The Haves and the Have-Nots

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. ~ James 4:3

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. ~ James 4:3

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.

John wrote:

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.

Four Answers to Prayer

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? ~ Matthew 6:30

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? ~ Matthew 6:30

We generally consider a prayer unanswered if we do not receive the thing we asked for. Or, we might suppose there are only two answers to prayer—Yes or No. If yes, we have what we asked for. If no, we do not receive what we sought.

Those assumptions are overly simple. The Bible actually teaches much more than that about prayer and the answering of it. I do not propose here to go into a full theology of prayer, but to call your attention to four ways God answers prayer from the Scripture.

  1. God answers prayer by giving the thing sought for right away. Daniel received this answer when he set himself to pray and beseech the Lord to show him the meaning of the seventy weeks in prophecy. God gave the object sought even before Daniel was finished asking for it.

    At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision. ~ Daniel 9:23

  2. God answers prayer by withholding the object sought for a time, and then giving it later. Christ told an illustrative parable to His disciples to teach them to pray in light of this truth. He told them about a widow and an unjust judge who refused to relieve the widow. The widow finally received her relief because of her continual coming to the judge. Christ said that men ought always to pray likewise.

    And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? ~ Luke 18:7

  3. God answers prayer by refusing the blessing sought and giving a better one in its place according to His own will. Moses received this answer concerning his request to enter the promised land. It seemed a reasonable request after giving himself in service as he had to lead Israel there. God did not grant this request, but gave him a better blessing instead. He let Moses view the promise land and then took him home to the better country to be with the Lord.

    O Lord GOD, thou hast begun to shew thy servant thy greatness, and thy mighty hand: for what God is there in heaven or in earth, that can do according to thy works, and according to thy might? I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon. ~ Deuteronomy 3:24-25

    And the LORD said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither. So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. ~ Deuteronomy 34:4-5

  4. God answers prayer by refusing the object sought and rather giving grace to bear the loss or want of it. Paul received this answer concerning the thorn in the flesh. He prayed three times for it to be removed. God refused to grant the request, but He supplied grace sufficient to bear it in this life. Paul rejoiced at this answer.

    And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

This is one reason why we pray, “If it be your will.” We don’t know the best answer to receive (Romans 8:26). Rather we trust God in faith to do what is right, good, and glorifying of His name.

(This list is adapted from A Token for Mourners by John Flavel)

Psalm 89:47

“Remember how short my time is:
wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?”

~ Psalm 89:47

The brevity of man’s life is given no small attention in the Scripture. James reminds us that our life “is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14). Job characterized his own days as “swifter than a weaver’s shuttle” (Job 7:6). The number of the days of man’s life is compared to a hand breadth (Psalm 39:5) and “like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and whithereth” (Psalm 90:5-6). Day follows hard after day and our time flees as if pursued.

A quick glance at our text might cause us to put it in with other verses that treat of this subject. However, there is an important distinction between this verse and most others that address the shortness of man’s life. The distinction is one of perspective. Most of the verses are written man-ward in the sense that they speak to man to provoke him to realize his situation. Consider Psalm 90:12—“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Such verses exhort men to be wise and redeem their time because they have little of it and man is prone to waste his time on insignificant things.

Our text, though, speaks God-ward. It is a man speaking to God, “Remember how short my time is.” It should be considered a prayer, pressing upon the Almighty to remember how few the petitioner’s days really are. The Psalmist is crying out for deliverance asking, “How long, LORD?” (Psalm 89:46). This prayer is neither irreverent nor unbelieving. He does not doubt the deliverance of God, but he cries for it to come speedily.

The Psalmist feels a sense of urgency when he sees the people of God in disgrace in the world. He is grieved to see God’s enemies with a high hand defying the Living God. He cannot carry on with personal business when the Kingdom of God seems receding with its crown in the dust (Psalm 89:44). Though he knows his present condition is not the end of the story, he implores God that He will not let his days run out before the power of the true King triumphs.

The Psalmist qualifies his petition by asking, “Wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?” Several thoughts are suggested by this phrase. The vanity of how men spend their lives is magnified when set against the brevity of that life. So few days we have and they are mostly consumed in procuring the material things of the world.

It seems the Psalmist thought that his own days would be vain if God delayed in showing mercy. If the Lord were not working, his days would be consumed. He had the spirit of the old prophets who longed to see the power of God in their day. They had hope in the future, yet desired to see God working in their own day. They wanted to see terror struck in God’s enemies and for Him to be the rejoicing of His people.

We need this spirit in our day. A comparative minority of people continue to advance the agenda of evil and tread Christians under foot. Who will redeem their time in these evil days? Who will forsake all for the Kingdom’s sake? Who will beseech God that He act in power to confound His enemies and vindicate His own name in our day? May the people of God today have the conviction of urgency that makes them cry, “Remember how short my time is.” “Blessed be the LORD for evermore. Amen, and Amen” (Psalm 89:52).

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