“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” James 1:6-8 NIV
When I was younger, I used to get frustrated by the wishy-washy prayers I would hear in church, in prayer meetings, or prayed over the sick or the suffering. Something in me would balk, not at gentleness or acceptance, but at the sheer lack of expectation. I haven’t been well enough to be a regular church goer for some years again now, but I get frustrated still if I hear the same lacklustre attitude coming out of my own mouth, and fight to set it back on a course of faith.
It is not that I think fervour will cause a prayer to be answered more quickly, nor that flowery words or long speeches or lots of amens or proclamations (these rile me most of all) will be of any use, as though God were withholding something and just needed his arm twisted a bit. But what matters in prayer are not so much the words we use, but the heart we are believing and meaning them with.
If I am asking for healing, but actually deep down I believe God to be a rather strict and heartless person, then I come with low expectations of an answer, if any. That’s not going to stop God acting, but it will affect how often and with what perseverance and faith I pray. Likewise, if I believe myself to be unworthy of any answered prayer, God will still act, but it does stop me asking. All we need to come to God with is faith the size of a mustard seed. Far worse than either of these scenarios is the heart that doubts because it is saying words it does not mean at all, because all is for show. Honesty in prayer (as in all life) is the best policy.
One of the most heartless prayers in my view is the one that is all about the person praying, and not about God or the person they are praying for. It is the one that is self-centred in intercession. It is the prayer that says look at me, I am being holy now. I am so close to God, I’ve got this. I know exactly what God wants in this situation, in this person’s life, and I’m going to proclaim the reality of it over them until it manifests. If it doesn’t work, (as though prayer were an electric circuit and they the qualified electrician) it’s not my fault. We have authority given us through Christ, but it is to be exercised in wonder, flowing from him, not dispensed by us. This prayer comes from the heart that will never say, I don’t know, rarely if ever say, I bow to your will, and does not understand the value of waiting, gentleness, or grace and cannot accept no as an answer.
But the most double-minded, literally (dipsychos in the Greek!) is that prayer which cannot decide which kingdom takes precedence. It is as though the person praying it has one foot in each camp, of faith and doubt, of heaven and earth, and shifts their weight unceasingly from one to the other. It is not always obvious to someone else listening, but God hears the whole. It will go something like this….
Out loud: ”We know Lord that you can heal us.”
Inner voice: We do? Do we? What about Dave, he didn’t heal Dave that time he had a bad leg.
Out loud: “so we ask for you to heal so-and-so’s leg.”
Inner voice: Well, you know, it’s worth a try.
Out loud: “But if you don’t/ if you choose not to heal, we ask for the strength to bear it for so-and-so”
Inner voice: That’s better, then I won’t look a nitwit when nothing happens. And I can smile at so-and-so and go home.
Basically, the type of prayer James is warning us about is the one that cannot make up its mind. No-one has certainty one hundred percent of the time in their faith. But to be so unsure in the faithfulness and goodness and generosity of God , although still a better prayer than nothing, is not likely to move heaven or earth. And let’s face it, we have all prayed like this at some time or another, and we all hear these kinds of prayers a lot more than we’d care to admit. The trouble is such tepid and wavering faith tends to have a weakening effect on those around it. So let us guard our hearts and minds against feeling split in two, and ask in faith for heaven always to have the stronger voice in our prayers!
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