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. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Few things are as calming as the rhythmic crash of the surf on the beach when one is on dry land. And few things are as terrifying as a storm at sea. Our family can remember a ferry trip across the Gulf of Maine in the early 1980’s. It was November, we were sailing home to Nova Scotia, and the weather outside was frightful. The seas were seven metres high, and an anchor chain swung loose and clanged ominously against the hull of the ship every time it rolled. The sound resonated throughout the nearly empty vessel, making the ship’s violent motion even more alarming. Doors slammed shut violently and loose items flew about. We were at the mercy of the angry sea. At one point our three-year-old son asked, “Are we going to die?”
James has told his readers about the guaranteed source of the thing they need most: when they lack wisdom, they can ask God, and He will give it to them generously because He wants them to have it and because He has it all and longs to give it away.
Now Jesus’ little brother attaches a proviso to his promise. When we ask God for wisdom–or anything else, for that matter–we must ask in faith. Without faith, asking is pointless. Why would I ask for something I know I won’t receive, or ask it of someone who does not have it to give? James says that is being double-minded, the spiritual equivalent of being two-faced.
If I pray without faith, that’s exactly what I am.
Although James does not figure in any of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ words or works, it is safe to assume that by the time he has written this letter, the apostles of the Lord have probably filled in the gaps in his experience. And it is unthinkable that Jesus did not make every attempt possible to proclaim the truth to His family members. Having grown up where he did, James is familiar with the effects of wind-driven waves even on a relatively small body of water. The apostles’ stories have surely included their times with Jesus on the Sea of Galilee, sometimes scared out of their minds. Some amazing things happened on that lake–an enormous catch of fish when there weren’t any to catch, the instantaneous calming of a tempest by Jesus’ command, and Peter’s brief stroll on the water while Jesus patiently humoured his unbelief.
So James knows what he’s talking about when he makes this comparison between unbelief and the sea.
Jesus had much to say about faith during His ministry. Once, when cursing a fruitless fig tree, He told his disciples, “…whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21.22) When Jesus spoke to the Father, He did so with the assurance that the Father heard Him and would answer according to His will.
Before raising Lazarus from the dead, He prayed: “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11.41b-42)
With absolute assurance of His purpose for coming to earth and anticipating His imminent arrest and crucifixion, Jesus prays in John 12.27: “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”
In John 15.14, the Lord says to His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” That kind of promise should elicit strong faith from any follower of Jesus, so that asking God for anything, including the wisdom we know He wants us to have, is an act of supreme confidence.
James will conclude his letter with another reference to praying in faith–but that’s for a later post. Suffice it to say that his admonition to us is founded in experience as well as sound theology.
Jesus never doubted, and neither should we. We must avoid the perils of the wind-driven life.