Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Praying in Faith," James 1:6–8

Olympic gold medalist Darrel Pace was to give an archery exhibition in New York City’s Central Park, and the event received coverage by all the news stations. Shooting steel-tipped hunting arrows, Pace punctured bull’s-eyes without a miss.
Then he called for a volunteer. “All you have to do,” said Pace, “Is hold this apple in your hand, waist-high.” ABC correspondent Josh Howell took a bold step forward. He stood there, a small apple in his hand, a larger one in his throat. Pace took aim from 30 yards away as we all held our breath. Then THWACK-a clean hit that exploded the apple before striking the target behind. Everybody applauded Howell, who was all smiles—until his cameraman approached with a hangdog look. “I’m sorry, Josh,” he said. “I didn’t get it. Had a problem with my viewfinder. Could you do it again?”[1]
James calls for us to have faith when we pray. It seems like a simple thing. He's speaking to an audience who are sometimes running for their lives. This is the time when those who killed Jesus were chasing down the church trying to persecute and kill them too.
James says in 1:6, "when he asks, he must believe and not doubt." Remember he's talking about the need to determine to have joy when going through trials. Attitude is so important. Also James taught in verse 4 to persevere through trials, never giving up, gaining maturity so we are complete and mature, lacking nothing. If you go through a trial, and lack wisdom, ask of God, who gives graciously. Then comes verse 6, ". . . because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (v. 7) That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; (v. 8) he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."
So that's it. Easy, huh? Just pray in faith, and "walla!" If you've been following Jesus for a while you know that every time we pray God doesn't always go "walla." Some will tell you that you didn't have enough faith, and that's why you were told "no" by God. Some will say you didn't deposit enough into the holy vending machine (a.k.a. God), therefore you lost. I submit to you that faith is more than a guaranteed "yes" when we pray.
First, though, the believer must understand this: we must pray to God with faith.
We must pray to God with faith (v. 6) God’s people should pray to God with faith for wisdom and all else. Christians should have prayed in faith for wisdom during trials. It was taught to James' audience, and to us as well, not doubting.
Verse 6 expresses what Ralph P. Martin calls, “a painstaking and concentrated effort to obtain blessing for oneself or for others, material or spiritual, inspired by a confident belief that God in Jesus can supply all human need."[2]
I used to pray when I was younger for patience or humility. I used to have some of the most frustrating experiences; the most humiliating experiences. God was giving me exactly what I asked for. The ability to be patient comes through practicing patience in trying times. The ability to have humility and be humble comes from enduring humbling experiences, being reminded of how lowly we really are.
Now I ask God to help me be a humble person, like Jesus, but don't ever have to humble me please.
Re-read Martin's definition above. Philippians 4 tells us God will supply our needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus. But what is the difference between a want and a need?
When I was in 7th grade, I prayed that God would make a girl at school my girlfriend. I said, "God, I have a need. I need that girl." That wasn't God's will and he had a much more beautiful and a godly woman for me to meet much later in life. I thought it was a need, but it was a want. Later, in high school, I again prayed to God for a "need." I said, "God, I have a need. I must play football for the Chicago Bears one day." It happened. I was convinced that this was God's will for my life. But God showed me He had something else for me.
Later, when I was engaged, I believed God wanted me to continue in youth ministry and a position opened. I interviewed and was rejected, and was so confused. I was convinced that God wanted me in full-time vocational ministry, and had worked for several years in youth ministry, and needed to provide for my new marriage and possible family. I cried out, "God, what is happening? Is this not a need? If this is not a need, I don't know what is?" But I trusted God. I had faith that He knew something I didn't know.
Later on, I applied for youth ministry positions in Dallas in 2000, and was still convinced that God was calling me into full-time vocational ministry and to continue building on the five years of youth ministry I had. Out of seven (7) churches I applied for, only one was not youth ministry. It was pastoral ministries. I almost did not apply. They were the first ones to call, while I still lived in Chicago, and they asked, "Why don't you send us your resume anyway." That pastoral ministries position not only was a good fit, but by seeking God and accepting it, I learned that God had gifted me for pastoral ministries better than for youth ministry.
Maybe you have a similar stories. Each of those situations where we pray and don't get what I want is an opportunity to say: 1) God I tried it your way and it didn't work; I'm not going to serve you anymore. I know I can't fix things, and it doesn't seem like you can either.
2) God is good, faithful, gracious and compassionate, will not give us a rock when we ask for a loaf of bread, so obviously what I think I need is not. God must know something I don't.
This is crucial for following Jesus. The key word for Christians is "following."
The persons reading this probably can relate. Has this happened to you?
See, the prayer of faith is not claiming that I know what's best. It's not saying, "God, fill out my order and I'll pick it up." It's coming to God saying, "I know Your character is good and just. I'm coming to you saying I think I know what I need. But I have faith, not in my request, but in Your ability to supply what is best for me and what will glorify Your Name more."
I have prayed by the bed of many people suffering from cancer who eventually died. I asked for healing. More often than not, God has answered those prayers with a "no" and the person passed away. Did God answer my prayer? Of course. Just as He thought was best. I have begged and wept over people in my churches for God to heal them. Sometimes I have seen family members coming to faith in Christ because of the death of a loved one. The loved one died and went to be with the Lord, and was healed in that way. The family came to faith in Christ, and so the person was better off, and the family was too. God knew what He was doing.
This is not just with prayer, but with everything in the Christian life. We have to continue to put ourselves in position where we see things from God's point of view. Many skeptics of Christianity fail to see things from God's point of view, and so come to conclusions about God that are wrong.
God has a greater long term purpose than just the 70-80 years we walk the earth.
When we pray, we cannot doubt, which is the opposite of faith. "Doubt” means, “be at odds with oneself, to waver.” Doubt is not the same as non-belief regarding salvation; rather doubt here is disbelief in the character or capabilities of God. Doubting when we pray is to doubt the character or capabilities of God. So what is the application? Don’t pray to God with doubt.
To pray without faith is like asking someone to fix your car when you know they can’t do anything about it. Why bother? Either it’s laziness and you’re just trying to justify it, or its confusion. God knows exactly what He is doing. Pray to Him in faith.
Have faith when you pray.
Are you suffering through a trial and need wisdom? Ask God, knowing He will give it to you. What do you need God to do for you today? Ask Him in faith.
There is a repercussion to doubting. That brings us to the next point I want to make on praying in faith.
We must pray without hesitation (v. 7–8) Christians should not doubt, for that shows instability and double mindedness.
Why do I mention hesitation? Because when we doubt, we hesitate. We pray but we don't proceed because we aren't sure if God is able to answer our requests, or we aren't sure if God is aware of everything we are aware of. We're telling God, "I really don't believe You can do all that You say You can do, but here goes anyway . . ."
Verse 6 and 8 sandwich verse 7, but they speak of the same thing. Being tossed and blown and being double-minded or unstable speak of the same thing: Hesitation when praying to God.
“Blown” is a-ne-MEE-zo (still no good Greek text I've found), meaning “moved by the wind.” “Tossed” is hri-PEE-zo, meaning “to blow here and there; to toss.”[3]
Are you a wave? Are you floating without an anchor?
Are you thinking, "I know God knows best. I will have faith." Or are you thinking, "I'm not sure, God. What if I ask You for something and it doesn't happen?"
I worked day camp one year and each week we took our kids to a lake where they could swim. One of my campers wandered out too far, and I could tell he was in trouble. I waded out to him and held my arm at a distance, and reached out to him. I was standing flat footed, and as soon as I reached him he pulled himself onto me with all his weight and I nearly lost my balance, even though I was standing flat footed. If I had not been standing firmly, there is no doubt he would have drowned us both. Was there any doubt in that kid's mind that I had the ability and intention of doing what was best for him? If so, he didn't realize it. No, there was none. As soon as I touched him, he was all over me.
This is how we must view God: "God, You're in control. Sometimes You give; sometimes You take away, but blessed be the Name of the Lord all the time."
A Christian who doubts and hesitates is not a functioning Christian. God wants us to relate to Him and rely on Him.
As someone wrote in a commentary, "To waver in the presence of the Lord is to hold oneself back from Him."
My wife and I practice this with our kids. Since before our first was born, we have tried to practice good stewardship, reminding ourselves that these kids are God's, and they are loaned to us for a time to mold and shape them until they one day are released. Some days I really look forward to that time, "God, I'm ready to give them back!" Of course, I'm just kidding. I love those kids more than I could write here. One day, however, God will call those kids to serve Him somewhere in the world. If He sends one to Ethiopia, one to the west coast, or one to the far reaches of the earth. Wherever God wants to use them, that is up to Him.
When we travel, pray in faith. I traveled yesterday (2/21) through a snowstorm with Dave. We prayed for God to give us safe travels as we would end up spending an entire day traveling through a serious snow storm to attend a prototype short term missions planning meeting for the state of Wisconsin. We prayed that God would keep us safe, and in faith. If God thought that the best thing for our good and His glory was to allow us to be killed in that weather, and through our deaths many would come to faith in Him, then so be it. We trusted in Him.
This is where God wants us, and has always wanted His people. The condemnation God had for the people in Joel 2:13 (and other passages) was never for outwards acts of piety as much as for inward belief. God said in Joel, "rend your hearts, not your garments!" God led Moses, centuries earlier, to a dead end at the Red Sea, so that God could get the glory and Moses and Israel would draw closer to Him. Have that kind of faith when we pray!
What are the limits to what God can do? I've seen God take a married couple who were determined to divorce, and after their divorce reunite them so they are still married today to each other. 2nd marriage. God can do anything.
Faith is trusting more in what God has said than what I can see.
Third, let me communicate this: Doubt is the only Biblical “Name it Claim it” teaching. (v. 7)
The one who doubts receives nothing from God. Can Christians ask God for things and get a guaranteed response? Yes. If you ask without faith, and respond with hesitation, you can expect nothing.
Two very important ideas that come to play with prayer and faith are:
1) we need to have faith in God
2) but we struggle with control, and letting anyone have control over us.
We must have faith in God, and also give control over to Him. Taking control is to take things out of God's hands.
Matthew 13:53–58, (Jesus’ denounced as a local, regular man) (v. 58) “and He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.”
This doesn’t mean that he who asks in faith always receives exactly what he wants.
We can only control what we do in unbelief, not what God does through our belief.
It is possible that we go through the motions, but don't mean it. We pray the Lord's prayer at our church once a month. Do we mean it? "Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed (holy) be Thy Name." We ask Him for His kingdom to come, for His will to be done on earth. Just the same as in heaven. We ask God to provide for our daily needs, for forgiveness and to see that we have (hopefully) forgiven all who wronged us. We ask God to deliver us from all evil and not lead us into temptation. We proclaim that His is the kingdom, power, and glory forever.
A man named John Huss trusted in God to do what God would be most glorified in doing. He was promised by the government that he would not be killed for standing up for his faith in Christ. But he was killed after the government magistrate tore up the signed document. But his death sparked something: the beginnings of the reformation that Martin Luther would later pickup and spread. Because of this, the church returned to the truth of faith alone in Christ alone. I'm sure John Huss thought his work if left alive could accomplish more than in his death, and as he was tied to the stake, waiting to be burned alive, he probably had difficulty trusting God. But God used his death more than his life.
Homer wrote of Achilles, in the Iliad, that his heart was divided. This is the same wording for "double-minded" in James. Are you like that today?
Don't pray, "God, I think You can do something, so here goes. Oh well, it didn't work. Amen."
Pray like Hudson Taylor. In 1853, when young Hudson Taylor was making his first voyage to China, his vessel was delayed near New Guinea because the winds had stopped. A rapid current was carrying the ship toward some reefs and the situation was becoming dangerous. Even the sailors using a longboat could not row the vessel out of the current. “We have done everything that can be done,” said the captain to Taylor. But Taylor replied, “No, there is one thing we have not done yet.” There were three other believers on the ship, and Taylor suggested that each retire to his won cabin and pray for a breeze. They did, and while he was at prayer, Taylor received confidence from God that the desperately needed wind would be sent. He went up on deck and suggested to the first officer, an unbeliever, that he let down the mainsail because a breeze was on its way. The man refused, but then they saw the corner of the sail begin to stir. The breeze had come! They let down the sail and in a short time were on their way![4]
What faith in praying! Taylor was on his way to preach the Gospel to possibly millions in China. What is it in your life today that needs you to take the sail down? Pray to God, and put down the sail. Focus on what James says, "when he asks, he must believe and not doubt."
To start this faith journey with God, one must follow Jesus. Following Jesus Christ begins be believing what God's word says about Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." Acts 16:31 says, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved."
This is the first and most important step of faith. Believe that God is Who He says He is. After that, give Him control.

[1] Taken from, on February 19, 2009, 3:45pm. Originally from Bob Teague, Live and Off-Color: News Biz
[2] Ralph P. Martin, James, Word Biblical Commentary vol 48 (Dallas: Word Books, 1998), 19.
[3] BDAG, s.v.
[4] Warren Wiersbe, Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching & Preachers, (Chicago: Moody Press, ), p. 240

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