Praying in Faith

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting” (vv. 5–6a).

- James 1:5–8

Today we return to our study of the biblical doctrines summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism. Question and answer 117 of the catechism continues its look at prayer, discussing the kind of prayer that is pleasing to the Lord.

We hear so much about the medical benefits of prayer, interfaith prayer gatherings, and so on that it can be easy to forget that God is not pleased with every praying act. As the catechism states, prayer is pleasing to God only if it is offered to none other than Him, that is, the one true God. This is obvious to us, but it bears repeating in our relativistic age. There is only one true God, and the only way to approach Him rightly in prayer is through the Lord Jesus Christ (Isa. 45:5; John 14:6).

James 1:5–8 is one proof text for answer 117 of the Heidelberg Catechism and its teaching that “we must pray from the heart” and ask for “everything God has commanded us to ask for.” The Apostle refers specifically to praying for wisdom, telling us that the Lord will certainly give us wisdom when we ask (v. 5). We cannot expect God to give us everything for which we ask Him, but Scripture guarantees that some things will be ours when we pray for them. Wisdom is one of them. Our Father will not withhold His wisdom from us when we ask for it sincerely, although we must remember that His wisdom is far above our wisdom and often conflicts with what others regard as wise (1 Kings 3:1–15; Prov. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:18–31).

However, though God promises to give His wisdom to all who ask, He does so only if the request is made in faith (James 1:6–8). John Calvin comments on today’s passage, explaining that “faith is that which relies on God’s promises, and makes us sure of obtaining what we ask.” Calvin is not saying that we can be sure that the Lord will give us anything for which we ask, for He grounds our certainty in God’s promises. We can know for sure that the Lord will give us what He promises us, for He loves us and never makes promises to His children that He cannot keep. True faith always believes God will do what He says. It does not claim that the Lord will give what He has not promised, but it trusts that God has our best interests at heart when we ask for things that are lawful but not promised to us. In such cases, faith trusts that the Lord is good whether His answer is yes or no.

Coram Deo

Many people today believe that Jesus promises them a high-paying job, a big house, health, and other physical blessings. They presume upon God’s grace, naming and claiming such things as their own. Yet while we may certainly ask for the aforementioned blessings and many others, the Lord never promises such things to us in this life. We cannot assume the Lord will give us everything we want but only those things He has specifically promised in His Word.

Passages for Further Study

2 Samuel 12:15b–23
Proverbs 3:5–6
Mark 11:12–14, 20–24
Hebrews 6:10–12; 11:1

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