The click-clack-click-clack that you hear as you begin reading this post is the fast-paced movement of your cart climbing to the apex of the roller coaster. After you reach the top, then tip over it, the ride down will whoosh by and end abruptly at the platform. As you unbuckle and stagger out of your cart you will think, ‘Wow, that was fast, what do I do now?” This is by design. Fasten your safety harness please, and keep you hands and arms inside the cart throughout the blog post.
Last night I read James chapter one before going to bed. If it has been a while since you have last read in James, then let me refresh your memory. James is written to believers who were going through persecution, the real go-to-jail, get-a-beating, or flee the county variety of persecution. Thus, James does not beat around the bush. The book is loaded with to-the-point teaching that cuts to the bone. While there are encouraging points in the book of James, it is, to me, mostly like a warm embrace from a python –the truth tightening slowly, but steadily, and without relenting.
As I was reading, verses 5-8 leapt off of the page. In brief fashion I will unfold what I learned.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 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. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James 1:5-8
James tells us that any believer who lacks wisdom — that would be all of us in some measure — should ask God for it. And God, who gives wisdom liberally, will grant it when we ask by faith without doubting Him or His promise to give it to us. There is where it gets bothersome. In verse 5, James records that God will grant us wisdom — and remember that wisdom doesn’t shimmer down from heaven, rather, it germinates from the steady planting of God’s Word in our minds and hearts (praying for wisdom is not a shortcut around receiving it through study in God’s Word; praying reminds us to head straight back to God’s Word for it). The next three verses show us what not asking by faith, or being a “doubting asker,” looks like. It’s vivid. If you are hoping for a Bible passage that quivers with delight and wags its tail when you come close, well, this ain’t it.
The margin for doubting God’s promise of providing wisdom in verse six is nil. We do not get to harbor a millimeter’s worth of doubt if we expect to receive any wisdom. Doubting God’s promise nullifies the request for it. Pause, think on that last line for a while. Keep thinking on it. That’s it, ponder some more. Ok, now, James said that we are to ask with “no doubting,” and then goes on to show us what a doubter looks like. The one who doubts God is like a wave on the sea that is tossed about. The word picture here is a clear one, and cutting. Notice that the wave of the sea is both “driven and tossed by the wind.” Verse 8 further describes one who asks God and doubts while in the process of asking as “double-minded” and “unstable in all his ways.” Ouch. So, how does one go from asking with doubt to being “unstable in all his ways?” It’s a short walk from one to the other; in fact, it is a leisurely stroll downhill, with the wind at your back.
A return to verse 6 shows us how this gets knotted up. It really comes down to what one is “driven by” and “moved by.” Remember that James said that a doubter is both driven by and tossed or turned by the same wind. The wind is doing the driving and tossing. To put the metaphor to work on the side of faith rather than doubt, a believer who is faith-driven will not be wind-tossed. Or, to hold the pointed edge toward your own life, you should ask the question, “what drives you?” The answer to that question will be what also tosses and turns you. If God-centered, Word-strengthened faith drives you, then you won’t be tossed. But, if anything less than that drives you … well then, you can expect some choppy water ahead.
What are some things that slip in line ahead of faith in our minds and hearts, and then cause us to be double-minded and unstable? Answer: lots of things — emotion, intellect, traditions, circumstances, to name a few. If you are governed by emotion, then you should fully expect for it to drive you, and then at its own whims, to toss and churn you along the way. Likewise, if you allow intellect, or rationalism, to sit in the driver’s seat, then you should expect it to turn the wheel however it pleases, whenever it pleases. So on and so forth with traditions, circumstances, etc. (I told you that reading James isn’t a happy, clappy giggle-fest. It’s tough. And, it’s good for us).
With this idea that anything other than God-centered, Bible-buttressed faith will drive and jostle us, it is easy to see how we can become double-headed and unstable in life (verse 8). Any movement — not matter how small — away from Bible-built faith is a big step toward double-headedness and instability. If you are feeling a bit unstable in some areas in life, and sense that you spiritual noggin needs three or four hats, then immerse yourself in James 1:5-8. It will drive you back to prayer for wisdom, and strength. You will then sense God nudging you back to His word, the fountain of His Wisdom and faith (see John 17:17, Proverbs 2:6-7, and Romans 10:17). His Word will then guide you away from doubt, spiritual schizophrenia, and instability.
Here is the abrupt stop. Isn’t it interesting what Jesus says in Matthew 7:24:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
Hmmm, hear his words, do them, be like a wise man, and find yourself stable on the rock. Those are the opposites of doubting, being unwise, being tossed about, being unstable, and having spiritual double-mindedness. In the spiritual game of rock-paper-scissors, Bible Rock beats Tossed Waves and Double-Minded every time. As you disembark the roller coaster, go find your Bible, read James chapter one, ponder on it, and you’ll have your legs back under you in no time…