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Author:Rev. David Stares
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Congregation:Reformed Church of Masterton
 New Zealand
Title:Praying Without Doubt
Text:James 1:5-8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Song before the Service: 371

Silent Prayer

*Call to Worship

*Votum and Salutation

*Song of Praise: 300:1-3

Reading of the Law: Exodus 20

Song of Confession: 143:1-3

Assurance of Pardon: Hebrews 12:18-29

*Song of Thanksgiving: 429

Congregational Prayer

Tithes and Offerings

*Offertory Prayer

*Song of Preparation: 31:1-3

Scripture Readings: 1 Kings 3:1-15; James 1:1-11

Prayer of Illumination

Text: James 1:5-8

Sermon: Praying Without Doubt

*Song of Response: 417


*Doxology: 300:4-5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. David Stares, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

James 1:5-8 Manuscript

Today, we are going to be addressing the idea of doubt. And I believe that this is a very important issue in the church. It can be common in some circles to see doubt as a virtue. That we mustn’t presume on the grace of God, that we should never express confidence that we receive the benefits of Christ, nor to speak with confidence about someone else receiving those benefits. As if it is more pious to doubt God’s grace than to trust it.

What was shocking to me this week, as I looked at our passage, is that I was looking at this book that people in history had maligned as shortchanging the gospel, and yet I was being smacked in the face by the assurance that the gospel provides. And I hope to unpack that for you this morning from these few verses from James 1.

Because we rest in Christ’s work for us, we ask in confidence for the blessings God gives.

1. Asking for God’s Wisdom

2. Asking God Without Doubt

1. Asking God for Wisdom

Well, as we enter our text, there is a connection to the previous text in that, as we saw that there was an important word in that text: consider. That it was in considering suffering that believers could find joy in trials. That came from knowing who we are in Jesus, and from what God was trying to produce in us his people through these trials. That they were there to refine us like fire. And this knowledge produces joy.

Well, as we begin to look at our text today we see that it begins v.5. Connected to the idea of the important knowledge that we need, we also need wisdom. Now, James has often been described as the proverbs of the new testament. This is probably in large part due to the practical nature of the book, and to the focus on this being the fruit of wisdom.

So, what is wisdom exactly? Well, in our world we tend to think of wisdom as belonging to people who sit in ivory towers and think a lot. Who write big books perhaps. Philosophers, sages, monks. These are the wise. However, this is not at all the picture that the Bible paints of what it means to be wise. Wisdom is not possessed only by the elites, it can be possessed by every believer. According to the Bible, wisdom isn’t something that exists in theory, but is something that is put into practice. Wisdom most helpfully defined is the practical application of the fear of the Lord. Proverbs says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and its fruit is produced practically in the life of the believer.

 You see, I think that we all implicitly recognize that there are many situations that arise in our lives where we need to make decisions. Decisions where we have certain biblical principles that we want to follow, but where there is no black-and-white right answer. Yes, there are times where God’s law speaks explicitly and that is helpful, but God also expects us to be able to live like his people even when there is no explicit command for the situations we face.

True, biblical wisdom knows what to do in whatever circumstances arise in the Christian life. So wisdom is a part of the life of all Christians, and it’s something that we grow must in, but it isn’t a solo project. James instructs those who lack wisdom to pray, to ask God for wisdom, for comprehension and understanding to apply to their lives. We see that this gift is one that God gave directly to individuals in the Old Testament. He gave it to individuals in the Old Testament who were th craftsmen of the tabernacle. He gave his wisdom to his people in the form of the practical commands of his word. Most famously in 1 Kings 3:1-15, God gave wisdom to Solomon. He is the source of wisdom.

And he is not a miserly source. This is the encouragement that James offers. That God gives generously and without reproach. And the idea that God gives generously here is that God gives openly, freely, and sincerely. That he has a hand open of wisdom that he will gladly give to those who ask.

And secondly, God gives ‘without reproach.’ When someone reproaches it means that they look at you with a judgemental attitude. They don’t like what you are doing or saying. Like when Michal looked out the window and saw David dancing before the Lord and she despised David. Well, the question is: does God look at us like that? When we offer our prayers to him, does God look at us reproachfully? Does he kind of sneer and ask why we would dare to ask when our lives show clearly that we don’t deserve what we ask for. A reproachful giver is one who expects you to show that you are good enough in order to receive the gifts you ask for.

And so the question is: how can James say this? Shouldn’t God be a reproachful giver? Do we deserve God’s gifts? On our own, of course not! The only reason God comes to us with an open hand and without reproach is for the sake of Jesus. He is the one who gives us access to all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. Because Jesus has washed us clean of our sin by his blood, and because he has provided us with his perfect obedience, there is no reproach to be given. We are granted free access to the throne of grace for his sake. It is because of Jesus that God gives wisdom in abundance.

And so, wisdom is ours and we ask God to give wisdom for the various situations we face. The problem is this: we usually only pray for wisdom in the moment. But when we look at the wisdom literature we see clearly that wisdom is a life-long pursuit.

Do we want to be wise?

Then we must 1) be constantly diving into the word to find the principles on which wisdom rests 2) be in constant prayer for wisdom and 3) trying to apply what we find in our lives every day. If wisdom is the constant pursuit of our lives, God will surely give!

This doesn’t make us infallible. God gives wisdom, not inspiration. We are still fallen and liable to make mistakes. However, if we are pursuing wisdom, and praying for wisdom, then God promises that he will freely give!

2. Asking God Without Doubt

Now, this is an important point about God’s generosity in giving wisdom, but James, inspired by the HS turns his attention to the manner and attitude with which they should be asking. He says that the person who lacks wisdom should v.6. when they ask, they need to have faith and not doubt. And you see, this is connected to what has just come before. Where it has been explained that we come and receive the generosity of God openly. That we don’t need to worry about whether he will be generous with us, because we are accepted for the sake of Jesus. To doubt the generous love of God is to doubt the work of Jesus. And this must not be the case! Prayers should not be offered doubting whether they are heard, because they are heard for his sake! And to emphasize this, James has some vivid images.

The doubting man is described as the water. And this is something that others in this congregation have more experience with than me, but the fact that the wind has a huge effect on the way that the water swells, even in the sea. Of course, in Israel and all around that area the water was basically lakes. And in those lakes, the swell was caused by the wind. And one day the wind blows this way and another day the other. And the waves follow suit. This is what the doubting man is like, one day taking confidence in prayer, the next, doubting God’s promises. Whatever the way the wind blows, however he feels that day, that is his confidence in prayer.

James describes such a man as double minded, meaning that they aren’t single minded in their commitment. They are unstable in all their ways. Their lack of confidence in the God who promises affects all of life.

And this is a problem first of all because it is in stark contrast with the character of God as we find it today in our text. God’s character is shown to be straightforward. He holds out his gifts generously and without reproach. Without any hint of doubt, without any shadow of withholding. God is single minded in his giving, and so how could someone be double minded in his desire to receive from God’s hand? So, double mindedness doesn’t align with God’s open-handed character.

But it also doesn’t align with the character of faith! Remember what we saw last week, that God is working in us, through our trials. And what is he trying to produce? Endurance, wholeness, completion. The emphasis is on straightforwardness and on unity between thought and action. This is the precise opposite of double-mindedness. Faith is steadfast and relies on God, and doubt is not.

That said, I am sure that many of you are struggling with the question of ‘am I this double minded person?’ Because we look at ourselves and see that we do have various doubts, that our lives aren’t yet perfect and complete. And yet Calvin is so helpful as he explains what this looks like. He says that the weakness of our faith is like a tree. In a storm, the branches sway from side to side, but the tree still stands because of its roots. This is very different to the man who is like the waves, with no root of faith, with nothing holding it fast. In our daily life we do waver at times, but are always held secure by that firm root of faith that undergirds us, that keeps us from washing here and there, and that ultimately overrides our doubts and temptations. And this root of faith is what must come to the fore as we pray.

And so, based on this fact, we can understand why James says what he says. V.7. This sounds similar, doesn’t it to Question 117 of our HC, which asks ‘How should we pray so that God will hear us, and the third point of the answer says “we must rest on this unshakeable foundation: even though we do not deserve it, God will surely listen to our prayer because of Christ Jesus our lord.”

When one asks God for his gifts, the asking must be done in faith that God is a gracious giver. You see, it is not real piety for someone to bring a request to God with doubt. Why is this? Because the asking is asking on the merit of Jesus Christ! If you were to come to God in prayer asking for the forgiveness of your sins, and then turn around and doubt whether those sins were actually forgiven, that wouldn’t demonstrate your holiness, it would demonstrate that you lacked faith in the one who secured that forgiveness on your behalf! To doubt while asking is to doubt the effectiveness of his work! To doubt that he has obtained the promised blessings for you!

Do you see the implication of what James is saying here? God desires, no even more, God commands us to ask in faith. God commands you to be assured of your place before him. God invites us to make our requests before him with full assurance that he hears us, and with confidence that we will receive what we ask for. He commands you not to doubt, but to ask in faith.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. David Stares, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. David Stares

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