Prayer & Wisdom

If you were part of White River’s recent studies in Proverbs, you might be a bit jolted to see the idea of wisdom back in the spotlight in this week’s verses. After all, didn’t we just spend the first quarter of the year in one of the “wisdom books” of the Old Testament?

But I think you’ll find as we continue to work through James that wisdom is at the core of this book as well (remember, there’s a reason this book is sometimes called the “New Testament Proverbs”). In James 1:5, the half-brother of Jesus exhorts “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (ESV). Unpacking this, there are two main aspects in this verse to examine: What To Pray For, and Spiritual Wisdom. As we’ll see, the two topics are very closely linked.

Now, we’re supposed to bring everything to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6-7), but when the Bible talks about what we’re asking of God, there are some great examples in regards to where our priorities should lie. In an age of “Name It, Claim It” and “Prosperity Gospel” teaching, it seems as if the emphasis is often on asking God for material items. Even outside of this, it’s very easy to find ourselves asking for creature comforts or wants before anything else in our prayer lives (when I was a hardcore Colts fan, I know my prayer efforts were especially egregious on this note). While we certainly should ask God to supply our physical needs (Matthew 6:11), there’s also a profound picture of spiritual blessings in the act of faith and supplication before God, from the Lord’s Prayer to the High Priestly Prayer to the prayers of Paul.

So how do we know what to pray for? How do we know we’re praying for the right things? Well, one core principle to remember is that prayer is not a self-centered act. We aren’t praying for our own shallow, selfish interests. (Later on in James 4, we’ll see plenty about asking God for the wrong things for the wrong goal). We seek to make our hearts pursue the things of God’s heart. As we pray continually for spiritual wisdom and discernment, and continually spend time in God’s Word, we find those things God decrees and desires for us.

In his Letter to the Colossians, Paul writes “And so, from the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9, ESV). That’s a beautiful application of what James is writing in regards to in that first chapter.

Note that spiritual wisdom, wisdom granted from God, is not the same as the earthly idea of “wisdom”. The earthly wisdom of the most accomplished scholar, of the most revered minds in the academic community, can accomplish nothing in terms of salvation and sanctification. Earthly wisdom, by itself, cannot rise above the limitations of a fallen world, and indeed, provides no path to regeneration and restoration. That is not to sound an anti-intellectual note; rather, it is to recognize where true wisdom comes from. To go back once again to Proverbs, we are reminded in 2:6 that “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding“ (ESV). If we want true wisdom, we have to go to the true source.

By the mighty designs of a sovereign God, mankind has done many clever and wonderful things, but man’s best wisdom remains fallible. Man’s understanding of the world changes from theory to theory. Man’s wisdom in one age is mocked in another. Theories are picked up and discarded, mocked and then again accepted, subject to revocation and withdrawal. To those who completely ignore God’s wisdom in favor of today’s finite, relative idea of “truth”, the Bible says the message of the Cross itself as seen as folly! (1 Cor. 1:18) Trying to build a foundation on this is indeed to try to build on sinking sand, especially when it is at odds with the true, unchanging, eternal wisdom of the Lord. While man equivocates, waffles, and stumbles, the Lord’s wisdom endures through the age.

The Bible speaks repeatedly of the infinite wisdom of God. That wisdom comes to us through the reading of His Word, inerrant and inspired, with the Holy Spirit acting upon us in order to receive that great revelation (1 Cor. 2:10-13). And here, in James, we are told if we ask for wisdom in faith (v.6), God will not chide us for this, but will give generously. And in that spiritual wisdom and discernment, in the dedication of seeking after the heart of God to serve and enjoy Him, we will begin to see God’s will for our lives. Once we see that will, and seek to have it fill our own lives, our prayers will sound different, because the things we desire are going to be less about the self and more about desiring God.

If you’re not sure what God’s plan is for your Christian walk, and you’re perhaps not even sure how to start praying, pray for wisdom as you delve into God’s Word. Not for your gain or for your glory, but that you may better know the will of God, so that he may be exalted, and that we may live lives dedicated to the joy and chief end of glorifying him forever.

-Zachary Houghton


1) What is the present priority or goal in your prayer life?

2) Read Ephesians 3:14-18 and Philippians 1:9-10. What sort of prayers might we provide for our brothers and sisters in Christ from Paul’s own prayers in these verses?

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