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Simplicity and Duplicity in Prayer, Part 3

May 31, 2007

Now in verse 6-8 James again commands us to pray, but now he clarifies to us the kind of faith we must have in prayer…

II. But to pray you must not be a double-minded man (read 6-8)

One of the attractive stylistic features of this book is James use of imagery in his illustrations.  Next week we’ll see that the rich man is like a flower of the grass that will pass away.  Then we’ll see that one who is not a doer of the word is like a man who looks at himself in the mirror and then forgets what he looks like.  The tongue is like a bit in a horses’ mouth or a rudder on a ship or a spark in a forest. 

Here the doubter is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind and this image he has borrowed from Isaiah. “the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt. There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”

Now when you see that this doubt is a sign of wickedness, and not merely of weakness, it clears up a common misunderstanding.   Many think that to believe and not doubt in prayer means that you have to conjure up a subjective sense of certainty that God is going to answer your prayer.  And so some destructive teachers will tell you that if you pray for healing and don’t get it, you didn’t have enough faith.  You didn’t believe hard enough.

This understanding is wrong for at least two reasons.  First, the context here is not prayer for healing or for anything else that we might be unsure is according to the will of God.  The prayer is that we would through our trials become wise, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, and we know that it is always God’s will to grant this request to all who ask him for it. 

Second, this doubting is not the result of a weak faith that is still fearful and has not grown deep in its trust in the goodness of God.  Rather it is the doubt of the divided heart that is not sure it wants what it asks for.   It’s the wicked heart that isn’t sure it wants wisdom more than it wants worldliness.  This is the man who is still deep down undecided about being a disciple of Jesus.  His loyalties are divided.  He is, in the words of Elijah to the idolatrous Israelites, still halting between two opinions.    He is John Bunyan’s Mr. Facing-Both-Ways in Pilgrim’s Progress, one eye on the path to holiness and glory, and one eye still on the world causing him to hesitate and be lost.   He is the man who prays like Augustine did before his conversion, “Lord, grant me purity, but not yet.”  This is the man who should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.   Double-mindedness is opposite of the wholeheartedness that we need if we are to seek Him and find Him. 

James himself will give us an exposition of what he means by double-mindedness, duplicity in prayer in chapter 4. 

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.

You do not have because you do not ask.  That corresponds to 1:5.  If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault.  All you have to do is ask, it’s right there for the asking.  But then in 4:3 he qualifies it, just as he does in 1:6 

You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?

There’s the double-mindedness that disqualifies your prayer. Double-minded people pray, but they do so in an effort to use God to get what they really want, not God, but worldliness, even as the multitudes followed Jesus to get worldly bread, but didn’t understand that Jesus is the bread of life. 

So if you find within yourself this double heart that doesn’t ask for wisdom but for worldliness, what do you do?  What’s the answer?  James concludes the section in chapter 4:8 in this way: “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.”  The answer is simply to repent.  Draw near to God in prayer, humble yourself before Him.  Confess to Him your love of the world and your indifference toward seeking the wisdom from above.  And then produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  Become a doer of the word. 

And the word to us this week of which we must be doers is one simple command: Pray.  Let us ask God for wisdom.  Measure your repentance by its effects on your prayer life.    Demonstrate your repentance by making a new prayer list, making sure it includes petitions for your own sanctification, and praying for it every day. 

Now I’m making an extra effort to be real practical while I preach the book of James, so let me give you some more specific pointers for prayer.  If you’ve been here a while then you know that the pattern for prayer I urge upon you is the pattern that Jesus taught us in the Lord’s prayer, but I have presented it to you in hopefully memorable bullet points of W-I-S-C

W-Worship.  Hallowed by Thy name.   Begin by praising the Lord.
I- Intercession.  Thy Kingdom Come.  Pray for revival and missions
S-Supplication.  Give us this day our daily bread
C-Confession.  Forgive us our debts. 

Now the place to include your prayers for sanctification, for the wisdom from above that is pure and peaceable, gentle and reasonable is under “S”- supplication.  And I believe that when Jesus taught us to pray “give us this our daily bread” he didn’t mean just your physical food, but he meant to include your spiritual sustenance because he said just two chapters earlier in Matthew he said “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  And the word “daily” in daily bread means “truly essential”.  Pray for the bread that is truly bread.  Pray for the word of God to convict you and transform your heart and mind.   On my prayer list under the “S” category I usually jot down the references of specific verses that the Lord has used to show me where I am lacking in wisdom and character and I pray for these to be realized in my life.  I pray lately for the exemplary self-control of Titus 2:6-7, and for the love of Hosea 6:6. 

So when you prepare to pray this afternoon, or tomorrow morning, take a sheet of paper and divide it into four quadrants and write “W-I-S-C” on them and jot down your requests under these four headings.  It might take a few minutes, but your remaining minutes will be much more focused and powerful.  And under the S-category, write down prayers for growth in Christlikeness.  If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask God.

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