[I thought about titling this post “James? Blunt.” but I thought that was a little too snarky and I don’t even like his music.]
I never liked the book of James. In fact, I have tried to avoid reading James whenever possible. Unlike Paul, James doesn’t start his letter with praise and encouragement; he just jumps right in and starts telling it like it is. I realized that James is written like a lecture from a stern parent: full of good advice but delivered in a very blunt way. The study notes of my ESV Bible state that of the 108 verses written in James, 50 of them are commands! Wow, that does sound like dinner with your Asian parents!
But hidden beneath the facade of a lecture is James’s deep concern for the readers of his letter. His style indicates his desire for his audience to take real action and not just read it and nod their heads in agreement. If James was so concerned for the early church to take his advice seriously, then it makes sense that we too, should consider the matters he addresses to be critical to the church.
It was in James this week that I learned how to get God to respond positively to my prayers 100% of the time. Often times when we don’t get what we pray for, we feel that God wasn’t listening to us or we failed to pray hard enough. But I learned in James 4:3 that we do not receive what we ask for because we ask wrongly! According to the Scripture, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
And there is the key. Many people take James 4:2 out of context: “You do not have, because you do not ask.” Name-it-and-claim-it based churches use this verse to suggest that prosperity is ours for the asking, just let your request be known to God and like some genie in a bottle, poof, it’s yours! Yet you only have to look one verse beyond to see what a load of garbage this line of thinking is. We don’t receive what we pray for because we pray for blessing, healing and comfort out of our own selfish desires.
Yeah, we don’t see it that way. When we’re sick, we pray “God heal me so I can do Your will.” when we really mean “God heal me so I can get back to the office before my work starts piling up.” The apostles never prayed for prosperity or comfort, not because they didn’t desire it, but because they already knew God did not desire it for them. When they prayed for healing, it was always for the glory of God. Healing was done in the name of Jesus, and the result of the healing was that someone, often many someones came to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Even Paul said he would prefer death to be united with Christ, but for the sake of the church, he remained alive to do God’s will even if it meant being persecuted, shipwrecked and imprisoned.
So how then do you get God to respond positively to 100% of your prayers? Pray according to His will, not yours. In other words, understand your motives before the prayer even leaves your lips.
Yes, I am being a bit facetious here. There is no way we will ever completely understand our true motives when we pray. God knows our motives better than we do, which is why He answers our prayers according to His pleasure, not ours. So sometimes we will suffer, even tragically, to bring about an eternal good in our lives or the lives of the people around us.
Still, just the thought of asking for something to spend on my passions makes me think a bit deeper about my prayer life. What am I really praying for? Is it for the glory of the Lord to be revealed or is it for comfort, prosperity, or recognition in my own life? These are all worldly treasures and James continues in chapter 4 to say this:
“…whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (v.4)
Ouch. But that’s just James telling it like it is.