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When Doubts Plague Your Prayers

James encourages us all to ask God for the wisdom we need not simply to survive hardship and disappointment but to thrive and grow spiritually by means of such trials. Continue reading . . .

James encourages us all to ask God for the wisdom we need not simply to survive hardship and disappointment but to thrive and grow spiritually by means of such trials. But our asking must be “with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6).

The word translated “no doubting” basically means to “differentiate” or “judge” or “dispute,” but here has the sense of “dispute with oneself.” He has in mind those times when we find ourselves debating with ourselves. There’s a division in our hearts: on the one hand, we believe God is good and generous, but on the other hand, maybe he’s not as good or generous as we’ve been led to think. Maybe God fulfills his promises, but then again maybe he doesn’t.

Later in James 1:8 he refers to this sort of person as “double-minded” (v. 8a). The word for “double-minded” is literally “double-souled”. This particular word has never appeared in Greek literature until now. James probably coined the word himself. There is a sense in which he is describing what might be called spiritual schizophrenia! Such a man is the pattern for Bunyan’s “Mr. Facing-both-ways” in Pilgrim’s Progress. He is like the mythological horseman who mounted his horse and promptly rode off in both directions!

The doubt he has in view is compared to the waves of the sea swelling up and subsiding, never having the same shape or size, but varying from moment to moment both in direction and strength.

It’s as if one day we are full of confidence in the importance and necessity of wisdom from God, and the next day we are seduced by the world around us into thinking that we can figure it out all on our own. One day we are consciously dependent on God alone only to wake up the day after with a determination to look to the ways and wisdom of the world and its secular values to help us thrive.

But the Bible blesses the person who pursues God with a single-minded sincerity, a heart undivided and undistracted. As the psalmist says, “Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart” (Ps. 119:2).

Of course, he doesn’t mean we will never experience any degree of doubt. No one is capable of banishing all doubt from their minds. We are, after all, weak and fallen people and life has a way of questioning pretty much everything. Rather the idea is of a sustained consistency over time. Even when doubt occasionally intrudes into our thinking, by God’s grace we maintain our overall confidence in who he is and what he enjoys doing.

Some of you, perhaps many, live in constant fear that the slightest tinge of doubt may inadvertently creep into your thought process and ruin everything! You struggle and strain to squeeze every last vestige of doubt from your brain, like wrenching water from a sponge. When you finally feel confident that you’ve arrived, a wayward thought suddenly erupts in the back of your mind or a question arises in your heart. “Darn it! Just when I thought I had this thing under control and boom, doubt reappears. Not a big doubt, but a doubt. I’ve spoiled everything. God obviously won’t hear my prayers now.”

Think of your mind or heart as if it were a house. You’ve been diligent to shut every window and seal it tightly. You closed every door and locked it securely. Nothing can get in. Then suddenly you discover that doubts are sneaking in through some tiny air vent in the attic and you’ve failed yet again!

And to make matters worse, you know yourself well enough to know you’ll never be any different tomorrow. No matter how confident you may grow, doubts will always appear like those pesky weeds in your front yard that you thought you’d pulled up by their roots. Nothing you do will make them disappear forever.

No! That is not what James is saying. There never has been a human being nor ever will be one who can live without experiencing those sorts of battles with doubt. God knows that and is gracious and patient and kind and remains generous and always ready to give us the wisdom we need.

So I don’t believe James is denouncing honest intellectual doubts. He has in mind the person who wavers between God and the world, shifting allegiance and loyalty, at one moment looking to God for guidance and the next reading the National Enquirer for information about what to do. Asking God questions about why something happened or why something else didn’t isn’t necessarily a bad form of doubt. Saying to him, “I don’t understand” is ok. He knows you don’t and can see straight through the false spiritual façade you create when you pretend to know what you don’t know. To say, “God, I’m really confused right now. Your ways make no sense to me,” is not sinful doubting.

The sort of “doubt” that is unavoidable and not inconsistent with “faith” is found in the so-called “Psalms of Lament.” A good example is how David cried out to God in Psalm 13:1 – “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Are you there? Do you care? Psalms of lament essentially contain three parts: “(1) I’m hurting. (2) My enemies are winning. And (3) God, you don’t care!” And yet in virtually every one of these psalms the psalmist ends by reaffirming his confidence in God. He calls to mind everything God has done in the past. He anticipates joyfully worshiping with God’s people again in the future.

So when you cry out to your Heavenly Father for the wisdom and strength and patience to make sense of suffering, come with confidence and assurance in your heart that he loves nothing more than to meet and supply his children with all they need.

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