Today: Tuesday, December 10, 2019
 
 

James - believe when you pray    (9/1/2013 1)



This week, as we continue to look at the New Testament book of James, we turn to chapter 1, verses 6 to 8:

“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. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

On the surface, this seems almost cruel:

  • some people aren’t sure there even is a God who will hear — but they’re still willing to give it a try. Will God turn his back on such explorations of faith?
  • Other Christians believe in God, but don’t pray. So if they never ask, will they never receive anything good from God?
  • And what if someone is struggling through terrible times, and finds it hard to hope in anything – let alone that their prayers will be answered? Will God cold-shoulder those most in need?
  • Or those who feel their prayers have not been answered in the past, and so struggle to ask again?

The passage seems to suggest that God is only willing to help ‘Superchristians’ — people of amazing faith who never have a moment’s doubt. Not only have I never met such a person, I’m not sure they exist. I believe the Christian journey includes wrestling with the big questions of faith: even Jesus' disciple Thomas doubted!

How else can we receive and build a faith that is really our own? God gave us our intellect to do just this kind of wrestling. It is by questioning our faith that we can examine every side of it, measure it, and strengthen it.

Another difficulty is how we balance asking for something with what is actually God’s will. We cannot always know God’s will, so potentially we could be praying for something that goes against it. And so surely God won’t change his will, however much faith we have!

So how do I reconcile what I’ve said above with the biblical authority of this passage?

It’s worth pointing out that James was a very blunt, forthright person; it’s one of the reasons I love his book! He calls a spade a spade, and he doesn’t waste words. “This is how it is!” he seems to say throughout his short book. Many scholars believe that James was the brother of Jesus, so perhaps it was a family trait.

Such bluntness can be a bit annoying. But style and substance are two different things, and James does have a point. Prayer is about trust, and trust is about relationship. If we believe (or want to believe) in God, and be in relationship with him, we must trust him. Not trusting God would mean holding onto our issue and not handing it over to him. We may not know what form the answer to our prayer may take – it may be something we never expected or imagined – and so holding on to our issue could get in the way of that creativity.

Perhaps James is being a bit extreme just to make his point: hand yourself, and all your worries, over to God, and let him handle it all! A little doubting and fretting is part of the human condition, perhaps, but don’t let it get in the way: know and believe that God cares, and will act. We should strive for James' ideal, even if we may never quite reach it!





Pray: Lord - sometimes I doubt, and sometimes I pray. Sometimes I do them both at the same time. Please hear me and help me, Lord. I want the kind of faith James talks about; please help me on my journey. Amen. 

Think about: It might be tempting to just give up if we can't reach the standard James sets, but think about this passage and try to see how you can become more faithful than you are today. Perhaps James had the kind of faith he writes about, but we're all different! God made us all unique, and he honours his creation.

Challenge: Is there an area of your life which needs God's help? Keep praying. God will act in his own way, in his own time. Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow for a reason. 

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