James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote a letter that identified the source of humankind’s challenges and how to overcome them. “If any of you lacks wisdom,” James says, “he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 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. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does” (1:5-8).
God says that our problems come when we are unclear about our identity in Christ. We become double-minded–pulled in two directions at the same time. Ever felt that way? James says that double-mindedness makes us unstable” (NIV, other versions translate the word “confused”). I can relate to the feeling! We try to process whatever information we have to make the big decision, only to find ourselves pulled in two (or more!) directions. And confusion is always the result.
In my life, the instability and confusion have tended to show up biggest in three areas.
- Often the first to appear is a diminishing spiritual life. I become too busy to pray and spend time with God and his Word.
- This invariably leads to unsteady emotions–a mix of pride, anger, hurt, guilt, remorse, and a lot more. James would say of me, “He is unstable in all he does.”
- When I’m unstable spiritually and emotionally, a third thing is likely to happen. My unstable spirit and emotions will leak their toxins into my relationships with family, friends, and workmates.
What I’ve learned the hard way is this: instability robs us of God’s fullest blessings. Double-mindedness causes us to live a double life–we act one way in one environment, but a different way in another. For example, we are one person when worshiping on Sundays, but a different person when driving home. In Pilgrims Progress, there is a character named Mr. Facing-Both-Ways. That is us when we try to do God’s will and ours at the same time.
James 1:5 tells us how to avoid the heartache and misery that comes with living a double life. He says we are to turn to God. We need knowledge (the possession of facts), but more importantly, we need the wisdom to apply that knowledge. And this kind of wisdom is not something we are born with. We become wise by asking God to make us wise and participating in the process he prescribes.