These are my notes from a sermon series I did through the book of James. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
Today we begin a new series of lessons on How to Pray. We are going to be very practical. Throughout the Bible God tells us to pray in faith. You see this concept over and over again. We see this in James 1.
James 1:2 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. 5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do” (NLT).
God wants you to pray in faith. He wants you to come to Him when you have a need and trust Him to provide the wisdom and guidance you need when you need it. He wants you to pray in faith.
So, what does it mean to pray in faith? To help us understand this let me give you three statements.
Praying in faith is being dependent on God
Number one, praying in faith is being dependent on God. James 1:6 says, “But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone” (NLT). Praying in faith is the prayer of a person who is completely convinced of the power, presence, knowledge, love, grace, mercy and faithfulness of God. Praying in faith is having faith in God. You are completely dependent on Him. You are trusting Him to provide the answer and the guidance. God knows what you need, He knows what you need to do, and He knows what you don’t need to do. Praying in faith is praying in dependence on God to answer, relying on God to show the way, and counting on God to provide the wisdom you need to make the right decision.
So, you have asked God for wisdom, you have studied what God’s Word has to say on the subject, you have talked to your wise friends, and you have listened to wise counsel. You now have a clear picture of what you are to do and not do, but you don’t like what you have heard and you are not sure that it will work. You wanted a different answer and now you are about to find out if “your faith in God” was really “faith in God alone.” Are you going to apply the wisdom you heard from God or are you going to do what you feel like doing or simply want to do. Is your faith in “God alone”?
When you pray seeking God’s guidance, make sure you are praying in faith trusting God alone to provide you direction. Trust that God will speak to you through His Word and through His people in your life.
Praying in faith is being decisive with God
Praying in faith is being dependent on God. Number two, praying in faith is being decisive with God. Being decisive means you have made a decision, your mind is make up, and you are focused on hearing from God and doing what God tells you. Look at James 1:6 again, “But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind” (NLT).
- “Do not waver”
We are told “do not waver.” Some translations say, “Do not doubt.” Do not waver and do not doubt. What does he mean?
- James is not saying that we must never have had a spiritual question. It’s okay to ask God why.
- This is not saying you should never struggle to understand the ways of God. God’s ways or not our ways. Often times God’s way seems strange and different and scary.
- This is not saying you should never wrestle with parts of God’s Word. Even though God’s Word is all true, there are parts that are difficult to understand and sometimes hard to swallow.
As we will see, when James says “Do not waver,” he is saying do not waver or doubt God’s answer to the situation. Stay committed to God’s path on this.
- “for a person”
We are told, “Do not waver, for a person….” Let’s stop there. That “person” James is referring to is a believer. This is someone who has placed their faith in God for salvation. They are forgiven. They are born again. They are a follower of Jesus. They are not perfect, they have problems, and they are going through various kinds of trials in verse 2. This “person” can be you and me.
- “with divided loyalty”
Let’s keep reading. James says, “Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty….” Let’s stop again for a moment. This is being double-minded, trying to be dedicated to two masters at the same time (God and the world, God and yourself). There is a part of you that wants to do what God wants you to do and there is a part of you that wants to do what you want to do. There is a part of you that is willing to be sacrificial and another part that is all selfish. There is a struggle with divided loyalty in your heart. Who are you really committed too? God or you? Divided loyalty – you are serving God on Monday, but serving yourself on Tuesday. Divided loyalty – you loving God during the day, but loving yourself at night. Divided loyalty – you are pleasing God this week, but trying to please only people next week.
- “is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind”
So James goes on to say, “Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.”
James gives us a great picture and illustration of wavering in our faith toward God. The picture is a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. So, if we follow his logic and study the waves of the sea we will understand what doubt in God does to a person.
Within this picture the “wave” represents the doubting person, and the “wind” represents the forces of outside circumstances. Just like a “wave of the sea” the doubting person will be driven and tossed here and there, up and down, back and forth, right and left, and all around by the ever-changing winds of circumstances. This week they are trusting God and next week they are doubting God. So if God brings you your answer during the week you are doubting Him your ears will not be tuned to His wisdom and when you hear it you will be “blown and tossed” away from God’s wisdom to do your own thing.
What are the winds that can blow you off course when you come to pray? What are the winds in life that cause you to doubt God?
- The wind of unsound doctrine. Your doctrine is your set of beliefs. What you believe about God, about Jesus, about eternal life, about life, and about God’s Word. Doctrine is what you believe. In Ephesians 4:14 God’s Word says something interesting, “Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth” (NLT). Believing the wrong things creates an unstable and unsettled life. Especially, if you can be easily convinced to believe new things that are not true. These unhealthy beliefs then become like the wind blowing you in whatever direction it wants to. This is why it’s important to know God’s truth.
- Another wind that will cause you to have an unsettled life is the wind of unusual difficulties. When you are having problems with your marriage or your finances or your health or with family or at work or any other problem you can find yourself doubting God in the situation. Why is God letting it happen, God why don’t you do something, God do you really care, etc. In Acts 27 we are told about a group of men who were on a ship out at sea. A “terrible storm” appeared and went on for days. In order to lighten the ship the crew started throwing the cargo overboard and some of the ship’s gear overboard as well. They were trying to keep the ship from sinking. The situation became so bad that one eye witness of the event said, “All hope was gone.” But on the ship was a strong believer named Paul. God spoke to Paul during the storm and told him that He would “grant safety to everyone sailing” on the ship. Paul believed God at what He said.
When the winds of unsound doctrine and unusual difficulties begin to blow against you, you will be tempted to waver in your dedication to God. So you need to be decisive when it comes to God and your dedicated decision is based on God’s truth and God’s way regardless of what winds may blow.
Praying in faith is being expectant because of God
Praying in faith is being dependent on God and being decisive with God. Number three, praying in faith is being expectant because of God. When you are praying in faith you can expect God to provide an answer, open a door, and intervene in your life and situation. However, praying in doubt can close the door. James 1:7 puts it this way, “Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (NLT).
The phrase “such people” are referring to those whose faith is not in God alone and who have a divided loyalty to God’s way and some other way. When you pray with a heart that trust in God to provide the wisdom you need and with a heart committed to applying the wisdom God gives you then you should “expect to receive” from the Lord the guidance and strength you need to do His will.
James seems to be emphasizing the impact doubt can have own our prayer lives. Doubt has the power to do three things:
- Doubt can cause you to be unsuccessful. James says, “Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (NLT). They are going to be unsuccessful in receiving the wisdom they need because their doubt will blind them to the wisdom that God shows them. They will be unsuccessful in seeing it and applying it therefore they will not “receive anything from the Lord.”
- Doubt can cause you to be uncertain. James says, “Their loyalty is divided between God and the world” (NLT). One moment such people are up (centered on God), the next moment they are down (centered on this world). You might call them spiritually “seasick”! This person oscillates between faith and skepticism.
- Doubt can cause you to be unsteady. James says, “They are unstable in everything they do” (NLT). Such a person has no commitment and no stability. They are loyal to no one, and they constantly change, with no anchor except their ever-shifting concern for themselves.
Doubt and wavering can cause you to miss the wisdom of God and miss the blessing of God for your life.
Praying in faith is being dependent on God, decisive with God, and expectant because of God. You have complete confidence in God and whatever may or may not happen you can walk with God through it because you have an anchor in Him and it doesn’t matter what kind of winds may huff and puff and try to blow your house down. You will experience God’s wisdom and the success He wants for your life.