(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

James gives some good advice to those facing trials of many kinds. When our faith is being tested we are inclined to pray for patience, humility, a submissive spirit, charity or courage. James reminds us that wisdom is often what is needed. If we are uncertain how to act for the best in a perplexing situation or how to respond to opposition wisdom is the quality required. (See expositions on Acts21v17to36 and Acts23v1to11.)

(B) Wisdom is undervalued.

There is a type of Christian who always lets their heart rule their head. This is not usually good policy. Jill was very concerned about her niece's husband. Jake was a problem - a ne'er-do-well with big ideas but incapable of holding down a job. He and his wife had no home and were chronically in debt. Jill let her heart rule her head. She was the headmistress of a primary school. When the post of caretaker became vacant she offered it to Jake. A house went with the job. Jake called himself estate manager, wore a suit and spent a lot of time in the staff room but he didn't actually do any work. Instead he pilfered, pried and ran up hundreds of pounds worth of phone bills. Eventually Jake was sacked and he and his wife evicted from the caretaker's house. Jill would have saved herself a lot of trouble if she had acted wisely. The last I heard of Jake he was the pastor of a charismatic house church!

(C) God's gift of wisdom is not given unconditionally.

(1) God's Spirit is unlikely to give special guidance unless the problem we are facing is of the sort that really tests our faith.

When I was a schoolteacher there were children who were forever coming out to my desk and asking, "Am I doing this right, Mr Reed?" They demanded constant reassurance. After a time I told them, "Don't keep asking me that - just get on with it. You must trust in your own judgment." There are lots of decisions that God expects us to make for ourselves.

Experienced teachers solve most of the problems pupils pose without assistance. It is only when something out of the ordinary turns up that a teacher is justified in asking for guidance. Gillian was the first autistic girl that I taught. She tested my ability to maintain discipline! Gillian sat in my class repeatedly winding up her hair. She rarely did her homework. Gillian burst into tears whenever I told her off. She wrote on her Geography exercise book, 'Mr Reed is mad and bad.' I put her into detention and she failed to turn up. So I asked Mrs Crowley, Head of Pastoral Care, for advice - for wisdom. Mrs Crowley said, "Treat her like anyone else." So I did. Next time Gillian did not turn up for detention I went to look for her. She dodged into the girl's toilet. I sent in a female colleague to flush her out! We stood eyeball to eyeball in the corridor and I said with great menace, "Go to my room." Gillian went and I never had any more trouble from her. She even chose Geography as her option.

God will give us wisdom when we our out of our depth. He will show us how to act if after much thought and prayer we remain genuinely perplexed. My brother attended a Christian camp at which a girl approached the leader and complained that her teenage brother molested her at home. Her parents were both Christians. My first reaction would not be to contact social services! I would prefer to inform the Christian parents. If I had been that leader I would pray for and expect God to give me wisdom to act appropriately.

(2) We have to ask for the gift of wisdom. As the deadline for handing in Geography coursework approached ginger-haired Tim confessed that he was having problems with it. This was another way of saying that he had not done it! So I invited him to come and see me about his project. Tim never came. In the lunch hour he was too busy with the drama club or playing the drums or chatting up the girls. Tim didn't really want advice on his coursework because then he would have no excuse for doing nothing.

Nehemiah was distressed that the walls of Jerusalem were in a state of disrepair. He did not know quite what to do about it. Nehemiah could easily have made this an excuse for inactivity. Instead he prayed that God would grant him favour in the presence of King Artaxerxes.

(3) We have to ask without doubts about whether we want God's guidance. The Christian who questions God's wisdom is like a wave on a large mountain lake. It changes direction with the variable wind. First it surges one way and then the other.

Emma was like this. She found it very difficult to cope after her mother walked out of the home and left her children with their rather inadequate father. I gave Emma good advice - but she doubted it. So she took advice from her friends. Some advised her to study at Suffolk College. Others told her to get a job as soon as possible and move away from her family. Still others suggested she could go and live with her mother. Emma was tossed this way and that. In the end she moved in with an undesirable man twice her age!

There are Christians just like Emma. They have such problems with their churches: their fellow Christians are not spiritual enough; the pastor is not sound enough; nobody loves them; the worship is not exciting. Some of these Christians doubt that God is able to solve their problems. They are as restless as a small wave on a mountain lake. They move from fellowship to fellowship. Their enthusiasm waxes and wanes. Their allegiance shifts from church to church. These Christians are always dissatisfied, they never settle down and they are absolutely useless.

God could have solved all their problems if they had asked him and trusted in his wisdom. God might have said, "Stop complaining and start working. Dissatisfaction is a characteristic of idle Christians."

Many folk do not bring their problems to God because they don't really want them to be solved God's way.

(D) God's gift of wisdom is of matchless value.

(1) Wisdom gives understanding. This helps us to deal with a whole range of difficulties.

It is difficult to forgive. It is easier if we understand why a person has wronged us. When John Clare was a boy he accidentally hit his childhood sweetheart, Mary Joyce, in the eye with a green walnut and because he did not want to be thought a sissy he laughed with the other lads who found it funny. But John Clare brooded over the incident all night and the following morning waited anxiously at the churchyard gate until Mary arrived. There was no need to explain or apologise. She understood. He was forgiven.

Some people are difficult to accept. We might be able to come to terms with them if we understood why they are the way they are. For many years I gave Jack a lift to chapel. He had a chip on his shoulder and was not easy to get along with. However, I knew something of his background and it helped me to understand and accept him. He was the illegitimate son of the village chimney sweep and had the poorest of beginnings. A typical meal was bread and butter and raw swede. He was always something of an outsider - the black sheep of the village. Jack never had my opportunities of higher education. He looked forward to Christ's new kingdom on earth when he would be the teacher and I his pupil!

Charlotte found it quite difficult to accept me as her teacher. Her parents were very cross at parent's evening. Mrs X said, "Susan complains that you are always picking on her in class." Now I had to tell the truth so Charlotte understood. I said, "Well I hardly like to admit this but the reason I give Charlotte so much attention is not because I dislike her but because she is so attractive. She has elfin good looks and my eye is frequently drawn towards her. I will exercise more self-control and pay her less attention in future." I think they all understood and I had no more complaints.

We find it very difficult to witness. Wisdom is needed to find the correct approach. Jesus had this wisdom. He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man. John2v25. So Jesus knew just how to deal with Nicodemus, the woman of Samaria and Zacchaeus. This is something to ask Jesus to share with us. I am afraid many of us in Britain have almost given up on witnessing to the lost.

Wisdom helps us to manage an awkward customer. Last Saturday I went to a local jeweller to have the battery changed in my watch. First of all I was told it would be done in an hour. It wasn't - the technician could not get the back off my watch. I was told to come back on the Monday as the senior partner would be in by then and he would know how to open my watch. I turned up on Tuesday and the senior partner had not been in. I was by this time an awkward customer. I accepted the news with bad grace. On Thursday I paid yet another visit to the jewellers. Nobody had been able to get the back off my watch. But the seniour partner, a man of 80, was in the shop. He came to me with the watch and an eyeglass and explained carefully why it was almost impossible to open the watchcase without damaging it. He was an expert. He was also very patient, polite and apologetic. He knew how to deal with an awkward customer. The senior partner had learned wisdom. I was so impressed I bought another watch.

There are a lot of awkward customers in the church. It is easy to ignore them or even repel them. I knew a brusque, abrupt and dogmatic Christian whose church was glad to be rid of him. That Christian could have been useful if handled wisely. As it is he has drifted away from Jesus Christ. It is easy to get on with nice people! We need wisdom and courage to tackle the ungracious and unlovely.

(2) Wisdom shows us how to act for the best. There are times when very difficult decisions have to be taken and it is not easy to see how to proceed.

King Solomon had this sort of decision to make when two prostitutes came before him both claiming the same baby. See 1Kings3v16to28. Solomon ordered the child to be cut in two and one half given to each woman. This prompted the babe's mother to cry out, "Please my lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him!" v26. So the wise king ascertained who the true mother was.

Esther was in a dilemma. Her people, the Jews, faced annihilation. Mordecai her cousin urged Esther to go into King Xerxes and plead with him for her people. Esther was a member of the Persian ruler's harem. However, Esther knew that to go uninvited into the Xerxes' presence was to invite death. Mordecai sent Esther this wise advice: "Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" Esth4v13and14.

Christians face hard decisions. During my father's long ministry at Brockley there was a time when both he and my mother were very unhappy. It might have benefited both them and the church if my father had moved to another pastorate. I was bitterly opposed to any move because I did not want to change schools. My father didn't know what to do! In the end he stopped put whether for the sake of his sons or through inertia I cannot really say. I do not think God has forgotten the fuss I made about moving. I am the only member of my family who still attends my boyhood church!

When we are confronted with perplexing choices it is vital to ask God for wisdom so that we make the right decision.

(3) Wisdom shows us how to do the right thing in the right way. When Esther went before King Xerxes to plead the cause of her people she employed an indirect method. She invited the King and Haman to two banquets that she prepared. Only during the second banquet as they were drinking wine together did Esther make her request known in the most gracious terms. See Esther5to7.

Nathan the prophet had the unenviable task of confronting King David with his sin over Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite. Nathan very wisely told David the story of the rich man who stole the poor man's one little ewe lamb. See 2Sam12v1to7.

So often in church affairs the right thing is done in the wrong way. We had a lady who taught in our Sunday school. It was probably right to replace her with another woman who was a more committed Christian and a more effective teacher. It was very unfortunate that the first lady was made to feel unwanted and all the work she had done devalued. She was lost to our fellowship.

(E) God gives without reservation to all men without making them feel guilty or foolish.

James writes: If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. v5.

This is a wonderful promise. People who are very knowledgeable can pass on the benefits of their expertise in such a way that the recipient feels humiliated. I was watching a wildlife program on TV this week presented by the well-known ornithologist Bill Oddie and the lovely Kate Humble whose knowledge of natural history is not on a par with her looks. They were both looking out for swallows. Suddenly Kate cried out, "Look - there's one." Only to be told very contemptuously, "That's no swallow; that's a goldfinch." Bill Oddie's little, self-satisfied chuckle did him no credit.

Other individuals are very sparing with their wisdom. They take a perverse delight in withholding information and watching others make fools of themselves. I had a chemistry teacher like that. He would watch us doing practical work and the bigger the mess we got into the more he smiled into his moustache.

Sadly there are some mature Christian leaders who seem almost to enjoy the failures of the inexperienced. There are others who impart wisdom in a spirit that withers rather than encourages Christian enterprise. It is indeed fortunate that we can turn to God for wisdom - he who gives generously without finding fault.

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net