We’ve been studying the conditions of prayer, because God’s promise to answer our prayers is not a blank check. We must meet specific conditions for our prayers to be heard and answered.
Condition #1: We must not cherish sin in our heart (Psalm 66:18)
Condition #2: We must pray in the name of (for the glory of) Jesus, (John 14:13)
Condition #3: We must maintain a lifestyle of habitual obedience (1 John 3:21-22)
Let’s take a look at James 1:6-8 for Condition #4, which can be summarized in one word: Faith. God promises to answer our prayers when they are offered in faith.
6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (NIV)
The New American Standard translation of verse six states this condition quite well: “he must ask in faith without any doubting”. And if we don’t ask in faith, if we ask with any doubt, “that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord.”
What a strong warning. It’s so straightforward, it barely needs explanation. If I don’t believe that God is capable of answering my prayer, then I should not be surprised when He doesn’t answer my prayer.
Why is it so important to ask “in faith without any doubting”? Think about it for a moment – if I go to God in prayer without really believing He can do what I am asking Him to do, regardless of my words, what am I really saying to God? In effect, I’m saying, “God, I’m making this request, but it’s really a sham. I’m saying these words, but I don’t really mean it. Truth be told, I’m not at all sure you can come through for me.”
John MacArthur has this to say about the prayer of doubt:
“A request that does not take God at His Word, that doubts either His ability or His trustworthiness, is presumptuous and worthless and is an affront….His request is not really a request at all, because he foolishly and disdainfully does not believe it will be honored by God” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on James, p. 37-38).
In other words, if I pray in doubt, I am questioning the power and faithfulness of God.
Of all the conditions of prayer, perhaps this is the one with which we struggle the most. Don’t we all experience times of weak faith? I sure do. So how do we know that we’ve prayed with enough faith? That’s a tough question to answer.
When we find ourselves lacking faith, we would do well to read Mark 9:14-29. The apostles were unable to drive out an evil spirit from a boy, and his father pleaded with Jesus to take action: “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (v. 22).
Jesus responded, perhaps sarcastically, “If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes” (v. 23)
The father then exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (v. 24).
May that be our plea, too. When we struggle with doubt, let’s admit our lack of faith and cry out to God to increase our faith by praying, “Lord, I have faith, but I need more faith, so please help me overcome my unbelief.”