Recently I have been re-studying through the book of James. In Chapter 1 there is a passage that has caused quite a bit of controversy in Christian culture:
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
In context, James has just told his readers to count it as joy when they face trials as a result of their faith. His readers, early Jewish Christians living throughout Rome were in a culture that was not overly hospitable towards Christianity. The Jews who rejected Christ were against them and Romans who worshiped deities in the Greek Pantheon were also against them. Additionally, many of these Jewish Christians were living in poverty. As a result, they were facing hard times.
Today many Christians focus on the part that states God gives generously and that we need to ask in faith. As a result, the idea that we can receive material wealth if we ask in faith has become quite popular. We also see people using this passage to suggest that God will answer all your prayers how you want them answered as long as you do not doubt that God will do it. But in prayer, God always works on our hearts. He helps us to see things his way because his answers are not always our desires…but they are always what is best.
If we look at the passage more closely we see that James does not say God will answer any of our prayers how we want or that we should be asking for material blessings. Instead, James states that in the midst of our trials–in the midst of whatever is causing us stress or anxiety–we are to ask God to give us wisdom to navigate through the situation. God will direct us in our trials but that does not mean he will remove our trials. He walks through our trials with us. Trials are like an obstacle course, as we go through one we may often want to give up, but if we keep going we are better for it when we come out on the other side.
What trials are you facing this week? This month? This new year? Are you trusting God and asking for his guidance as you go through them? Are you just looking for an escape route? Are you trying to avoid them?
If you find yourself in the midst of a trial now, spend some time talking to God and asking for his guidance. Then spend some more time listening for that guidance on your heart, through Scripture, through talking with other Christians, and through what you hear in sermon and song in your worship community. Trust God in the trials. He will guide you through the course.
Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Transformation Media Ministries, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for over 10 years. Scott is married and has three children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges in America every day.