Wisdom is the ability to use knowledge correctly. Some people find it easy to accumulate knowledge, but that is not a sign that a person is becoming wise. Instead it is a sign that he or she could become a wise person if they discover how to use their knowledge.
The situation that James’ readers faced was one of increased difficulties because of their Christian commitment. He mentions in his letter some of the problems that they were encountering. Since James explains areas of wisdom in this letter, it could be that this opening passage is like a table of contents indicating what he is going to describe.
We can deduce from James’ instruction here that he expected lack of wisdom to be unusual among God’s people. We can see that is so from his description of a person lacking wisdom – he is not the usual kind of person that a Christian should be. Moreover, we can see from his exhortation that lack of wisdom is unacceptable, that a believer should not be content to be without wisdom, and that others should not be willing to allow another believer to be unwise.
Yet in addition to being unusual and unacceptable, James’ words indicate that the problem is solvable, and like a wise doctor he provides the remedy. What is his solution?
James urged his readers to ask God for wisdom. Notice how he describes God. He is the One who is good to all, which is an indication that James has reflected on God’s activity as the great and kind Creator. Since he is good, he will be delighted to give wisdom.
Such prayer for wisdom, says James, must be made in faith. What does it mean to pray in faith? It does not mean some form of self-persuasion whereby we convince ourselves that God will answer our prayers. Instead prayer in faith is based on specific promises in the Bible. We can pray in faith for the items that God has promised to give. The obvious deduction we can make here is that we should know the promises of God. And God has promised to give wisdom.
What is a person like who does not pray in faith for wisdom? James says that such a person is like the restless waves of the sea that are disturbed by a strong wind. Such a person is directionless and wandering all over the place.
I suppose James, if he could, would ask us, ‘Did you pray for wisdom when you prayed today?’ Because he would also say that we all need it.