One time in high school we had a speaker come to my church who talked a lot about seeing miracles happen through prayer. Now let me say that I whole-heartedly believe miracles happen and that prayer is important. The issue I had with the speaker was that he said that if we didn’t see certain miracles happen that we’ve prayed for, it was because we didn’t have enough faith in God to see them through. In other words, our doubts got in the way and wrecked it. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one who thinks like this either.
I don’t like this approach to prayer because I have a hard time willing myself to not have any doubts at all.
I’ve been wrestling through these verses of James 1:6-8. Some people will use them to tell you that your prayers are not being answered because you have too much doubt in you.
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.
Before I go any farther, let me just say that I do think that doubt can affect the outcomes of our prayers. Jesus only let a few people into the house when he raised a girl back to life (Luke 8). There was another instance when Jesus could only perform a few miracles because of the “lack of faith” in the people (Mark 6). There is something to be said of faith versus doubt, but I think that as with many other matters in Christianity, this subject has been greatly exaggerated and abused.
When people quote James, they often don’t quote the verse right before the ones we just read. The verse that says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Maybe James had ADD, or maybe his next verses were still speaking about a promise God made to give us wisdom.
To rid ourselves of any questions we have in matters of faith is nearly impossible. (And I know that All things are possible with God.) When you play the faith game, you can start to blame yourself for not having enough faith to see your requests become realities. Someone wasn’t healed, and it’s because you didn’t have enough faith. The reason you didn’t get the job you wanted is because you didn’t believe hard enough. I don’t think that’s how it works. Because God is the one who gives us faith. (John Piper wrote a great blog on this subject.)
As I said, I do think that we need to believe that God is who He says He is and that nothing is too difficult for Him, but sometimes He also just says, “No.” He knows what is best for us. When James says not to doubt, I believe that he is referring to the promises God has made. I have no doubt that God will never destroy the earth again by a flood because He promised that He wouldn’t. I have no doubt that my sins are forgiven. Those are promises.
I’ve been thinking about all of this for a bit and brought it up to my friend Enoch this week over lunch. (With a name like Enoch you know he had no other choice but to be a Christian.) He suggested that we are in a culture that has trained us to constantly be skeptical. We’ve been cheated on. We’ve been lied to. So anything ever written or produced is immediately picked apart and criticized. We’re trained to be doubters. It’s natural that doubt will creep its way into our spiritual lives. It doesn’t mean that’s a good thing, but God is bigger than our doubts and fears.
When it comes to faith, I would say that God is not as concerned with our thoughts as He is with our actions. God honors steps taken in faith, no matter how much our feet are shaking when we take those steps. We can have some questions banging around in our minds. The importance is on acting out in our faith, not acting in our doubt. It’s not a matter of not having any doubts; it’s a matter of not letting our doubts influence our conclusions.
I look at stories in the Bible like when God promised Abraham a son. It took 25 years for the son to come. Abraham gets flack for not being able to wait and thus bringing Ishmael onto the scene. But heck, with it taking 25 years, I probably would have had about eight Ishmael’s. Regardless of Abraham’s doubts, God still kept His word and Isaac was born.
Gideon tried to talk God out of using him to lead the Israelites. I bet he had fears in the back of his head the whole time. But God still used him because he acted in faith, and God is bigger than our doubts. Our weaknesses don’t scare him off. In fact, His strength is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
When you live for a big God, you will face some big challenges. It’s not up to us to wish our dreams into realities. It’s up to us to trust in God and just take one shaky step at a time.