Why Faith is Not the Opposite of Doubt—and What Actually Is



January 12, 2019

James 1:5-7

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.


Prayer can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. From the evening news to the football state championship to the cancer wing of the hospital, the word “prayer” gets casually tossed about like a “topping” of sorts. “We will keep you in our prayers,” can be spoken almost as casually as, “Would you pass the salt?” In the New Testament, prayer means something decidedly different and infinitely more powerful.

In the New Testament, prayer means a determined and confident clinging to God in the face of challenging circumstances. For the follower of Jesus, prayer is not the last resort but the first response. Prayer is not the last second “Hail Mary” pass into the end zone. It is the strategy and substance of the entire game.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5 NIV.

Prayer opens the doorway into the wisdom of God. Remember, though, New Testament prayer is new. How? Remember how Jesus taught us to pray? “And when you pray, say, ‘Our Father in Heaven . . .” James reiterates that, teaching us to pray “to the Father.” The Greek language says it literally, “the generously giving God.”

Hear Jesus continued teaching on prayer, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  Matthew 7:11.

New Testament prayer is about asking and seeking and knocking, and all of this as the movement of faith. The person who goes to their neighbor at midnight for help does not come with a hopeful feeling that the neighbor will help. No, she knows the neighbor will help and therefore will not give up until they do. This is not a casual, “I’ll pray about that,” approach. It’s the unrelenting pursuit of a good Father. For another angle on this consider the widow’s take at Luke 18:1-ff.

It is commonly held that doubt is the opposite of faith. James will teach us that inaction, not doubt, is faith’s nemesis. Doubt is the opposite of prayer. Prayer takes on doubt with determined action, believing in a generously good Father God who will intervene with wisdom, guidance and aid. Doubt is a given for people. The question is how we will deal with our doubt. Prayer walks us along a path where doubt is transformed into faith.

Prayer is not worrying in the presence of God. Prayer means not letting go because God never lets go. “Worrying our prayers,” says James, is a recipe for complete instability and endless, aimless drifting, tossed to and fro on the waves. Certainly we  must come to God as we are, worries and all, but we approach with a determination to abandon ourselves to God, which initially means “abandoning our anxieties to him because he cares for us.” (see 1 Peter 5:7).

The timeless wisdom of Proverbs 3:5-6 captures it with precision. In these words lives the very substance and ethos of prayer.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.”

One final bit. You may be asking, so we pray and believe and then what? How do we know we have actually received “wisdom from God” in a certain matter? This is the critical question. To believe and not doubt means rising up into a new attentiveness and alertness to the presence of God. It means trusting the Holy Spirit is infusing your instincts with direction you can count on. It’s not a certain feeling or  a particular way of hearing God’s voice. It’s moving in reliance on a the generous God who gives and guides us, step by step. It’s a kind of divine GPS if that helps make the point.


God our Father, I need wisdom and I need it all the time. Teach me to learn to pray for wisdom and to not doubt that you will give it to me. In fact, increase my faith to the point of acting on the instincts that prayer is already being answered. Come Holy Spirit and make me bold like this. In Jesus name. Amen.


1. How do you relate to this idea of doubt not being the opposite of faith but the opposite of prayer? Do you grasp how prayer is an action strategy to move from doubt to faith? The opposite of faith is inaction. How could this change your approach to certain situations in your life right now where you find yourself stuck?

2. What would it mean for you to follow your praying for wisdom with really believing you will be given wisdom? What might it be like to move in faith that God is answering rather than waiting on some particular experience or sign?

3. How might you make your “asking” God for wisdom a more tangible act rather than a passing thought in your head (as our prayers can often become)? Might you try writing it down? What can make prayer a more defined, tangible action such that it can be an active confrontation of doubt?


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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.  jd.walt@seedbed.com.


Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.