I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of “double-mindedness” in the life of the Christian. What Jesus calls “trying to serve two masters”. Trying to be a faithful Christian, but all the time looking over our shoulder at all the things we’re missing out on, all the opportunities missed, all the ways we could find more success in the eyes of the watching world if only we weren’t so “restricted” by our convictions.

It’s a topic that the New Testament book of James tackles head on, and it’s worth hearing what he has to say on the topic. Here’s how he introduces the idea:

“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. 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. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

The double-minded person prays to God for wisdom, but then doesn’t really like what he hears back in return. He doubts that what God recommends will really work out. “Are you sure, God?”

What God says is often very counter-cultural. He values different things to what our friends do. His wisdom is frequently surprising and very often not what we want to hear.

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

When we start to listen to the world, we enter into an internal conflict. We try to live with a foot in both camps. We want to be successful by the world’s standards, whilst still clinging onto God’s truth and God’s priorities. But the world is opposed to God and his truth. The one who lives a life wholy faithful to God will rarely be able to find ultimate success in the eyes of the world. It simply requires too many compromises, too much time and attention invested in the wrong things.

When we start to embrace God’s approval as its own reward, suddenly it matters less what the world thinks of us in the process.

“Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.”

There is hope for us who fail at this every day. It is never too late for repentance, and indeed the Christian life is one of daily repentance. Daily confessing our failings, including our double-mindedness.

“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

And so we have to make a choice: will we seek above all to be successful according to the world’s priorities, or will we seek first the kingdom of God? To choose the latter doesn’t necessarily mean some of us won’t also be granted the former. But it does mean to accept the possibility that we will have to forego success in this life, to stop chasing it as the number one purpose of our existence.