Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ask but don't doubt? Struggling with James 1:5-8

Sept 4 James 1:5-8  If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind;  for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.    
I admit – I have a problem with this passage.  It puts a lot of pressure on the person praying to pray in just the right way.  I mean, how do you know if you asked in faith, without the least little bit of doubt?  Maybe a smidgen of doubt flashed through your mind – does that cancel out your prayer?  A person can get trapped in a rabbit hole here – did I ask right, did I waver, did God sense some doubt, and on and on.  It seems like James is saying ‘if your prayer is not answered, then you didn’t ask right.”

How does this passage square with Jesus saying that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to the mountain, be moved and it would be done? (Matthew 17:20).  Or how about the desperate father seeking healing for his epileptic son who responded to Jesus with “I believe, help my unbelief! (Mark 9:23-24)?  It sounds like there’s plenty of room for doubt alongside an imperfect faith.

One of the things I like to do when I have questions on a passage is read it in several translations.  Is there a difference in the way this passage is translated?  What might that mean?  Then I go to the original language to see how the varied meaning of the words may have lead the different translators to translate it the way they did.
So I did that here.  And I found an interesting word, “di-psuchos”  - literally, two-souls, or two-minds.  It’s a word that appears to have been coined by James, and he uses it to mean “someone with two loyalties.”[i] 

James is talking about someone who has divided loyalties – between God and money, between God and the world, God and….whatever idol someone may be worshipping in God’s place.  It’s the divided loyalties that get in the way of effective prayer, not the doubt that we, being imperfect sinners yet saints, harbor in varying degrees at different times of life. 
We need to remember two things when reading this passage:

1.     James was writing to believers who had either renounced their faith under persecution, or fallen away because of the cultural pressures of the time and now have returned to their faith.  This is a letter of encouragement –a call for those believers to put away their past failings and trust God wholeheartedly. 

2.     The big take away is the promise in this passage:  God is generous and gives lavishly.  See James 1:17.  Or Matthew 7:7-11.  Ask and it shall be given.    

Go ahead and ask God for wisdom, for strength, for courage, for mercy, for love, for grace, for forgiveness, for whatever you need.  And while you’re at it, ask God for faith, the faith of a mustard seed, and to help you in your unbelief.  

[i] From a blog written by Craig Bloomberg at http://zondervan.typepad.com/koinonia/2008/10/if-any-of-you-l.html.

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