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Why Does God Give Liberally to Those Who Ask?
699. Why Does God Give Liberally to Those Who Ask? “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.” (James 1:5)
The invitation in the Epistle of James for any who lack wisdom to “ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” holds a significant place in the history of the Restoration (James 1:5). Later in his life, Joseph Smith said of the time he read this passage as a confused and uncertain youth, “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart” (Joseph Smith—History 1:12). Reflecting on this passage ultimately compelled him to go out to what would become the Sacred Grove and seek God in prayer, leading to the First Vision.
Given James’s focus on prayer at the beginning of the letter, one can understand why this verse has had—and continues to have—such a large impact on Christians throughout the world. According to James, prayer is an especially effective tool to gain wisdom. While wisdom is generally understood as “skill at life, particularly the ability to make sound judgements and speak the right words,” the wisdom referred to in the Bible often has deeper, more significant meanings than can be captured in English with one word.1 Particularly as used by James, wisdom refers to “the gift of God which enables one to be perfect or, in James’ conception, to stand the test” of mortality. This meaning is especially prevalent in other early Jewish works such as 2 Baruch, 2 Esdras, 1 Enoch, and Sirach.2 Thus, when we receive wisdom from the Lord we are enabled to live in a godly and righteous way.
Those who ask God for wisdom can furthermore be assured that they will receive this divine gift based on the nature of God. James assures us that God “continually gives” and “is universal, unequivocal, and generous” in all that He gives to His children.3 By His very nature, God wants to bless everyone, and all that is required of us is to come to Him, asking sincerely “in the name of Christ, … with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ,” so that we can then receive these promised blessings (Moroni 10:4).
In addition, according to James it is not just enough simply to ask the Lord. Rather, one must “ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1:6). This statement is best understood when viewed in its wider context of covenantal loyalty. For example, according to Dan McCartney, “James does not mean that a believer may never have a measure of uncertainty regarding whether something is God’s will; rather, he is condemning a lack of commitment, [or] a divided loyalty.”4
Furthermore, James teaches that “a double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8), and further explains that some of the Christians he was addressing did not have all their prayers answered previously not because they doubted God but because “ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3).5 The proper way to ask in faith, as James instructed, was to put away any divided loyalties: one should not ask in order to satisfy personal ambitions but rather should “draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8). Such a relationship between faith and loyalty to God, as has been noted by Brent Schmidt on several occasions, stands at the core of understanding New Testament teachings regarding acting in faith. Faith, far from being just a passive or abstract belief in God, invites us to develop a lifelong relationship with God based on mutual loyalty and love.6
Significantly, this understanding of James’s instructions regarding prayer and receiving wisdom can be seen clearly in Joseph Smith’s prayer as recorded in his personal history. According to Joseph Smith, he wanted to live in a manner pleasing to God and “felt to mourn for [his] own sins and for the sins of the world,” leading him to “[cry] unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and to obtain mercy.”7 Joseph wanted to establish a relationship with the Lord so that he could receive forgiveness of his sins and obtain salvation.
Joseph Smith was also committed to acting on what he learned from the Lord. This is demonstrated by the fact that when God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him, Joseph not only asked “which of all the sects was right” but also wanted to know “which I should join” (Joseph Smith—History 1:18). Unlike double-minded seekers, Joseph was fully committed to seeking wisdom from the Lord and acting on what he learned throughout his life.
Like Joseph Smith, we all have the need to go often to the Lord and seek His wisdom for our daily lives. Such requests for wisdom need to come from a desire to follow the Lord and demonstrate our loyalty to Him. As expressed by Jesus Himself, this precludes the possibility that we ever serve two masters: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
A major aspect of this important invitation can be seen in James 4, in which James earnestly pleads for the early Christians to repent of their sins and humble themselves before the Lord. When we have faith in God as a loving father and when we act with the loyalty to God requisite our petition, all things that will be for our eternal good will be made manifest and we will be blessed with increased desires and even greater abilities to become more fully like Him.
Brent J. Schmidt, Relational Faith: The Transformation and Restoration of Pistis as Knowledge, Trust, Confidence, and Covenantal Faithfulness (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2022), 49–66.
Larry E. Dahl, “A String of Gospel Pearls (James),” in Studies in Scripture, vol. 6 of 8, Acts to Revelation, ed. Robert L. Millet (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1987), 207–224.
- 1. Dan G. McCartney, James (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 88.
- 2. Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 71; cf. McCartney, James, 88.
- 3. Luke Timothy Johnson, The Letter of James (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1995), 180.
- 4. McCartney, James, 91.
- 5. For a discussion on James’s teachings on double-mindedness, see Larry E. Dahl, “A String of Gospel Pearls (James),” in Studies in Scripture, vol. 6 of 8, Acts to Revelation, ed. Robert L. Millet (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1987), 216–217.
- 6. See Brent J. Schmidt, Relational Faith: The Transformation and Restoration ofPistis as Knowledge, Trust, Confidence, and Covenantal Faithfulness (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2022), 49–66; Book of Mormon Central, “How Did Paul Understand Faith? (Romans 9:30),” KnoWhy 684 (August 15, 2023).
- 7. “History, circa Summer 1832,” pp. 2–3, The Joseph Smith Papers.
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