Big Buts in James


No, I’m not working on a new title. Matthew’s done. Genesis is in process. A third–not James–is on the drawing board. But James is on my mind.

Lot of buts. Six in the first chapter alone.

The letter is written to those who were scattered among the nations and who were facing trials of many kinds. His opening admonition is for those who suffer these trials to take a higher view of what they’re experiencing–to realize that God is at work in their situations and circumstances, and that, in and through these difficulties, they are growing in Christ.

Sounds like a great place for a but, doesn’t it?

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. But when he asks, he much believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5-6)

I loved going to the beach as a kid. I would play in the waves until my skin shriveled and my parents decided they’d had enough of watching me. Perhaps you’ve had this sensation before–upon coming out of the water, sometimes I still felt as if I was being batted back and forth by the waves and the current. Scientists say that this is based on–are you ready for this?–internal predictive models. In other words, your body learns the pattern of the waves and currents and adjusts to it. You’re literally trying instinctively to be stable in a less-than-stable environment. Then you come out, that learned pattern still attempts to guide you. Until, you come to recognize that you’re actually on firm footing now.

When we face trials, we scratch and claw for something to stabilize us. That’s that self-preserving internal predictive model at work.

James represents that what we’re really needing is God–He’s fixed, sure and enduring. And if we ask for His wisdom, we can be confident that He has given us what we need.

His wisdom lifts us out of the back and forth battering of the waves, and sets us on solid ground. James urges: Recognize that you have firm footing. He gives wisdom so that we can see the bigger picture–that these trials are really producing something of worth in and through us. Instead of relying on internal predictive models that fall short, raise your line of sight to the bigger picture–and the God who’s painting it.