How to Approach God in Prayer
There is a kind of prayer that receives nothing from God.
It is the prayer of the doubter, the one who does not “ask in faith.” When James says we are to make our requests to God “with no doubting,” he’s not saying we must never have any uncertainty or confusion in our minds, ever. To doubt in the sense that James uses the term here is more than simply saying, “I am struggling to be certain about this” or “I know this to be true but sometimes I wonder”; it is a refusal to entrust ourselves to our Father’s care. It is to make a back-up plan that relies on our efforts even as we ask God for His intervention, or to ask for something that deep down we do not really want.
J.B. Phillips paraphrases this verse in a helpful way: “He must ask in sincere faith without secret doubts as to whether he really wants God’s help or not.” James is addressing the issue of divided loyalty, describing the doubter as one whose prayers and desires are clearly at odds with each other. This person comes before God and asks for things that he or she has no intention of doing, much as the great 5th-century theologian Augustine famously prayed prior to his conversion: “Lord, make me pure, but not yet.”
God knows when we are simply playing the game, using the language, and singing the song without any desire to match our lives to our words. He knows whether we really want His help or are reserving the right to do what we feel like doing if His wisdom doesn’t lead us in the direction we naturally desire. Faith says no to this kind of hypocrisy, which prays for wisdom but acts in foolishness. The faith James describes is therefore more than comprehension; it is an expression of trust and devotion.
Honesty lies at the heart of any genuine appeal, whether to an earthly father or our heavenly Father. When you come before God, you must “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22). With this kind of sincerity, you will make it clear in your own soul and to God that you are trusting Him to be faithful to His promises and that you are serious about acting on whatever wisdom He provides. In what area of your life are you particularly aware that you need God’s wisdom? Entrust yourself to your heavenly Father and be ready to follow His guidance, so that you will walk steady in your faith and joy, and not be tossed about by the wind.
5Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
6Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
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