Saturday, November 28, 2015

The twin-pillars of a solid prayer-life - James 1:5-8

Twin pillars - St. Vincent de Paul | Flickr - Photo Sharing!
James 1:5-8 "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."

The Epistle or Letter of James is invaluable for several reasons. For starters, the author of the letter is none other than the half-brother of Jesus according to the flesh - namely "James" (Mark 6:3). Secondly, we know that James' letter was the earliest of the New Testament books - predating the four Gospels by at least five years. This is particularly important being that we have insight into what the earliest Christians believed. Such observations serve to show that Christianity had retained its core doctrinal and life-practical identity following the days of Jesus through the end of the first century. The third important value of the book of James is that his teachings mirror that of Jesus. 

It is on this third observation that I want to spring board into the subject of today's post: prayer. We know that Jesus taught often on prayer and practiced it, as for example in Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 6:14; 7:7; 18:34-35; 21:13, 21). James too wrote on prayer in his short letter, echoing similar sentiments to that of Jesus (see James 1:5-8; 3:14; 4:2). To bring further focus to the post, I want us to look briefly at what James has to say regarding: praying in faith and not doubting.

Prayer is born and thrives amidst trials
Let the reader zero-in on James 1:6 "But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind." Prayer never begins without some type of tension or pressing need in the background. Prayer doesn't thrive in ivory halls or plush lifestyles. When you look at James 1:3-5, there we see the place of trials in the Christian life. James tells us we ought not be surprised when we are beset by various trials. In an epistle that speaks often on trials, James begins it by saying "count it all joy". Why? The process itself is not the cause for joy, but rather the intended outcome. Notice the process and the intended outcome of James 1:3-4: Testings-->endurance-->spiritual maturity and health. The process is designed to "work out" each step from the previous. Hence, under the pressures of testing God works out of me those qualities which may tend to make me not endure (selfishness, pride, anger, resentment) to yield forth selflessness, humility, joy and thankfulness. As I then in turn exercise myself in such Spirit-driven virtues, I will grow up in them and thus be made more Christ-like. 

As we move forward to verses 5-6 of James, we find of course the urgency to pray and not doubt. Both before and after these verses we find further exposition on the place of trials. As I said earlier, prayer is never born in a vacuum, but issues forth whenever there is a perceived need for God. 

The reality of a prayer-life with God explodes when we realize we're not being real with God
The surrounding context of James 1:5-6 explains why there would be the possibility of wavering and being double-minded. It is easy to pray with all the confidence in God whenever we are sitting on a padded pew on a Sunday morning. However, when the wind blows, will our prayer-life go with the wind or will it change the course of it?  The late great author of the devotional: "My Utmost for His Highest",  Oswald Chambers, notes in the June 9th entry: "There is nothing more difficult than asking. We will have yearnings and desires for certain things, and even suffer as a result of their going unfulfilled, but not until we are at the limit of desperation will we ask. It is the sense of not being spiritually real that causes us to ask." Chambers later notes: "You cannot bring yourself to the point of spiritual reality anytime you choose. The best thing to do, once you realize you are not spiritually real, is to ask God for the Holy Spirit, basing your request on the promise of Jesus Christ (see Luke 11:13). The Holy Spirit is the One who makes everything that Jesus did for you real in your life."

What are the twin-pillars of a solid prayer-life with God?
We know that prayer is born and thrives in the context of testing. We also have learned that by being real with God, the Holy Spirit enables us to soar in our prayer lives. James 1:5-8 instructs us on what not-to-do when it comes to prayer. Such instructions expressed in the negative can also be restated postively to encourage us in confident prayer. Notice the following twin-pillars of a solid prayer-life...

Pillar # 1. Begin your prayer by asking for wisdom. James 1:5
We see a perfect example of the application of such prayer in the life of King Solomon. At the beginning of his reign, Solomon was made keenly aware of his own short-comings in the natural realm. God had given Him a task - to rule the nation of Israel. Such a task required not natural - but supernatural wisdom. Notice the exchange between Solomon and God in 1 Kings 3:9-12 "So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” 10 It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, 12 behold,I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you." I find when I begin to pray, wisdom ought to be the first thing to ask for. Why? Even if I don't sense how far short I may fall in light of a given situation, in prayer, that natural inability is heightened. I need the power of the Holy Spirit in me to bring to bear the power of the risen Christ to address and meet whatever task God has placed in front of me. Such a consistent request for wisdom underscores how dependant we are on God for everything in our lives. 

Pillar #2. Ask in faith with a unified mindset towards God. James 1:6-8
We begin with the request for wisdom in our prayer life. But now what is the second pillar necessary for a solid prayer-life with God. Simply put - a unified mindset. James repeatedly warns of not being a "double-minded man". Quite literally, James is warning about being a "double-souled man" or functioning spiritually like a split-personality. Paul writes of the double-minded Christian, or what he terms "carnal" in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?" The only way in which we can be unified within our minds and souls is by daily focusing upon and bearing up the cross of Christ. 

The unity of mindset towards God that is desperately needed in prayer is acquired in "having the same mindset that is in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:1-4). The late A.W Tozer describes what it is like when we are "double-minded", and the cure to such a state. He writes in his book: "The Pursuit of God", page 52 -"(W)hy do they know so little of that habitual communion with God which the Scriptures seem to offer? The answer is our chronic unbelief. Faith enables our spiritual sense to function. Where faith is defective the result will be inward insensibility and numbness toward spiritual things. This is the condition of vast numbers of Christians today. No proof is necessary to support the statement. We have but to converse with the first Christian we meet or enter the first church we open to acquire all the proof we need. A spiritual kingdom lies all about us, enclosing us, embracing is, altogether within reach of our inner selves, waiting for us to recognize it. God Himself is here waiting our response to His Presence. The eternal world will come alive the moment we begin to reckon upon this reality."

The reckoning of the reality of God's presence is the unity of mindset's function in prayer. As the Holy Spirit works through us and in us in our prayer-lives - He raises us to truly experience His experience of Jesus the Son. If we will but install these twin-pillars in our prayer-life: asking for wisdom and a unified-mindset towards God; we will then have a solid prayer life per James' instructions in James 1:5-8. 

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