What if a Christian doctrine was based on a misinterpretation of just one verse? Out of over 23,000 verses, that’s not even half of 1 percent. That just couldn’t be important, could it? Maybe.
All we need to do is ask.
Sometimes I hear Christians say, “We have not because we ask not,” which comes from James 4:2. Their tone suggests that God won’t meet their needs unless they ask, and they must keep asking so eventually they will get the answer they want. If more people pray and believe, God will have to listen.
The context of James 4 suggests something different.
Do you know what James’s topic was? How to move closer to God, not how to get what we want. Greed was causing the strife in the Christian community and distancing people from God. Move closer to God, and he will move closer to you (James 4:8). Fully submit to God, and Satan has no reason to hang around (James 4:7).
First, James identifies the problem.
“What causes quarrels and fighting among you? Isn’t it because of your conflicting self-serving desires? You want things but don’t have them, so you plot and prey upon others to get them” (James 4:1–2).
James concludes verse 2 with the often-quoted truism:
“You have not, because you ask not.”
At least we assume that’s what he’s saying. We would very much like for it to be true.
Actually, James says people weren’t asking for the right things.
Greed led people to ask for the wrong things, to satisfy their self-serving desires, and not ask for the right things. So we might continue James’s message this way:
“Still you don’t get what you want, because you’re not asking God for what he wants. Even when you ask, your motives are wrong when you seek more for yourself, not to help others” (James 4:2–3).
The world’s standards shouldn’t define what is good.
God’s standards are based on giving, not greed. So I shouldn’t be surprised that God might want something different from what I think is good.
As James goes on to say, “You unfaithful spouses, don’t you know that what’s acceptable in society can be abhorred by God? A friend of the world is an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Am I praying for what I want or what God wants?
I often ask myself that question, because I can easily be like my young grandchildren. Guess where they wanted to take me for my birthday: Chuck E. Cheese. Since it was what they wanted, they assumed it had to be what Grampa wanted.
I wonder if I appear just a bit silly to God when I ask for what I want, as if he didn’t already know. Instead, I think I need to focus my prayer on hearing what God wants.
Out of his glorious resources in Christ Jesus, my God will take care of everything you need. — Philippians 4:19