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James 1.5-8 Asking and Doubting

September 27, 2009 Series: James | Retro-Faith

Topic: New Testament Passage: James 1:5–1:8

James 1.5-8

September 27, 2009

Sam Ford


Jesus the builder

Whenever I preach a sermon on something, I am always God’s first audience—or perhaps guinea pig.  This week I experienced so many different trials.  You ever have those weeks where you think God is just screwing with you…I was tempted to go there because I do that with my kids.  In reality, God never screws with us, he is the Father who is always parenting Philippians 1.3-6  3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 


Paul says here that we are a work in progress that Jesus is still buildingDo you ever doubt that? Not that you are a work in progress, but that Jesus is actually building.


James and Trials

Last week, James taught us that God allows, ordains, or sends trials to test our faith.  And it’s those moments that spark our conversations with God asking, “Where are you at?” – I must have done something wrong, someone else must have done something wrong, maybe Satan has done something. Regardless of who brings the trial, or how innocent we think we are, we don’t like ANY TRIAL because they teach us about ourselves and specifically, about our faith.  If we could choose, most of us would STAY EXACTLY AS WE ARE.  Sure, some of us want a new nose, a new face, or some hair, but we wouldn’t change WHO we are at our core.  Even if we know it is not “the best” for us, we desire a predictable, consistent, LOW MAINTENANCE life of comfort.  When we read that God sends us trials (physical, emotional, financial, sexual, material, spiritual) we think, “Look God, thanks for letting me in to heaven and sending your Son die and stuff, but can you just go do your Godly Cosmos thingy and leave me alone.” 


God’s Goal w Trials

James 1.4  4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing  God loves us too much to leave us the way we are.  But we never test ourselves so God sends trials.  Trials in our life are not evidence of God’s absence, but his presence.  The point of all God’s test and trials are to move us forward in maturity.  James states that we’re undeveloped, imperfect, and incomplete.  Trials come because we lack something.   There are parts of our being, our very character, that have not been developed; perhaps there are even some parts of us that are missing all together.  From the day we are born until the day we die, God shapes all of the parts intended to be US and causes them to function the way they were intended to.  


Joy vs. Happiness

If it is not enough to know that God is testing us, that he is deliberately placing us in trials, James tells us to consider it JOYFUL.  We think sometimes we READ joy and THINK happiness.  I have always felt that there is a difference in weight to JOY and HAPPINESS.  We live in a country where one of the foundation rights is the “pursuit of happiness.” I have friends and family members whose lives are governed by the montra of “If it makes you happy.”  But in our culture, among my friends and family, I have seen how erratic and inconsistent the pursuit of happiness can make one’s life. For me happiness is dictated by circumstances—if my circumstances are pleasurable I am happy.  If they are painful, I am not.  Joy, for me, is something given by God.  It is a peace within, despite, and apart from circumstances.  Happiness is dictated in the momentary situation.  Joy is rooted in the timeless truth of God.  


Joy or Bitterness

So when trials come, it seems like we could go one of two ways.—Joy or the opposite of Joy.  The opposite of Joy is not happiness, nor is it sadness, the opposite of joy is MISERY or BITTERNESS; bitterness with God, bitterness with others, bitterness with life.  We either draw near to God or run away.  We either embrace God or raise our fist at Him.    


When we are in the thick of difficult circumstances, a tangled jumble of chaos, without joy we feel there is no way this can be anything other than a purposeless mess.  We aren’t sure how to respond, what to do, and can’t possibly imagine how this will lead us to maturity.  Today, James will tell us what we need:  God given WISDOM.  It is a wisdom that does not come from men, it is a gift from God, a wisdom that empowers us to see all life as serving the purposes of the Lord.  “All our feelings are averse to the thought that we can be joyful (happy) in the midst of evils…(hence)…he bides us to ask wisdom – Calvin.  Wisdom will determine whether you grow bitter or joyful.


James 1.5-8    5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

V. 5  What does the Bible mean by wisdom?

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God

The very thing that WE NEED is the one thing we will never admit we don’t have—WISDOM.  No one likes to hear or believe that they are a FOOL but, in wisdom literature the opposite of WIDSOM is foolishness.  Without God’s wisdom, we are fools.  Wisdom is a virtue that Proverbs labels as the most important possession a person can have.   Wisdom literature describes the heart of a fool:

  • Prov. 1.7   The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
  • Prov. 12.15  The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.


Man has to overcome pride to admit that he needs wisdom. The foolish person needs no one, not even God—they take pride in their self-sufficiency.  The truth is, Wisdom is NOT something we possess.  It comes from God.  And the Wisdom from God will determine whether our trial breaks us or builds us.

Ecclesiastes 2.14  The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. Someone who receives WISDOM will see and experience the exact same trial differently than someone who does not.  Wisdom has to do with skillfully living, not skillfully knowing.  It is the ability to apply WHAT you know to the trials of life. 


What does God give Wisdom for?

Many people, including myself, have quoted James 1.5 to ourselves or to others. Whenever we’ve encountered a trial, a problem, or a difficult decision, we encourage to ask God for Wisdom and that HE WILL GIVE IT.  And by that, I think we usually mean is that God will tell us WHAT TO DO.  Don’t mistake what I am saying, I think that is a good thing to do and to encourage others.  I just don’t know if that is what James is talking about here.  The wisdom James talks about here is not only in the context of PAIN, but it is in the context of GROWTH and maturity.  


Our faith is so pragmatic.  Naturally our prayers are focused on the practical HOW TO of getting away from the trial, versus, focusing on what God is doing to me in the trial


Our hope is to see the glory of God in how he gets us OUT of something difficult versus seeing the glory of God in how he changes us IN the trial.   I believe that, at the core, trials big, small, destructive and irritating, physical, emotional, financial, whatever, is God’s way of revealing the IDOLATRY of our heart.   Trials do more than accomplish behavior modification…more patient, less controlling, more discerning….though that happens. God intends to remove all things that hinder us from an all consuming passion for God alone.  God gives us WISDOM, not necessarily to see the path out—but to see the IDOLS within.  Think about all of the things that serve as saviors of than Jesus—the “I have to haves….”

  • I have to have health, I have to have wealth, I have to be beautiful, I have to have power
  • I have to have a family, I have to have a relationship, I have to have every like me


And God brings trials into our lives by way of taking those idols.  These trials and tests of God are NOT punishments, they are purifications. Struggles are an opportunity to rely purely on Jesus.  True FAITH is to stand purely in Jesus though we lose everything.  And no one says it is EASY…it is painful.  It is painful to experience the trial, but perhaps it is more painful to shown your heart.     What has God exposed about my heart in this trial?   


How does God give wisdom?

God gives us WISDOM that we might grow through the trial.  If we don’t get it, the trial will simply make us miserable and bitter.   We take our eyes off of the circumstance and turn them toward God who is ready to respond:   

  1. God gives wisdom WHEN we ASK.  But we don’t.   James describe God the Father as one who gives generously, literally he is “the giving God.”  It is his very nature to GIVE.  He does not give out of obligation but out of love.


  1. God gives to ALL who ask: It also says that he gives to ALL of his children, not just the ones whom you and I think deserve it.  It is not based on eloquence of speech or of life. 


  1. God gives WITHOUT reproach: He does not rebuke when we ask.  He doesn’t say, “I told you so,” or “Why didn’t you check with me a long time ago,” or, “Isn’t it obvious.” 


Like a perfect Father, God wants to help us:  Luke 11.10-13  10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  I’ve often wondered how much of our relationship with my Father has shaped my relationship with THE FATHER.  How many of us always went to Mom because she said “Yes” way more than Dad ever even thought of it.  Dad always said no.  I wonder sometimes, however, even as I Father if Dad said No not because he really thought “No” but because he didn’t want to engage the heart of the child.   God is the Father who does engage with us.  Don’t get me wrong, God does say No, but only to those things we really shouldn’t have.  But he is ready and willing to give us teach us, to comfort us, to lead us. 


Have you prayed?

So the question is, have you prayed?  There are times we don’t pray because we don’t believe God actually responds OR perhaps we don’t want him to.  We like to pretend we’re self-sufficient, so we won’t pray for help.  James 4.2b You do not have, because you do not ask. But we won’t pray for Wisdom because it’s too risky.  If praying through trials is more about fixing my heart than fixing the situation…I don’t know if I have the courage to pray that—It might reveal my idolatry.  HAVE YOU PRAYED?  Really?  Have you asked God for Wisdom? 


V. 6-8  When doesn’t God give wisdom?

6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.


Why doesn’t God give Wisdom?

James says that God won’t help us in the trial unless we pray in faith.  The concept of “Asking in faith” has been hijacked and abused by false teachers everywhere.  Not only do they guarantee prosperity, health, and wealth if they pray “in faith”, they also declare that suffering or TRIALS come because we don’t have enough.  Neither of those are true.  Our faith is not proven in whether or not we have trials or not, our faith is revealed by how we respond IN those trials.  


James says we must not doubt: 

God will not give us WISDOM to endure and move forward in the trial if we DOUBT HIM.  Faith and Doubt cannot reside in us at the same time.  If you believe, you do not doubt.  If you doubt, you do not believe.  God does not answer the prayer of a man filled with doubt.   What is doubting? Matthew 14.31  6 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  


 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”


**Peter never noticed the waves until he took his eyes off of Jesus—Jesus calls that doubt.   **A PRAYER is an act of complete dependence on God; **a FAITHFUL PRAYER is absolute confidence that he will give us what we ask.   A FAITHUL PRAYER for WISDOM is a commitment to God’s way of seeing things, his plans, and to his hopes for our lives IN the trial.  Someone who is faithful NEVER takes their eyes off of Jesus.  Psalm 119.15   I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.  It is a strong foundation.


The One Who Doubts is like a wave

BUT…The one who DOUBTS doesn’t ever take their eyes off the chaos of the trial—they are overwhelmed by it, directed by it, governed by it.   They may even pray to God for wisdom but their next thought is, “This will never work” and so their decisions proceeds with doubt. Getting away from the TRIAL becomes more important than getting CLOSER to GOD, as they are consumed with what has happened, what is happening, and or what will happen next.  James describes this individual like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.   A wave has no purpose, no clear direction, and no rest.  It is driven SIDE to SIDE and tossed UP and DOWN.  These people are emotionally unstable, indecisive, bitter, confused, and all around fearful. 


The One Who Doubts views God as an option

James says the one who doubts receives nothing from the Lord because the one that doubts expects he will receive nothing from the Lord.  In their mind, Religion is thing that doesn’t do any harm, prayer like exercise is a healthy practice, and God is just one of the many options you will use to remove those things causing unhappiness.  In writing to “believers”, he is not condemning anyone who ever gets anxious, but he is calling out “THAT PERSON” who pretends to have consistent faith in God, but when the trials come they measure everything according to what they see, feel, or think AND immediately doubt the truthfulness of God’s power and promises.  


The One who doubts is Double-Minded

James does not pull any punches in how he describes those supposed “Christians.”  He says that this is more than just a PRAGAMATIC, “you should trust God because he’s like the God of the Universe.”  It is an issue of the heart.  He calls such people, “Double Minded”, the Greek Word is not always bad, it can mean to know how to decide between two alternative interpretations—to evaluate carefully.  In this negative context, however, it describes people between two minds—indecisive not about a course of action but about allegiance.  It literally means TWO SOULED – (DIPSYCHOS) or DIVIDED SOUL.  


  • When someone doubts like this, though they say they confess faith in God, they don’t actually believe suffering has any redeeming value or that God is big enough to direct all things for ultimate good.  They believe that the solution to their trial, and thus their joy, will come from some other place other than God. And they pursue it.   


  • When someone doubts like this, this person not only experiences misery, JAMES says they become UNSTABLE in ALL their ways. Because their foundation is little more than rolling water, every little trial disrupts their world and every BIG trial nearly destroys it.   


  • We and James is left to wonder:  If you can’t believe the Wisdom of God is in fact a source of salvation in trials, why would you accept the foolishness of God as salvation for you’re your soul? 



In his entire letter, James is calling out the true believers. (What would a church full of believers like this look like?)  This is not EXTROARDINARY faith, this is ORDINARY Faith.  This is not some pie in the sky, cross your fingers, put on a good face kind of faith, this is OLD SCHOOL Retro Faith that is Christianity. It is not that we never have doubts, but when we go to God….we are really talking to the God of the Universe.  He really hears us.  He really loves us.  CHRISTIANS depend on God and His Wisdom in trials.  When we don’t understand, we don’t RUN from God or FIGHT with God when we experience trials; we sit in the tension and ask our Father for wisdom.  And he gives it.  And even though that gift MAY NOT TAKE AWAY the physical, emotional, or financial pain we experience, we have no doubt that God is finishing the work he started in our heart.  As the great pastor Richard Baxter said, on his death bed, I have pain, but I have peace.  I have peace. Philippians 4.5-9  4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

More in James | Retro-Faith

January 17, 2010

James 5.19-20: Wandering and Finding

January 10, 2010

James 5.13-18 Praying and Healing

January 3, 2010

James 5.12 Oaths and Vows