You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:3)
By now you’re probably thinking “it doesn’t work that way in real life.” If it did we’d all be Christians and we’d all be rich right? So what’s the catch? The “catch” is two-fold.
The first part is centered around faith. In order to receive anything from God you must have faith. Not for things like the air you breathe, rain, flowers in springtime and so on, you get those ‘gratis’ whether you believe in God or not (for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous – Matt 5:45) but for the particular things that we go to God for in prayer. In fact, James speaks about this in the first chapter of his letter:
“But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
Now the verse prior is speaking about wisdom but the general rule remains – one who would ask something from God must have faith that God will grant the request. Imagine asking your earthly parents for something – you’re not going to ask for something that they obviously can’t provide but something that that you expect that they can provide and you’d expect them to provide it unless some circumstance prevented it. Faith is the same – you are asking for something that you believe (expect) that you will get.
So what about wisdom? Well, that goes back to our introductory verse which says that first we must ask (how many good and possible requests go by the wayside because we never asked?) but we must ask with right motives. This is the second part and it’s both easier and harder than it sounds. Suppose we ask God to smite someone who is irritating us? It unlikely that God is going to honor that request. Instead He might ask you to preach the gospel to them! Suppose you ask for a million dollars? Do you have a legitimate need for a million dollars? If God gave it to you how much trouble would you eventually get into? For, as James implies, our pleasures often lead to trouble. But suppose you are asking a friend to be healed? Or you’re asking for the million dollars so you can start an orphanage? In this case the motive seems right but God, who sees everything while we see just parts, might not grant the request. He might see that you are not ready for an orphanage and all that entails; he might have other plans for your friend. The motive was right but the timing or other circumstance was wrong.
You might, at this point, be tempted to say, as I did, “What’s the point? God is either going to turn me down because I’m just asking for ‘my pleasure’ or He’s going to deny me for another reason. Why not ‘cut to the chase’ and not even ask?” Can you see my error? It’s lack of faith, the kind that expects that no matter what the Father has our best interest at heart, all the time. It’s the sort of faith that has to begin with a trust in a living God who is deeply, passionately interested in you, and wants nothing but good for you all the time. If we have such a faith then it becomes ok when we don’t hear the answer we want or get the things we think we need. We might be disappointed but our essential faith in our father is unshaken because he’s a good father, all the time.
This is why Christ said we must be like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We must get back that childlike faith in our ‘Daddy’ that assumes that he loves us, secures us and takes delight in us. But we must remember who our Daddy is too. We are children of the living God, the One who created heaven and earth, co-heirs with Jesus Christ. We have quite a family.
A closing thought:
Consider yourself at home,
Consider yourself part of the family.
We’ve taken to you so strong,
It clear we’re going to get along. (Dodger, Oliver!)
By: Jon Roark