God’s Word for You
James 1:6-8 Pray bravely
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, July 10, 2020
The day after Jesus rode a donkey triumphantly into Jerusalem, he was hungry and decided to look urgently through the leaves of a fig tree to find some figs. Finding none, he cursed the tree saying, “May there never be fruit from you again!” It died on the spot, withering away and drying up, a brittle stick in the ground where once a tree had stood. Later, when his disciples noticed it, they asked how it happened so quickly. As with so many of the things Jesus said, his response stayed with them for the rest of their lives: “Amen I tell you: If you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you told this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it would be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer, as you believe, you will receive” (Matthew 21:21-22 EHV).
James knew the Lord’s words. Always the coach of his church, he demonstrates the other side of the Savior’s assurance: If doubt is part of your prayer, then you are infected with unbelief. What should you expect from your prayers then?
6 But let him ask in faith, without doubting, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 In fact, that man should not expect that he will receive anything from the Lord. 8 He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
The house was filled with what I remember as one of the best smells of my childhood. Coming home from Little League, I was translated out of the disappointed funk of my one walk and two strikeouts to the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. My mom was wearing an apron in the kitchen, everything tidy and clean, the floor was shining, and her pretty eyes were smiling behind her classic horn-rim glasses. “If you ask, you can have a cookie,” she said, expressing both her will (“a cookie” meant one cookie for now) and her invitation (“if you ask”). I never hesitated to ask for any of mom’s cookies. They were for gobbling, not nibbling.
All of God’s gifts are like that. God invites us to ask in prayer and he also tells us his will about everything in the world. A child doesn’t doubt a good parent when it comes to the ordinary things of life, nor the gifts and extra things either. So it should be with our prayers. When God invites us to pray, we should pray without doubting.
James’ picture of doubt is presented in the way it affects us. Doubt drives us like ocean waves; it is capricious and fretful, and it does not drive us toward our destination. We become tossed by the world’s wind rather than moved by the will of God. Without saying it, James leaves the reader to fill in the blank of his illustration: How can we overcome the fretful currents and the winds of the world to conform with the will of God and pray, bold, brave and confident? We think of motors and gasoline and propellers, but James did not live in the industrial age. In the age of sail, the answer would have been obvious: We hoist the sails of faith and set them to conform our course to the will of God, and ride against the running tide of unbelief, tacking across the swells of worldly opinion, directly toward our destination like the bright morning star on the horizon (Revelation 22:16).
Doubt can appear in different degrees; reefs and shoals and shallows that are dangers on the course we set on the wine-dark sea.
The greatest doubt is the doubt that God exists at all. This is utter unbelief. Look down the street or down the road at the homes you see. Did they spring up by accident? Now look down the line of planets in our solar system, or stars in each constellation of the zodiac. Did they spring up by accident? “Every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything” (Hebrews 3:4). Do not doubt that God exists.
The next doubt is which God to pray to? Fifty years before James wrote our letter, the Latin poet Ovid said, “When God, whichever God he was, created the universe we know…” (Metamorphosis Book I). But Ovid was without excuse. Seven hundred years before, in a land long-conquered by Ovid’s time by his own nation’s legions, the true God had declared, “There is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me” (Isaiah 45:21). Jesus would show that the path to heaven is precisely on the same heading: “I am the Way… No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Do not doubt that the God of the Bible is the true and only God.
The next doubt is whether God will give what we ask for. Abraham prayed, and the Lord did what he asked (Genesis 20:17). Moses prayed, and the Lord did what he asked (Exodus 8:30-31). Hannah prayed, and the Lord granted her request, many times over (1 Samuel 1:10, 20, 2:21). Elisha prayed to the Lord and raised a child from the dead (2 Kings 4:33-35). The Lord our God gives, without holding back. Do not doubt that he will give what he promises.
These are the doubts James warns against. Anyone who doubts whether there is a God, or doubts who God is, or doubts whether God will answer his prayer, “should not expect that he will receive anything from the Lord.” The double mind of a double-minded man or woman is a mind that wants to have everything two ways: There might be a god, but there might not. Jesus might truly be God, but then again he might not. God might forgive, but maybe I should do something myself just in case. This is the nonsense that was frothing up in Herman Goering’s disturbed mind when he asked an American Lutheran (LCMS) pastor for communion just before he was scheduled to be hanged for his many war crimes. He thought that Christianity was all nonsense, but the cynicism of his old age crushed the last squeak of what might have once been a childhood faith but was as dead as the fig tree in Jerusalem. He wanted to have communion, he said, “just in case.” Do not put the Lord your God to the test. Goering’s guilty hands shrivel again and again in the flames of his agony every day, and they will for all eternity.
But might there be another doubt? Could there be a doubt that gnaws at us simply because our sinful flesh is separated from the perfect will of God? If we are brave enough or frightened enough to call this “doubt,” this is a doubt that can be forgiven. This is the doubt of the Christian who knows God, who knows that God answers prayer, but is not exactly certain whether this prayer conforms to God’s plan. This is why we pray, “Your will be done,” just as Jesus did. Jesus taught us to pray that way in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:10), but then he proved his point by doing it himself in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:42). Do not let your uncertainty about one request nag you as if it was the sinful doubt of unbelief. Pray confidently. Pray boldly. Pray bravely.
James, our coach, urges us: Do not doubt! Firmly believe that our Father in heaven will hear and answer your prayers! Praise God clearly with words that are confident, and then you can add “Amen” to what you pray (1 Corinthians 14:16).
“Let all the people say, ‘Amen!’ Hallelujah!” (Psalm 106:48)
INTRODUCTION TO JAMES
Our Use of James:
James is cited fifteen times in the Lutheran Confessions, about the same number of times as Philippians or 1-2 Thessalonians (combined). It is not cited like the important doctrinal books, the Gospels, Acts, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, or 1 Timothy. Nevertheless, James supplies important passages from the Holy Spirit on the doctrine of sanctification.
The Apology’s analysis of James’ doctrine of faith and works is worth repeating whole (Tappert 141:244—143:253) together with another explanation like it in the Formula of Concord (546:42-44). I will try to remember to include this in the commentary at the right place.
These references are given in the order in which they appear in the Confessions. Page numbers in the Tappert edition are given first, followed by the paragraph number (i.e. 44:24 = Tappert page 44, paragraph 24). The paragraph numbers should allow for little difficulty in finding the quotations in other editions.
- James 2:19. Historical knowledge of Christ is not the same as faith. Augsburg Confession (44:23, German), Apology IV (154:303), IV (159:337), XII (187:45)
- James 2:24. James does not omit faith. Apology IV (141:244-246)
- James 1:18. Regeneration (conversion) is through the Gospel. Apology (142:247)
- James 2:22. Faith produces good works. Apology IV (143:252)
- James 5:16. Confession of sins can and should be done between Christians, not only before clergy. Apology XII (198:109)
- James 3:5. An application of the 8th Commandment. Large Catechism (404:291)
- James 1:6. Exhortation to prayer. Large Catechism (420:4), and James 5:13 (same exhortation).
- James 1:6-7. Warning about double-minded prayers. Large Catechism (436:123)
- James 1:17. God is the source of good gifts. Formula of Concord (526:26)
- James 2:24. Faith alone justifies. Formula of Concord (546:42-44)
- James 1:17. Proof: There is nothing added or detracted from the divine essence in Christ. Formula of Concord (600:49)
Pastor Timothy Smith