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You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:3)
You ask and do not receive. This person is haphazard in his asking God for things, mostly going to God when something bad happens in his life, or he wants to ask for something. The other problem here is that some pray about things that are not needed or according to God’s will and purposes. We want to pray about anything that might affect our relationship with God. (Philippians 4:6-7) The example prayer that Jesus gave the apostles shows that we should pray about God and his purpose. We can pray about material needs, our sins, and help to resist temptation. (Matthew 6:9-13) James is referring to persons who offer selfish prayers. We should only pray for things that correspond to the will of God. (1 John 5:14) Think of those praying at a Friday night football game. Think of those who pray for success in their worldly jobs that would give them no time for church or family. God listens only to the prayers of those who have a righteous standing before him. If our prayers are to be heard by God, we must make every effort to live a Christian life based on a correct understanding of the Bible. (Proverbs 15:29; 28:9) We must be humble when we pray. (Luke 18:9-14) We need to pray on behalf of the prayers we make. It does no good to pray for deeper Bible knowledge and then seldom study the Bible. God will know we have faith even before we pray, but there needs to still be an outward display that we really mean what we say. Only then will God consider our prayers. (Hebrews 11:6) I say consider because he does not answer all prayers with an affirmative. Sometimes, the answer is a no.
Because you ask with wrong motives. We should not pray with self-indulgence and carnal pleasure.
So that you may spend it on your pleasures. This is the same Greek word used back in 4:1. The usual meaning of the word (ἡδονή hēdonē) is commonly applied to the pleasures of sense and thence denotes sexual desire, pleasure, appetite, lust. In 4:1, it did not have that sense but does so here in 4:3, sensual pleasure or carnal appetite. Some are praying for things that would bring themselves or their family a comfortable living, financial security, and good health, which is a proper desire. However, others are seeking a luxurious lifestyle. Or some have been fortunate enough to become wealthy, and the wealth corrupted them to the point of desiring more and more, even being so bold as to pray for it. We need to examine our motives with the most vigorous scrutiny. The desire for more, or excessively more than is needed, can cause us to be deceived into thinking such prayers are acceptable. God does not expect us to live like monks or even have our basic needs met, to live check-to-check. He has no problem with the desire for a safe and secure life where you are not always anxious over the next meal. But those being addressed by James are a different story.
Their prayers were toward selfish ends, as they had the wrong motives. We think of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, as he initially sought to waste his father’s money on his selfish needs. (Lu 15:14) Paul tells us that there is a “constant friction among people, who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” (1 Tim. 6:5) Jesus said that our prayers should cover the basics of “our daily bread.” (Matt. 6:11) He said that we should ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to us.’ (Matt. 6:33) Again, any do not realize that God does not listen to everyone’s prayers, just those of the righteous. Who are the righteous? They are those who are doing their best in their circumstances to live by God’s Word daily. (Pro. 15:29; 28:9) We must be humble when we are praying. (Lu 18:9-14) Again, we need to evidence our prayers by working on behalf of those prayers. It would do very little good to pray to God to find a job and never fill out applications or go on job interviews. It will do very little good to pray for better health and then eat at only fast-food restaurants and unhealthy foods and snacks at home, and no exercise. It evidences our faith when we work on behalf of what we pray for, as this is what God expects.
We are fooling ourselves if we are using God in our prayers simply for what we can get out of him. This sort of prayer is actually idolatry. How, we may ask, is it idolatry? The pagans believe they can force a god to give them whatever they want by using unique words or phrases in their prayers. Jesus told us plainly, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt. 6:8) We can pray for things, but what we pray for must be in harmony with God’s will and purposes. If we are praying for a job that will require us to work 65 hours a week, causing us to have no family life and miss our Christian meetings, do we believe that God is going to bless our efforts?
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