stab at what not to do first:
Call a friend.
Call the pastor.
Hit the Christian bookstore.
Defiantly pull yourself up by the bootstraps.
Go to a seminar.
a. On the one hand, the solution is bound up in one simple concept: ask God for wisdom 5b
This is another way to describe prayer! It is shockingly simple yet sadly overlooked! Here is how James describes this activity of asking God.
i. Focus on wisdom to match the trouble. We are to ask for the wisdom to deal with the problem, not a power miracle that suddenly makes everything go away. The object of the asking is not stated in v 5. But clearly it is wisdom. So, we are to identify the problem and then ask God for wisdom to respond properly or if we know how to respond already we are to ask for the strength to respond. In other words, we still have to do something!
ii. Be persistent. The term “ask” is the term for prayer that means a petition or a request. The term is laden with urgency to the point of demanding! It is also the present tense – keep on asking. Don’t give up.
So, it is naming the problem and naming what you want. Be specific!
Case Study: You know what kind of day your husband had and you know your husband. So you pray, “Lord, Joe might be a crab when he walks in the door tonight. I’ve had a bad day too, Lord. But I know how I should respond to him. So help me to say just the right words. Help me to smile. Help me to avoid self-pity. Seal my lips so I don’t talk to Suzie about this.”
iii. Humbly cast yourself upon God. Remember, you are dealing with the God of the Bible, not an unnamed higher power; not your neighbor; not a therapist. We might pose the question, “what kind of God do you worship”?
The sentence structure here is something like, “let him ask of the giving-to-all-generously-while not finding fault God.” Thus we learn two things about God. And these are larger principles that transcend the immediate issue of asking God for wisdom to deal with trouble. We can ask God for wisdom, because we know two fabulous truths about God. They are…
First, He gives sincerely.
There is debate about what the term translated “generously” means (aplwj). The basic concept might be that of openness, like an open hand (God “opens his hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing” Psalm 145:16).
So, God gives sincerely and simply without any hidden agenda or strings attached.
Another use of a related term (apolouj) is instructive, NAS Matthew 6:22 (also Lk 11:34) "The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. Therefore, God is seen as one who gives openly, without reservation.
James makes the point again in v 17, "Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights." No wonder Peter could utter, “Cast all your cares on Him, for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Second, He gives compassionately.
Case Study: Have you ever been in a situation where you dreaded asking someone for something because of all the grief you had to go through to get it? You just knew that they were going to say something like, “OK, I’ll give this to you but if you weren’t such a loser I wouldn’t have to.”
God is not like that when we ask for wisdom. Remember God’s attitude toward gift giving. Jesus explained it in Matthew 7:9-11. He pointed out that a good parent never insults the child who comes asking for bread by giving him a stone. He doesn’t give him a snake if he asks for fish. So, if you, who are evil, can give good gifts to your kids when they ask, how much more will God give us good gifts when we ask Him?
Without “reproach” is (onveididzw) meaning scolding or reprimanding or insulting. The thieves crucified with Jesus did this. The pagan world does this to believers. Jesus reproached the disciples and the unbelieving cities. Christians are to bear the reproach of Christ.
So, our Father does not embarrass us for our lack of wisdom. He does not point the finger at us and smirk so all can see. He does not chide us.
In fact, it is expected that we will lack in many areas of our life because we are sinners; we are not God. The key to a godly life is not the absence of trouble; rather it is handling trouble in a godly manner.
Further, God doesn’t treat our prayer as presumptuous nor does he rebuke us for having to ask. Just the opposite; this is intended to encourage boldness in our praying.
So, troubles are not necessarily punishments for sin. And, God won’t chastise us when we ask for wisdom in handling trouble.
iv. Expect wisdom
He promises wisdom. We ask; He gives. Are we ready to accept it? Just what does God’s wisdom look like? NAS James 3:17 "But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy." This is really a deal!
However, there is one little caveat. God has some expectations about how we ask him for wisdom (vs 6-8).
b. On the other hand, how we ask God for such wisdom is important 6a
I guess we might say, “There is prayer, and then there is prayer”. This is God’s fine print.
- The broad stipulation is that we must always approach God “in faith”. Our asking for wisdom during trouble must never get outside of belief (in faith). We must believe that God can and will grant what we ask. God can and will supply our lack of wisdom. Faith is the simple act of coming to the Lord as a child comes to his parent. The child has complete confidence that mommy or daddy will take care of his need.This is so foreign to our common misconceptions about prayer. We place stock in eloquence or we recite certain formulas and pet phrases. Or we think that if we bombard God with lots of people asking the same thing that somehow God must answer. No, it is just the simple asking in faith! How refreshing and liberating a concept.
- A narrower description is that we must never “doubt” when we approach God.
Perhaps a literal translation will help us catch the sense. “Let him ask in faith while doubting not at all.” In other words, at the time you are asking God for wisdom there must never be one little smidgen of doubt that he can provide. Wow!
“Doubting” (diakrivw) is a term of judgment or distinguishing between two. But here and a few other places it is a term of hesitation. It means to have two judgments or opinions at the same time. Thus to waver. You are at odds with yourself about whether God can and will do what you ask. Well, why on earth would we doubt? Here are some guesses…
• Part of us really does want God’s wisdom, but part of us doesn’t because we know that we will have to change in favor of God
- We really don’t think God can help.
- We like the attention we get when we have trouble.
- We are afraid God will answer in the “wrong” way.
- We prefer God do it for us rather than give us wisdom so we can do it ourselves
- We don’t think God is interested in the small peanuts of our life.
c. Motivation for coming to God as He stipulates springs from our understanding of what God thinks of those who don’t 6b-8
Here is a description of someone who doubts…
i. He is a lightweight 6c James uses the simile (“is like’) of a great storm at sea. The waves surge up and down from one moment to the next as the wind howls. It might be like fishing from the bank and watch the “bobber” dip up and down at the slightest movement of the water. However, this scene is probably a white cap day, not a mild day on the lake! Reminds us of the spiritual state of some Christians described in Ephesians 4:14, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming
ii. He is presumptuous 7 A doubter has no business “expecting” or “imagining’ that God will meet his request. He dare not presume on God’s mercy. This is a stern warning!
iii. He is disloyal 8a Literally he is “a two-souled man” (diayucoj). The only other use of this term is 4:8, Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. The soul is the seat of the volition or will. Therefore this is a dual-willed person. Part loyal to God and part loyal to self. The result is beneath the surface conflict and unreliability. Are you or are you not committed??? This may be what Jesus had in mind when he declared in Luke 9:62, no man, having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. Or Lot’s wife who could not take her eyes off Sodom and thus was turned into a pillar of salt.
iv. He is erratic 8b The only other use of this term is James 3:8 – the tongue is “restless” (akatastatoj). The related term “disorder” (akatastasia) is used 5x in NT. So the sense is unsettled or instability. We might mark this down to a small character flaw until we see the entire phrase. The person who doubts God is unstable “in all his ways.” So, doubting God has far reaching effects. The whole course of a person’s life is tainted.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Think about this: God knows we aren’t perfect. He knows we will not always know how to handle trouble. He knows we will not always want to handle trouble. But He stays with us. He is in the fray right next to us. He offers assistance. All we have to do is ask! But we have to be willing to work at it. He won’t do it for us. He will provide the tools. We provide the sweat. We must believe this. We must be convinced that this is our God. He is there; and he can and will provide wisdom for us.
So, prayer intersects with decision making when we ask God for wisdom in making the decision - even if the particular decision is not a “trial”. We don’t ask God for or expect a special revelation, a dream, inner peace, an intangible prompting, a special sign, or etc. Rather we ask for wisdom. Asking for wisdom may look like asking for discernment of the implications or impact the decision may have on others, the reputation of Christ and His church, our overall well being and testimony; or asking for discernment of motives; or asking for skill in evaluating all contingencies; or asking for clarity of thought; or asking for recall of Scripture; or asking for the ability to prioritize and weigh all factors accurately; or et al.
Then, make the decision! You may make a bad decision but make in on the basis of what you currently know.
Case Study: Opportunity Knocks
The freshly minted Seminary graduate was serving to the best of his ability as a solo pastor in a small rural congregation. On occasion he consulted with the denominational representative regarding how to handle specific issues in his highly dysfunctional congregation.
About two years into his tenure pulpit committees began showing up for the Sunday morning worship services and he began receiving unsolicited written inquires regarding his interest in making a move to another ministry. He declined to be considered for all such inquiries. Finally, after inquiry number twelve, he and his wife began to wonder what was going on. Were they missing something?
They ask to meet with you for your advice. What do you tell them?
Case Study: Are Do Overs Permitted?
The young pastor aspired to be a military chaplain. However, both the military and the denomination required pastoral experience. So he began pastoring a small congregation right out of Seminary.
Soon, he was able to begin the application process for the chaplaincy. After reams of paperwork over an 8 month period, the process ground to a halt. He heard nothing from the military or his denominational endorsing agent and thus determined that his application was dead on arrival.
During this application process he received an invitation to pastor another church. So, after a season of prayerful consideration, he accepted the invitation by means of a Saturday night telephone call.
On Monday morning, the denominational representative called the pastor to inform him that he had been trying reach him for two weeks in order to tell him that he was first in line for the military chaplaincy and in fact the report date was in 4 months.
What should the pastor do? What are the various considerations factoring into his decision?
Assignment: Review Chapter 5 and read chapter 8 of textbook
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2016. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.