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Speaker: 
Jason Meyer
Date Given: 
January 5, 2013

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 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.—James 1:5–8

(Prayer Week 2013 Sermon)

Introduction

Perhaps the only thing greater than preaching on prayer is prayer itself. What a wonder it is to commune with God through prayer. What a taste of grace to pray and then thank God for seeing answers to prayer. For example, our budget for 2012 was 9.55 million and 9.515 million came in (within .4% of our budget). What an answer to prayer! I am still thanking God for the double portion we received in answer to prayer during Global Focus week with so many people committing themselves to take intentional steps to move towards cross-cultural missions.

New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are a frequent topic of discussion this time of year and so I want to think with you for a few moments about them. Should Christians make New Year’s resolutions? I think the answer is “yes, and no.”

It is unfashionable to hold resolutions these days, but I want to make a case for the right way and the wrong way to do it. To start, I do not mind sharing my resolution with you. My prayerful resolution is “to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples, through Jesus Christ.” Some of you may think that is cheating. Just in case you are wondering if that is just a catch phrase devoid of real meaning, I have personalized that vision for myself this year.

I am prayerfully seeking the Lord in a single-minded way to see and savor more of him in 2013 than ever before and my whole-hearted desire is for more people to see and savor more of God than they ever have before—starting here at Bethlehem and stretching to the very ends of the earth. My heart cry has continually been “O to know more of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8) and O that Bethlehem and the nations will know more of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. “Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you!” (Psalm 67:3). I pray that everyone would make our official mission statement your functional resolution this year.

There is a wrong way to make resolutions. Christians do not make resolutions the way that non-Christians make resolutions. What I mean is this, unbelievers sometimes think that a new year will be better for one of two reasons: Either they will change or their circumstances will change. Those resolutions are not grounded in reality because there is no real foundation of hope to found there. Nothing magical changes when we throw one calendar away and put up a new one. It is still the same old fallen world, and we are still the same old fallen people.

Christians put their hope somewhere else—they hope in God. Here is the difference in a nutshell. Unbelievers hope in change—either they will change or their circumstances will change. Believers do not hope in change; they hope in the God who does not change. That is the difference. In the midst of a fallen world and in the face of struggling with the same old sins, redemption says, “Look to your Savior, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Redemption says, “Look to the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17), and then the next verse says he brought us forth in a new birth through his word (James 1:18).

Therefore, we look to this unchanging God today as our only hope. We turn now to consider God’s mind on prayer in James 1:5–8. We will see three points in our text about prayer or literally here “asking.” True prayer or “asking” is (1) an act of humility, (2) an act of faith, and (3) an act of knowing the true God. The best place to start in understanding prayer is to ask this true God to help us. Let us pray.

Why Don’t We Pray?

One of the most helpful parts of Paul Miller’s book on prayer, The Praying Life, was him helping me realize all the reasons why I don’t pray. I would read books on prayer and learn more about prayer and I would be encouraged a little bit and surprisingly be more discouraged. The reason was because I saw where I was in prayer and where I should be in prayer and I did not know how to close the gap. I needed someone to tell me why I don’t pray—not all the reasons why I should pray. Let’s look at our three points again and this time, add to it some of the underlying problems or some of the reasons why we don’t pray.

1. Prayer (asking) Is an Act of Humility (v. 5)
Problem: Pride

We begin by reading the very first part of verse 5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God.” One of the things that makes prayer difficult is pride. Prayer is an act of humility that comes to grip with the fact that we are deficient. We do not have all that we need. We are in a word “lacking.” This word is important in the text because it is the “hook” word that connects this section with the previous section.

Let’s read James 1:2–4: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect, lacking in nothing.” Did you see the same word? James ends verse 4 with this same word: “lacking.” He also gives the needed context for why we would lack wisdom. We could ask James, “wisdom for what?” James paints a picture for his readers of people meeting various trials (v. 2). Trials are a confusing thing to face. If anyone lacks wisdom in the confusing context of suffering, let him or her ask God.

For some this is hard to say. We almost have to unlearn what we were trained to think when becoming adults. In Miller’s The Praying Life, this is one of the points he makes. Prayer requires a humble childlikeness. When you are a child, it is the most natural thing in the world to ask parents for help. Parents sometimes feel like they are bombarded with being asked for help! Infants start out by being almost completely helpless, and then as they grow up we teach them to be responsible and take care of themselves more and more. You start by having to cook for them and feed them. I remember how hard it was to keep my mouth closed when I was trying to feed my girls. My wife and I used to joke with each other at this point: “O, you have your mouth open. You don’t need to act it out!” Eventually they can feed themselves. You give them a baby spoon—they learn to handle it. Eventually they can use “grown up” forks and spoons. Eventually they can even cook for themselves.

This is a familiar part of growing up. Do not transfer this understanding to your relationship with God. Growing up in Christ does not mean becoming more and more independent of Christ! Growing up in Christ means becoming more and more dependent. Here we must make a distinction between being childish and being childlike. A childish or immature Christian is one that needs to learn childlikeness. It is childish to think that you have what it takes to make it in this world apart from God’s help. We sing, “I need thee every hour.” We hear Jesus say, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Dear friends, control and independence are such an illusion. This point came home to us when we were in the process of adoption. We reached a point where we were stuck. We could not send an email or make a phone call or fill out any paperwork to make it happen. We never felt more out of control in our whole lives. But God revealed something that was faith-building to us in the midst of that trial. God gently reminded us that the way we viscerally felt at that time was the way it really was all the time. In other words, we felt out of control at that time and we cried out to God more than ever before. As we sought the Lord, he showed us that we were that dependent upon him all the time.

It literally changed the way that I live. I stopped jumping to do all that I could first and then turn to pray as a last resort. Prayer became a first impulse. I still send emails, but I always try to pray before sending the email, while writing the email, and after writing it when I click “send.” We don’t stop doing the things we have to do, we simply do them in a humble, childlike way that confesses our dependence upon God in all things.

I am setting an alarm on my phone every hour that I am awake to play the song: “I need thee every hour.” I need hourly anchor points in my relationship with God. I need hourly reminders of my need for dependence on him.

I have been greatly helped by the imagery of 1 Peter 5:5–7. Verse 5 says that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. We want grace from God, not opposition! What do we do? I love how helpful the Bible is here. Peter does not just give us a bare command: humble yourselves. He tells us how. We humble ourselves, Peter says, by casting all of our cares upon him. What a profound picture of the difference between pride and humility. The difference between pride and humility is really the difference between prayerlessness and prayerfulness. Human pride tries to carry cares in our own strength. Humility casts cares upon God so that he carries our cares and us in his strength. This new year will you arrogantly try to carry all of your cares or will you humbly cast your cares upon him?

We have seen in point one that our pride often keeps us from praying. Point two brings us to face another problem that keeps us from praying: a divided heart.

2. Prayer (Asking) Is an Act of Faith (vv. 6–8)
Problem: The Divided Man

Look at verses 6–8. “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.”

Notice here that faith is contrasted with doubt. James paints a word picture for us of the waves of the sea. The water of the sea surges and swirls. It is in constant motion and does not move in a straight-line, uniform way. James uses this picture to describe the experience of sinful humanity. Our sin makes us double-minded and therefore unstable. I think James is addressing the desires of the heart.

Think of the way that the waters of our hearts flow. An unbeliever constantly has a divided heart. It is a perpetual experience for them. They may feel a need for God occasionally, but it is part of an overall commitment to themselves. God plays a part in their life only in a supporting role, not the lead role. God is not a supporting actor! He is not a vending machine. Prayer is not a way to control God—like putting money into a vending machine when we are hungry for a specific thing.

James gives an example of this type of double-mindedness later in his letter and how it applies to prayer. James 4:2 says one of the reasons we do not have is because we do not ask. He then talks about wrong ways to ask.

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

James states the difference here in shocking terms. John Piper once helped us feel the gravity of this by sharing an illustration in everyday, personal terms. He said, this would be like him going to Noël and asking her for money (if your wife has the checkbook), and you say, “I need $300.” She asks, “Why do you need so much money?” You respond, “Well the cost of call girls keeps going up. They are expensive.” If you think that is a shocking illustration, consider the fact that James himself uses the image with the word “adultery.” This raises the question of what is our fundamental passion? The word “passions” here or “desires” is the image I was using for the waters of the heart or the waves of the sea.

What drives them? Is there a driving passion that accounts for the direction of our life? James says there are only two possibilities: God or the world. Is God our driving passion or is the world? Double-minded men may ask God for things, but not in a way that recognizes God’s supreme Lordship and infinite value. Their prayers are idolatrous, adulterous prayers because they are using God to get what they want (which is really their god).

Now let me clarify something. I am not saying that Christians are never inconsistent. I am not saying that a Christians always pursue God in an undivided way. Sometimes they do not. But that is exactly my point. They are inconsistent. The pattern or trajectory of there life is to pursue God and confess Jesus as Lord. The unbeliever may ask God occasionally, but the consistent trajectory of their life is to confess that they are the lord of their life and God comes into the picture only when they need him to do what they want. They use the true God to get what they want (which is their god, a false god).

This brings us to our third point. We need to know and embrace the true God.

3. Prayer (Asking) Is an Act of Knowing the True God (v. 5)
Solution: The Need to See God’s All-Sufficiency and Undivided Heart for Us

I skipped over the theological heart of the passage because I think the description of God in verse 5 is the key to what comes before and what comes after. James does not just say “if anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask God.” James goes further and tells us what we need to know about God so that we can pray and know him rightly. You cannot separate praying rightly from rightly knowing the One to whom we pray.

James says God is the One “who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (v. 5). A few comments are vital for understanding this verse.

Four Comments on the Single-Mindedness of God

First, the translation “gives generously” is acceptable, but does not do full justice to the word here. A similar word is used to mean “generosity” throughout 2 Corinthians 8–9 in Paul’s discussion of financial giving (2 Corinthians 8:2; 9:11, 13), which is why many translators use the word “generously.” It is difficult to be sure because the word occurs only here in the New Testament, but I have been influenced by the arguments of my favorite commentary on James, by Douglas Moo. He notes that the root of the word means “single” or “sincere.” We find this in a few different places in the New Testament.

Ephesians 6:5 – “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with sincerity of heart (singleness of motive, not duplicitous).

1 Corinthians 11:3 – Paul urges the Corinthians to maintain their “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (this means undivided, singular).

Luke 11:34 – “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy (KJV “single”), your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.”

In the Greek translation of the canonical books of the Hebrew OT, the word does not mean “generous,” it always means “sincerity” or “integrity.”

Listen for example to Proverbs 10:9, “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.”

Here as often happens in Proverbs two ways are contemplated—the way of the righteous or the way of the wicked. The righteous man singularly has set his heart to walk on the path of the righteous; he does not keep switching back and forth.

The point is if we can talk about the singularity or sincerity of a righteous man, how much more does this apply to God’s perfect righteousness. He gives with a singular heart toward his people. He is not wishy-washy, duplicitous, or capricious. We do not say, “He loves me, He loves me not.” Maybe this time I can expect something good from God because he is in a good mood, but it may change tomorrow. When God sets his love on his children in Christ, he gloriously does not change.

Second, this same idea is conveyed by the second phrase: “without reproach” (ESV) or other translations “without finding fault” (NASB). God does not pick apart our lives and treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103). God does not say, “What? You are going to pray to me, after what you did yesterday? You didn’t give me the time of day yesterday, and suddenly now you come running to me.”

Third, James speaks along similar lines when he says “and it will be given him” (v. 5). This is an allusion to Jesus’ words on the Sermon on the Mount “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7a). The reason why this promise holds true is because of what Jesus says in the next verse. “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9–11). The “how much more” of God’s perfect, undiluted, undivided Fatherly heart of love is our greatest incentive to pray.

Fourth, notice how this picture of God brings the first two points together. A deficient man who lacks wisdom, can ask God because he is the God who lacks nothing and is all-sufficient. Furthermore, a prayer for wisdom is really a prayer to know God’s mind because God is the standard of wisdom. The standard does not exist somewhere outside of God. The prayer for wisdom is a prayer for God to reveal his wisdom, his mind, his ways to us.

Notice also this picture of God grounds why we do not have to doubt or be double-minded. God has not given us any reasons to doubt him! He is trustworthy, he is not duplicitous, or capricious. He has an undivided heart, a singular eye of love upon us. His loving purposes for us do not go up and down and swirl and surge haphazardly like the ways of the sea. We can have a singular heart of trust in him only because of his singular, sincere love for us in Christ.

Humility sees that we are lacking and then it turns to God and sees that he is all-sufficient, lacking in nothing. Faith does not look at our own hearts and put trust in our ability to trust in a singular way, faith puts its hope and trust in God’s singular heart for his children. Hebrews 11:6—“Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” The most stunning display of the Father’s love remains the cross. “God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Conclusion

How Does a Christian Hedonist Pray?

How does God answer our humble prayers for wisdom? Let me give you an example from my own life that seems very appropriate to share at this point. This is my first sermon as Pastor for Preaching and Vision. It has been an amazing journey to get to this point. Last November (Nov. 10, 2011), John Piper came to my office and asked me if I was willing to be considered as a candidate to replace him as pastor. I shared all of my doubts and fears about it, but I also shared the sense I could not shake (and was trying to shake) that God may be calling me to it.

I was in a panic. I had tried to run from it. It would not be an overstatement to say that I regarded it as an unwanted “trial.” The breakthrough came in the kitchen one day shortly after when I was washing dishes. I began to feel so overwhelmed that I broke down and began to weep. I was confused and felt like I lacked God’s mind in all of this. I said, “Lord, you know that I do not want this, but you seem to be leading this way. Help me understand.”

It is hard to put into words, but I got the unusually clear sense that the Lord said, “But what if you would have more of me in all of this?” It was the answer we needed and it became the watershed moment. It was like the moment when the Israelites marched around Jericho and all of our defensive walls we had built up came tumbling down. Cara and I were now able to say, “We have never wanted this (leading Bethlehem), but we have always wanted that (more of God).”

In other words, Cara and I both realized that the path that we were on (which we loved at BCS), was now the one that seemed scarier to stay on because the Lord was moving to another. Don’t get me wrong, this path scares me. However, if this path that seems scary and big brings me closer to God, then it is the path for me.

Now do not misunderstand what I am saying and why I am using this example. This prayer sermon is not calling for reliance on subjective impressions from the Lord. The Lord will speak in accordance with his word, which is why next week’s sermon is on the Word. The high point of all our interaction with God is when he speaks clearly in his word. The reason why the answer we received rung so true was because it is manifestly the teaching of Scripture and it is the blood-bought birthright of every child of God. God answers our prayers for wisdom not by increasing our IQ, but by giving us more of himself. This is what we want!

I also do not give this example to point to ourselves, but to point to our shared mindset here at Bethlehem as a church. Cara and I learned to think and pray this way from Bethlehem’s theology of Christian hedonism. It is part of our DNA. It is a DNA we share as a church. As a Christian hedonist church, we want to see and savor more of God than ever before in 2013.

He reveals more of his heart and more of his mind. We respond by adoring him more. God gives wisdom—meaning he reveals his mind to us and then we respond with worship. We say, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid (Romans 11:33–35)?” Answer: No one! “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36)”

You may have noticed that I need word pictures to fight the fight of faith. One of the word pictures that has helped me most this week is something that we all experience this time of year. We are driving along and our cars are constantly picking up salt from the road. It gets on our cars and especially our wind shield and obstructs our vision. We need windshield wiper fluid to spray on the windshield and then the windshield wipers remove the salt and dirt from the windshield so we can see.

In the same way, in this life, we struggle with the effects of a fallen world and a fallen heart and it constantly clouds our vision. We need God to cleanse us. We need him to wash our eyes and our hearts so that we can see with the eyes of our hearts. Why do we want to be cleansed? What do we want to see? A Christian hedonist hears Jesus say, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). He says, “I want to see you more than anything. Wash me so I can see.” A Christian hedonist hears God say, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will answer you and you will glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). The Christian hedonist says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” We hear God say, “I will answer you” and we say, “Yes! The answer we want is you, more of you!”

We glorify him when we see and savor the greater revelation of glory that he displays for us in answer to our prayers! James 1:5 and the prayer for wisdom is really another way of saying Moses’ prayer in Exodus 33: “Lord show me your glory.”

Our closing song is a prayer to give us clean hands and pure hearts. A prayer saying we want to know the true God and not lift our souls to an idol. A prayer that says, “O God let us be a generation that seeks, that seeks your face, O God of Jacob.”

We pray that God will enable us to respond in a single-minded, undivided way.

Sermon Discussion Questions

  • James tells us to ask for wisdom (v. 5), especially in the midst of trials (v. 2). What trials are you facing that require wisdom from on high?
  • What are the marks of a double-minded man? (See verse 8.) What are the distinguishing patterns that help you identify double-mindedness? Do you bear any of these marks on occasion?
  • The opposite of a double-minded man is a single-minded man. What are the distinguishing patterns that help you identify single-mindedness? Do you bear any of these marks? How does God model single-mindedness perfectly? (See verse 5.)

© 2017 Bethlehem Baptist Church