“You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:2-4)
One of the most awkward times for a Christian comes when a friend or acquaintance asks for prayer that is unbiblical or inappropriate. Perhaps you have called a neighbor who has been sick for a week or so, to see how she is doing. Her health has not improved, so you offer to pray on the phone with her. What do you say when she asks you to pray for her healing by the next morning, so she won’t have to see a doctor. Someone in your family is has had financial difficulties over an extended period. They ask that you pray for a miracle check in the mail, rather than for wise financial management. What do you do?
James says that we don’t have something because we don’t ask. It’s great that people we know want us to pray, and hopefully, want to pray themselves. Jesus prayed often. One of my friends recently mentioned that she is reading a book on prayer because she wants to pray more effectively and wholeheartedly. I am glad there are many books on prayer, and many good examples of prayer, especially in the Bible, since most of us need all the help we can get. However, James also rebukes us for praying wrongly (to indulge our worldly desires) and therefore receiving nothing. One mistake Christian often make is viewing prayer as a formula; praying rightly equals getting what I desire. Instead, I propose that we should consider the first and primary benefit of prayer as “getting” the mind and heart of God by being united with him as we pray. Prayerlessness results in failure to receive many of God’s blessings, the foremost of which is fellowship with Christ.
If our desires are all material and carnal, our prayers will be ineffective since we are not engaging the Lord with our hearts but with our lusts. If we do so unintentionally, we should hope that God will confront us through Scripture and the witness of the Holy Spirit, and possibly through feedback from others, when we pray among fellow believers. Our prayers should have a purifying influence on our desires when we bring our praise, thanksgiving, confessions, and requests to the Lord. When our prayers are not consistent with God’s revealed will in Scripture, he is not pleased. Prayers that do not seek God’s glory first and foremost will likely fall on deaf ears. When Israel refused to repent of her idolatry God sent Jeremiah to confront them saying, “As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you. Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem?” (Jeremiah 7:16-17)
The next time you gravitate toward, or someone asks for inappropriate prayer, will you remember and put to use James’ warning? Will you ask God to make your desire for fellowship with Christ the most pressing desire of your heart?