6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave
of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7,8 For that person must
not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive
anything from the Lord."
This section really needs to be understood with the preceding verse, the one
we studied last week. In that verse James says, "If any of you lacks wisdom,
let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and
it will be given him." As we have seen, James is talking to his scattered
flock and helping them to know how, as believing people, they are to go through
trials. James reminds them of what God is doing in us in the midst of the various
difficulties with which we find ourselves dealing.
He knows that they may feel that they lack wisdom about God and about how
to proceed through their trials with God, so he encourages them to ask God
and reminds them of His character. He builds their faith and hope in God by
helping them to see again that God is a giving God, One who gives generously
to all and does not reproach. He knows how difficult it is for them to count
on God when they are unsure about His character. By seeing Him clearly, our
trust toward Him is drawn out of us.
Now James includes a warning to reinforce from the other side what he has
just said. "But," he says, "let him ask in faith, with no doubting..."
What does James mean here? Is he saying that we must somehow make ourselves
have no shadow of doubt in our minds when we petition God? That God will only
listen and respond to us if we have "perfect" faith?
No. This is definitely not what James is saying. He has already told them
to ask God if they lack wisdom. He assumes they are struggling with how to
go through trials, not that they "have it all together." He says
that these trials test their faith. It is in the midst of difficulty that we
can become unsure, we lose sight of who God is and are tempted not to count
on Him and live as if He is present and active. Telling them just to “have
perfect faith” would not be helpful.
Let's look more closely at this passage and see how James defines what he
means by doubting. In v. 6, he describes the one who doubts as being "like
a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind." So one who is
doubting is like someone without any anchor, rather than one who has an anchor
but is struggling to trust it still works. This person has no discernment and
is influenced by everything around her/him. As James goes on to say at the
end of the passage he is "unstable in all his ways..."
In vv. 7 & 8, James describes this kind of person as someone who is "double-minded".
Another way to say this is literally being "in two minds." Such a
person who asks God could be double minded about their request—they may
say they really want God’s best, but have their hearts set on something
far less. Perhaps they go back and forth in their requests. Or the double-minded
person may also be double minded about whether or not they trust God in the
midst of their trial. They may be equally counting on something else besides
God to get them through this trial. So, he says, one should not suppose that "a
double-minded man ... will receive anything from the Lord."
This is not so much because God won't give. As James has just been telling
his readers, God is a generous giver. The problem is with the one petitioning
God. James is saying that when we ask God for wisdom and help but really are
looking for help to come from elsewhere, then we cannot receive from God. We
do not end up seeing what God is doing and do not receive wisdom from Him for
the trial we are living through because we cannot. We are not really counting
on Him when we are also counting on ourselves, therefore we have put ourselves
in a position where we are unable to receive the generous gifts He desires
to give. The problem is our receptivity at that point, not God’s generosity.
James is saying that when we are in a time of trial, whether large or small,
to ask in faith is to hand everything over to God, even our doubts or misgivings.
We turn wholly to Him, and even ask Him to help us turn wholly to Him because
we know we need His Spirit to work in us. We say with the man in Mark 9:24 "I
believe; help my unbelief!" I know a woman right now who is in a very
deep trial and is struggling to trust God. Although she wants to trust Him,
up to this point she really has wanted God to do what feels the most comfortable
for her right now as she is. She has really mainly wanted her circumstances
and others to change so that externally she’d have fewer problems in
her life. But she now realizes that to move ahead with her own plan isn't really
to trust God at all and that if she refuses God’s work in her she will
shut herself off at this point from seeing what God really could do in her
life whether others cooperate or not!
James is speaking to people in trial. They may be looking around and saying
that they do not see God working anywhere. They may be wondering if He is really
caring and active at all. James reminds them that God can work through their
trials for an ultimate good that is way beyond the present trials they face.
He reminds them that God is the One they can turn to for wisdom and he goes
over with them concerning the heart of this God they need to ask. Now he tells
them that to ask God is to ask Him wholly, to turn over to Him all of their
hopes, fears, and anxieties, and then to be able to better receive the wisdom
this great God of theirs is ready to give them in the middle of their trials.
To do this we need to turn again to God and see who He is. That is why James
first reminds them of who God truly is. He doesn't just insist that they "not
doubt". He helps them gaze on the trustworthiness of God so that they
are better able to see the uselessness of counting on anything else to take
them through their trials.
I am glad to see again myself that God is the One I turn my questions over
to--He can handle what I am struggling with so I do not need to begin hoping
in myself to find a better solution!
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