The God Who Hears – Part 1: The Prayer of Faith in the book of James

Intro: How would you characterize God? The Bible is replete with descriptive terms. God is “Creator” (Isa. 40): the “Almighty” (Gen. 17); All-seeing; All knowing; Gracious; Love; God of Comfort; Holy; Just, etc.

  • Would you describe God as the God Who Hears? In the Psalms, David often begins his songs with a plea for God to listen to his prayer. Ps 61:1-2 – Hear my cry, O God; Attend to my prayer.
  • 2 From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. In Psalm 65:2 David addresses Jehovah as “…You who hear prayer”. From the human perspective, this is a very important characteristic of the God above. He is transcendent, yet in His willingness to hear us, He is near.
  • God promises to hear the prayers of His people. Thus, He puts His character at stake in answering us. He answers our prayers because of Who He is, not who we are, or what we have done.

I. Do You Believe that God Answers Prayer? Intellectually we would almost always answer yes to this question. Yet, practically I am not sure we have much confidence in God’s willingness to listen.

A. An Erosion of Faith: It may be that our lack of confidence in prayer, is not so much about prayer, as it is about our faith in God Himself. I wonder if we have become so reactionary to the false teaching of Pentecostalism and present-day miracle working that we are afraid to ask God to heal the sick or guide us in the decisions of life. We may have adopted the Deistic concept of God. The Deists falsely depict God (those who believe in one) as winding up the clock, setting it on the shelf, and letting it run down. But God who reveals Himself in scripture has shown His willingness to intervene in the affairs of men quite often. His nature not only allows for His intervention, but I would suggest that it demands it. He cares about us, and therefore will listen to our prayers. Our lesson is two parts – Effective faith and prayer in James; the substance of our faith that makes prayer effective.

II. Faith and Effective Prayer in the book of James: In preparation for the lessons on our theme this month I was drawn to the teaching of James. In fact, I think I could probably stay in this book. The letter is not exclusively about prayer (about becoming perfect or complete as a Christian) But I am impressed with how many times he makes the connection between the perfecting of our faith and effective prayer. It appears thematic to be me throughout the letter.

A. James 1:5-8 – If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, as for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

1. In the first verses of James we are called upon to count it as a joy when we have trials (troubles) as these are but tests of our faith in God. We cannot be complete (perfect) without being tested. But how can we account present trouble as joy? Are we to just force a smile on our face when it hurts?

2. We need God’s perspective. So we should pray for wisdom (not in science or mathematics or financial investments) but wisdom from above, that comes from God’s revealed words. Why should we ask God? I notice that James gives us at least two reasons in this text:

a. v. 1:5 – God gives to all liberally and without reproach. James presents God as one who is not stingy with His gifts, and he does not scold us or upbraid us because we do not deserve what He gives us. He does not make us earn it. The word “liberally” here does not just mean freely. Lenski says it denotes with …no secret, restraining thoughts. He gives “without reservation” and thus “not as upbraiding” the petitioner, not as scolding him for his lack of wisdom, i. e., for his foolish thoughts about God’s sending perplexing trials. We do not have to be afraid to ask God a “foolish question” because God is going to be upfront with us.

• This wisdom that we seek in gained through a proper understanding of His revealed word. Lenski explains…– Yet God has his means for giving the great gift of additional wisdom. This is his Word. Wisdom does not come down out of the sky. God’s Spirit instructs, enlightens, makes us wise by means of his Word. This corresponds to what Jesus promised… if we seek we will find; if we thirst for righteousness we will be filled.

b. v. 1:17 – Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. God does not change. James references the lights in the sky (sun, moon, stars). They can be observed to change or cast a shadow, but God, as the father of those lights does not change. His purposes for us remain constant, therefore we can put our confidence in Him. Truth is objective, and as such is trustworthy. Isn’t that comforting and encouraging in such a changing society?

3. 1:6 – Our prayer for wisdom must be in faith, w/o doubting. “in faith” is to be viewed comprehensively. To do something in faith means not only to do it fully believing, but to also do it in full connection with one belief or faith. The prayer offered “in faith” is a prayer offered in the full interest of a more complete or perfect faith.

a. Jesus promised his apostles, “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it”. (John 14:14) Although Jesus’ promise to the apostles was unique, the conditional nature of the promise is the same. I must seek wisdom for God’s purposes. I must seek it in the interest of my faith in Him. “This prayer, offered thus “in faith,” has the direct and unqualified promise that it will be given what it asks, for the one thing that God wants to do is to bring the faith of every one of us to this completeness.” (from New Testament Commentaries, by R. C. H. Lenski) NKJV

b. What doubting does James forbid? This prayer with faith is not confidence in the power of prayer itself, or confidence that we will get all we ask for. (visualize yourself getting what you want) It is a prayer that does not doubt God. We must not abandon God and turn back to the world. We do not doubt that God is the source of the wisdom we need. This is seen in the illustration James uses of the doubter.

c. He is “like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” The doubting man is as unstable as wave driven by the wind. He is easily influenced… hears one thing, he believes it; hears a contradictory idea, he believes that. He needs to place all his trust in what God says. Listen only to Him.

4. v. 7-8: “He is a double-minded man” – James uses a phrase unique to his writing, some suggest he coined the phrase, and others picked up on it later. Barnes defines this phrase as “one who has two souls… t is applicable to a man who has no settled principles; who is controlled by passion; who is influenced by popular feeling; who is now inclined to one opinion or course of conduct, and now to another.

a. In James discussion of prayer he does not define the person who lacks faith as one who does not believe in God at all, but one who does not believe in God alone. He has not settled his faith in God as the source of his blessings. He is influenced to place his trust elsewhere – first one things, then another. Adam Clarke says this man has a soul for God, and another soul for the world. James goes on to discuss the threat of superficial religion and an attraction for the world to the perfecting of the Christian. James tells us two things about the double-minded man:

1) He cannot expect anything from the Lord. He has no promise that the generous God he claims to serve will hear his plea, or answer his prayers.

2) He is unstable in all his ways. The instability that sabotages his prayers also impacts every other approach he makes to God.

B. James 4:2-3 – You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Notice in James 4 he connects violence and war to those who seek their own pleasure and covet the physical things of life. He also connects this human spirit of lust and violence with those who do not pray at all or who only pray for selfish reasons.

1. Here again, Ineffective prayer displays a lack of faith in God, and a lack of God’ perspective. You cannot trust in the world, and expect to get anything out of God. Friendship with the world in enmity toward God (4:4).

2. Effective prayer requires humility and subjection to the will of God. James 4:8-10 – Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

3. The humble spirit that prays for the wisdom from God, and gains God’s perspective through His words, does not boast about what he will accomplish in life. He knows that life is but a vapor that is only here a short while. He knows God is in control. So his mantra for life is “If the Lord wills, we will do this or that.”(4:15) We recognize this as the spirit of Jesus as He prayed through faith – not My will, but your will be done.

C. Then in chapter 5, James pictures the fervent prayer of faith as an integral element of everyday living. It is impressive to me that James begins and ends his letter talking about the importance of prayer. The faith that underpins prayer is the faith by which we live our everyday lives. Our lives are driven by the promise that God hears us.

1. The praying Christian is patient, waiting for the early and latter rain from God (5:7); if he is cheerful he sings, but if he suffers he prays. If others are sick, he calls for the prayers of others in his behalf, knowing that “the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (James 5:15). The wisdom from above teaches him that “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16) because God is a God who hears the prayers of His children.

Conclusion: If we learn anything from James about faith, it is that faith without obedience is worthless. Listen carefully:

  • James 2:1414 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
  • James 2:19-20You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
  • James 2:24You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
  • James 2:26For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
  • Jesus said it this way: He that believes and is baptized will be saved. ( 16:16) Your faith is validated through obedience to the commands of God.