Praying in Faith

Dr. Brian Allison

Is there any place for doubt in a Christian's life? Is God pleased if we express doubt as believers? To express intellectual doubt is okay. When the issue and the goal are to acquire further understanding, to dispel ignorance and receive a fuller knowledge of truth, then doubt is legitimate. For instance, many believers have a problem grasping the doctrine of election. They doubt whether the Scriptures actually teach this. They honestly question and struggle with the validity of this truth. So, intellectual doubt does have a place in terms of honest questioning and wrestling with the Scriptures in order to come to a clearer understanding of the truth. However, attitudinal doubt is not always acceptable, whereby the concern is not expelling ignorance in order to secure understanding, but rather living with uncertainty, having a lack of assurance. Now, in the case of the doctrine of election (having actually accepted the truth of election), one may doubt if he or she is one of the elect. One may come before the Lord and honestly wonder and ask whether he or she is one of the elect, or even saved. So, there may be a place for legitimate attitudinal doubt; but attitudinal doubt is not always acceptable. When the issue concerns the person of God, when we are faced with such questions as: Does God exist? Is God good? Is God love? Does God care? etc., then there is no place for attitudinal doubt. As professing Christians, we must entertain a certain view of God. We cannot question the person of God in any way when we now possess a clear revelation of Him in the Scriptures. We should not question His existence. We should not question His love. We should not question His care. That is an offence and insult against God; it is unacceptable.

Attitudinal doubt results in hampered fellowship with God, and in the forfeiting of His grace. It robs the Christian of peace and joy. It can destroy the Christian's life. There have been professing Christians who have succumbed to attitudinal doubt, and have eventually fallen away from the faith. They have questioned the love of God, the goodness of God, especially when tragedies have come into their lives; and they have become angry and embittered with God, and have said something to the effect, "I cannot serve a mean God like this." They interpreted God according to their own puny understanding, and because their conception of God was not to their liking, because they tried to put God in their own intellectual box, they eventually disowned this God of their own making and expectations.

Need inspires prayer

There is no place for attitudinal doubt when it comes to the person of God. This is no more true than in the area of prayer; and this will be the topic of concern in this paper. James 1:5-8 reads, "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men [all people] generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man [that person] expect that he will receive anything from the Lord [his fate is sealed], being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways [his doubt revealing his or her true colours]." This passage focuses on the need for wisdom, but we could substitute any need here. James focuses on wisdom in light of the theme taken up in verses 2 and 3 of this chapter – enduring in the face of trials, which determines the genuineness of faith. One requires wisdom to endure and handle the pressing and difficult situations which may arise. But the principles taught in this passage are universal (I do not think that would require much argumentation).

But we have specifically in view here the need for wisdom – "If anyone has a need for wisdom," particularly in living the Christian life and running the Christian race, and faithfully making it to the end. Now, in the original Greek, the conditional clause, "If anyone lacks wisdom...," is what we call a first class condition. It connotes the idea that such is the case. We could translate the word "if" with the word "since" – "Since it is the case..." Thus, it is implied that most likely we will lack wisdom, we will be in need, and will thus require help.

God is our recourse

Accordingly, if someone needs wisdom so that he may know how to work out his salvation in fear and trembling, this passage instructs us to seek divine help – "let him ask of God" (1:5b). It does not say, "Let's first do some research, and read a few books." It does not say, "If we lack wisdom, phone up Mom, or phone up your sister, or speak to your best friend." Our recourse, as Christians, is to ask of God. God is the One who gives us wisdom. Now, we are provided with incentives in order to motivate us to ask God for this needed wisdom. These incentives communicate an air of hope, assurance, and confidence because these incentives focus on the person of God Whom we are asking. In understanding the nature of God, we are encouraged to approach and ask Him for help.

First, we are to ask God "who gives." (1:5a). God is a giving God. He is always ready to provide for the needs of His creatures. He continually supplies our needs; He attends to our deficiencies. Second, we are to ask God "who gives to all men" (1:5a). God gives sufficiently and indiscriminately. He has an unending supply of grace and mercy. The demands of His creatures will never outstrip the supply of His resources. Third, we are to ask God "who gives to all men generously" (1:5b). That is, He gives without restraint, without restriction. He gives freely. He gives openly. He gives profusely. He is unstinting. He is no miser. Fourth, we are to ask God who gives "without reproach" (1:5b). He does not fault-find; He does not despise. God does not give begrudgingly or reluctantly. Let me put it this way, God gives joyfully. He who requires that we give cheerfully is Himself a cheerful giver. God, by nature, is affectionate. This is the God we are to ask to meet our needs. And we read that in asking God, "it will be given to him" (1:5b). What a promise and assurance!

The necessity of faith

There is a condition for having our petition answered – "But let him ask in faith without any doubting" (1:6a). Now there seems to be an apparent contradiction here as we consider the original Greek. That term translated "generously" in verse 5 has the idea of 'no conditions'. Again, God gives gratuitously. And yet we have a condition for actually receiving presented to us in verse 6. When we think of this term "generously," it means that we cannot earn God's blessing, we cannot work for it. We can never say that God owes us something because we have lived and behaved in a certain way. We can never say that we deserve God's grace and blessing. God is never morally and necessarily obligated to meet our needs. There can be no meritorious condition by which we may work, earn, or deserve God's gifts. Now, in verse 6, we have (and for lack of a better term) a qualifying condition; that is, a requirement that must be satisfied, which puts one in a position to receive God's blessing and grace. For instance, maybe you have no food and you hear an announcement that if you come to the local food bank at a certain time, then you will be able to pick up some food. In order to receive, you simply have to show up on time – that's the requirement. You do not have to work for the food, you do not earn the food, you simply have to put yourself in the right position to receive the food. For you to be at the appropriate place at the right time qualifies you to get food. So, faith is the qualifying condition for answered prayer. Without faith God does not hear you; He will not answer your prayer – "For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord" (1:8a). The absence of faith deafens the ear of God. Similarly, Hebrews 11:6 reads, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him;" and also Romans 14:23, "And whatever is not from faith is sin." Faith is necessary for our prayers to be effectual. Faith (from the human side) actualizes the reality and presence of God in our lives.

The nature of faith

What exactly is faith? Faith is contrasted with doubt – "But let him ask in faith without any doubting" (1:6a). In fact, we can define faith in terms of doubt's contrary. Faith and doubt are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Any evidence or trace of doubt nullifies true faith. Thus, positively speaking, faith is essentially a certain belief or a firm conviction. Hence, Hebrews 11:1 reads, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." To doubt is to be in a spiritual state of uncertainty, and thus instability. So, we read, "for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind...being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (1:6b,8b). What a picture! It is a picture of lack of firmness, lack of rootedness – sheer instability. Any Christian who is doubting is living on shaky ground. They do not know spiritually whether 'they are coming or going'. They do not know if God loves them or not. They are undisciplined. They live in uncomfortable insecurity.

Faith is an attitude; it is a disposition; it involves the whole individual. Faith involves the emotional side of us, as well as the intellectual and behavioural sides. Faith is the attitude of steady confidence. It is basically trust. It is not simply an assent to the truth (though the element of assent is central to the notion of faith); it is a hearty and assured embrace of the truth. It involves the heart, as well as the head. Such an attitude must ultimately find its origin and roots in the Holy Spirit. True faith is a divine gift; but is equally a human response. We are ultimately faced with the 'mystery' of faith – God must vouchsafe the grace of faith, but we are responsible to express it.

Faith and focus on God

Now, you may say, "Well, I have difficulty trusting God, I struggle with certainty of belief." If you have difficulty in this matter of trust, which often is where we struggle, the problem, generally speaking, is that you have a wrong reference point. If you understand what I am about to say, if the Spirit gives light, this truth will radically change your prayer life and how you approach God, giving you a new sense of freedom and empowerment. The basic problem of a weak faith, in reference to prayer, is that you have a wrong reference point. Your reference point is self. You are focusing on yourself, and, in essence, are endeavouring to create or find faith within. You are turned inward trying to determine whether you have the right quantity and quality of faith. And thus you are approaching this matter of faith as a 'work', as something you do or are responsible for producing (rather than simply expressing). You may say, for instance, "I (emphasized) just have to believe more. If I had believed more then this would not have happened. Where is that faith? 'Lord, I had the faith for a moment, but now it is gone.'" Faith is not something you inwardly do; it is something that you essentially are. It is one and the same as your experience of God; nothing more, nothing less.

If you approach faith as a 'work' – that it depends on you to find or produce this 'thing' called faith – you will never reach your spiritual goal. If you begin with the psychological, you will end with it; but faith is a spiritual matter. Unless you realize this, then you will have continual frustration, disappointment, guilt, and fear. Faith is an acknowledgement of who God is and what His truth says. It is an acceptance of the revelation of God in His Word. The reality of faith does not depend on what you do, or even who you are as a person; it depends on what you see. It does not depend on you devoting yourself to some spiritual exercise (for example, fasting; though such may be used by the Spirit for spiritual ends), or increasing some spiritual activity (such as memorizing more Scripture, even though that can help and the Spirit may use this to promote spirituality). Faith is not mechanically produced. Some believe that the more Scripture they memorize, the deeper their faith will be. It does not work that way. It is not about what you do, but what you see – what you spiritually see.

Faith is both active and passive. You have a responsibility to study the Word. You must "believe in the Lord Jesus" (Acts 16:31a). We must respond to the Word which is addressed to our wills; and so, we have a moral obligation and decision to accept the truth whether we feel it or not; and, in this sense, faith is active. You have a responsibility to believe. But faith is also passive. I cannot 'whip up' confidence or assurance. I cannot say, "Soul, be at peace, no more anxiety, no more fear. That is it!" That comes through the Spirit. It is a work of the Spirit Who makes the grace of God effectual. But faith must have the right reference point.

Faith must focus on God, not on self. This is the critical point: Acceptable faith (which is the key to powerful prayer, to getting our prayers answered) depends on our focus on who God is in His unchanging, unchangeable nature, and not on what we personally are or can do. The reality and power of faith is dependent upon, and is determined by, one's focus on God. Or, the reality and power of faith is dependent upon, and determined by, one's view and understanding of God. Truly seeing God spiritually gives birth and force to faith. Faith is simply seeing God. To see Him is to know Him, is to have Him, is to enjoy Him. True faith views God in a certain way; it is a particular kind of attitude toward God.

Understanding the nature of God

So, what should be the essential content of faith? What should be our attitude toward God? What are we to specifically believe if God is going to answer our prayers? James' statements here anticipate these questions, and imply their answers. He indicates how we are to view and understand God, and thus what should be the content of real faith, acceptable faith. The proper attitude towards God is the very substance and reality of acceptable faith. Again, a proper attitude gives birth to, power to, strength to, faith. It is in how we view God, our attitude towards Him, that faith has its very existence. Faith and our attitude/view toward God are synonymous experiences. That is why it is in the context of prayer that faith comes to a fuller reality and expression. True prayer is the experience of the presence of God; and so, not only do we need to come in faith to God in prayer in order to receive, but prayer itself is the context in which faith comes to a fuller realization so that we may receive. How? Because it is through prayer that we experience God, and we see Him as He is. And to see Him is to believe, necessarily. Spiritual sight and actual faith are one and the same. So, our attitude towards God is synonymous with our faith in God. These realities are interchangeable.

So, how we view and understand God is critical to the very existence and power of our faith. But how are we to view and understand God? James teaches us what is absolutely critical for the faith that God demands, which unleashes the powers of heaven. He says, "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men." First, we said that God is sufficiently able to meet the needs of His creatures. God, by nature, is a giving God. To put it simply, God is infinitely powerful; that is how we must view and understand God when we go to prayer. He is able to meet our needs; and often in our prayers that is exactly what we say, "God is able." You believe that, but do you believe what James goes on to say? You see, we need to accept the whole package of truth.

Second, God gives to all men 'generously'. God, by nature, freely bestows, 'no strings attached'. God is not only infinitely powerful, and thus able, but He is eternal love, particularly expressed in showing goodness; and thus God is willing; that is how we must view and understand God when we go to prayer. Often in our prayers, we say something like this, "I know that God is able, but I am not sure whether He is willing." And, as a result, we do not get that for which we ask. You may say, "Yes, I have a sick father with terminal cancer, and I know that God is able to heal, but I am not sure if He is willing." Now I am not saying that God is going to heal everyone who has terminal cancer. Again, I am talking about our attitude, how we approach God; and what this text is saying is that He is not only able, but He is willing to provide for our needs. We need to stop saying that God is able, but not willing. Whether He answers our prayer to our liking or not is up to Him. God can do what He wants, but our attitude ought to be that He is willing. He gives generously. Again, by nature, He must do us good. He does not simply love, He is love; and that is why He is willing. Let us go a step further. Third, God gives to all men cheerfully, without reproach. God is not only able to meet our needs, He is not only willing to meet our needs, but He wants to meet our needs. He does not give begrudgingly or reluctantly. Again, God, by nature, is love; and, more particularly, He is a God of kindness. God takes pleasure in giving. He gives exuberantly; that is how we must view and understand God when we go to prayer.

What I am saying is this (though I am being a bit repetitive, but it is paramount that we grasp this), God's nature is that He is infinitely powerful and eternally loving. He is not simply able to provide, but He is willing to do us good, and He wants to show us kindness. Do you go to prayer with that view of God? Is this your attitude? Do you say, "God You are not only able to meet my need, but I know that You are willing to meet my need; that is Your nature. And I know that You want to meet my need; that is Your nature." We must continually focus on the unchanging, unchangeable nature of God, not on ourselves, especially when it comes to prayer. If you do, then you will pray in faith, and you will receive. Unfortunately, many Christians pray in unbelief, and they don't even realize it; and God's response to their prayers is a reverberating silence. We should not say, "Well, I don't deserve it," or "I am not good enough," or "God won't do this for me. Why would God do it for me? I am scum." Wrong focus, and that is your problem. True faith arises out of a proper view and understanding of God (and is synonymous with it), not from the brute exercise of will or positive thinking or pumping up warm emotions.

Praying in faith

So, in summary, how are we to approach God? How are we to come to God and pray to God? We are to come to Him, with the attitude that He has an unchanging, unchangeable nature, regardless of how we feel or what we have done. He is the all-powerful God, that is His nature; He is able to meet every need. He is the all-loving God, that is His nature. On the one hand, He is willing to meet every legitimate need, regardless of our self-view, regardless of how we see ourselves, regardless of our self-evaluation, regardless of what we have done during the day (we must, of course, confess our sins, but we leave the matter with God). It does say in the Scriptures that if we harbour sin in our hearts, God does not hear us. I understand that. Well, confess the sin. Notwithstanding, God is willing to do us good; to save a thousand souls this week; to deliver you from that ensnaring sin; to restore your marriage. He is eternal love. You may say, "Well, it says in the Scriptures, that we are to pray according to His will. We will only get what we pray according to His will, for we read in 1 John 5:14, 'If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us'." My friend, whether we actually pray something according to God's will is His business. He decides that. I am talking about what is to be our attitude, our approach, to God. God can do what He wants to do; and in the mystery of the life in the Spirit, often the will of God and our belief in His willingness intersect. Do not be concerned about what God does; simply be concerned about what you have to do, and believe that He is willing.

On the other hand, God wants to meet your need, whatever that need is. There is no need that is too big for God. He wants to meet every legitimate need because He is eternal love, regardless of the impossibility of the situation. It does not matter, even if it involves the miraculous, even if it involves someone with terminal cancer, even if it means that someone has already signed the divorce papers. Consider James 5:13ff., "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church [a simple procedure], and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith [that relates to our attitude] will restore the one who is sick [This Scripture is a directive which has been given to the Church and is relevant throughout its history. We are not talking about an extraordinary, charismatic gift here.], and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. [Here is an illustration, verse 17]. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the sky poured rain, and the earth produced its fruit." Can you 'hear' this truth? You may say, "Well, does God want everyone to be healed, or everyone to be financially free, or everyone to be stress free?" Probably not, but that is God's business, not ours.

Faith has power with God, for it honours Him, resting on His Word (the experience of God is through the Word. The Word reveals and defines God). God answers the prayer of faith. It is the only prayer He does answers – "let him ask of God...and it will be given to him" (1:5b). What an assurance! Such assurance spawns confidence. God is prepared to do the extraordinary, even the miraculous, in response to praying in faith. He is even prepared to harness the forces of nature. You may ask, "Will God always answer our prayers in the affirmative, if we express faith?" Not necessarily. But He is pleased to answer our prayers according to His stated principles and conditions. Of course, James is not teaching an absolute principle, but a general one. Faith is necessary, but does not oblige. For example, a person's appearance at the local food bank is necessary for receiving food, but his appearance does not obligate the supervisor to actually give him food; but, no doubt, the supervisor will most likely be both willing and wanting to give. God's giving always remains an act of grace, which He freely does from love. To be sure, for reasons only known to Him, God will not raise up every individual suffering from terminal cancer for whom we pray, or relieve the misery of all the starving children for whom we pray, or give us millions of dollars every year for which some may pray. But God is looking for men and women of faith. If we ask in faith, God is pleased to answer, to the praise of His grace and glory. When was the last time that God answered your prayer?