The Haves and the Have-Nots
Failure in Prayer
James describes us as lusting, killing, desiring, fighting, and warring to get what we want and yet we cannot obtain it (James 4:2). We will go to great lengths to obtain the things we desire. We will strive, work, sacrifice, and pursue with all that is in us and still the possession eludes us.
We Do Not Ask
James generalizes two failures in this case. The first is almost unthinkable. In verse 2, he describes people with a strong desire to obtain. Despite all their striving, they have not because they “ask not.” Think about how hard we work and to what lengths we go sometimes to get something and all the while we have never humbled ourselves before God and simply asked for it.
As unthinkable as it is, I find myself there far too often. I will work, scratch, and save. I will talk to people for their advice. I will read several books about it and yet I have neglected to simply and plainly ask God for it. How could this happen? How could I invest so much time and energy into something and never have asked God for it?
If we are being honest, we have to admit that none of us excel at prayer the way we should. James’ point makes it clear that something in our flesh does not relish prayer. There is something in us that would rather exhaust us completely and then turn to prayer as a last resort.
Have you ever had to do a job that you didn’t want to do? Have you ever done more work to get out of that job than if you would have just done it to begin with? We all have. Why? Because we did not like that task. We did not want to do it. It is the same with prayer. We have not because we ask not. We ask not because we don’t like to ask. We don’t like to pray. There is something in us that would rather do everything else first, and if that doesn’t work, then pray.
We Do Not Ask For The Right Things
The second failure is much easier to own. We ask and do not receive because we have asked for the wrong thing or for the wrong reason. When we are not concerned about God’s will, we just ask for that foolish and momentary desire to be given. Usually, in hindsight, we are very glad we weren’t given that request.
This failure is born of self-centeredness. We are not concerned about anyone or anything else but our own wants in the moment. In that moment, we are more concerned about our will being done than God’s. Consequently, we are not heard.
And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us; And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.
~ 1 John 5:14-15
A Third Failure
Latent in this text is a third failure, and one we have more often than we think. Consider the verses near the close of chapter four.
Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.
~ James 4:13-15
If we think about this warning in context with the beginning of the chapter, we see the subtle point. We do not fail in prayer only when we have not, but also when we have.
Those addressed in the above verses have. They have the means to go into a city to abide, buy, sell, and get gain. They are chided for boasting that they will go without any consideration to God’s will, but this also suggests they are prayerless.
How often do we fail precisely the same way? We need a new appliance or article of clothing. We need a repair to our house or car. We have the money, so, Why would we pray about it? How many times do we check our bank account before, or without, checking with God.
If we are to “pray without ceasing” and to pray “always with all prayer and supplication,” Shouldn’t we pray when we have just as much as when we have not? Jesus prayed in John 11:41-42 to thank the Father for hearing Him, even though He knew that the Father always heard Him. This was not a waste of time nor a formality. Let us likewise pray and seek God when we have not and also when we have.