When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:3)
There is a poison that has infiltrated the church in the world masquerading as the “gospel”. Understanding this bad theology is important so we aren’t perplexed when God doesn’t appear to function in the way these false teachers claim. There are two flavors of the same false gospel known as the “prosperity gospel” and though it is hard for us to call out this false teaching, it is helpful as we consider prayer.
There are different degrees of this false teaching but at it’s core it goes something like this: God wants you to be happy, healthy, and wealthy… if you aren’t those things, it’ because you don’t have faith. The more faith, the more prosperity. The “name it and claim it” teaching goes along these same lines. If you “name it” in Jesus name, and “claim it” in faith, it’ll be yours… today’s Scripture destroys this entire false narrative. The God of the Scriptures isn’t concerned with your physical prosperity that is temporary and worldly, He is far more concerned with your spiritual prosperity since it has eternal consequences.
James writes that we have not because we ask not, but lest we be confused and tempted to think the “name it and claim it” teaching holds water, he follows up: when you do ask you don’t get what you’re asking for because you have impure motives. God cares about the heart of our prayers and thus the motives of our prayers matter. When we seek God in prayer above all else, we should seek His will. As it turns out, it may not be God’s will for you to have that brand-new house, that six figure salary, that healthy check-up, or that amazing new set of golf clubs. If we will remember that God isn’t some all-powerful, cosmic genie there to grant our hearts deepest desires, it will help build a proper foundation in prayer.
I recall Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane often and I think this prayer could serve as a stark reminder for us all. As Jesus spends his last night before the crucifixion with His disciples, he is desperately praying in the garden. On the other side of the sun rise Jesus knows He will face the mocking, the torture, the false accusations, the abandonment of His friends, and most cruelly He will face the cross to be put to a criminal’s death as He suffers for our sins. In His prayer He is almost overcome by emotion to the point of death and He prays: “Father, if it be your will, let this cup pass from my hand. But not my will Father, Thy will be done.” God’s will was done and the cup did not pass from Jesus hand…
As you prepare to pray today, I wonder: are you holding on to some false sense of what prayer is all about? Do you keep hoping that God might answer a selfish prayer with impure motives? Chances are He won’t. As you pray today, what if the things you are asking are contrary to God’s will for your life? Are you prepared, even to the point of suffering, to trust Him and His refining work? Although it may be easier to believe a false teaching about prayer and God, it is far better for us to pray for faith to trust God in prayer and that we would always yield our will to Him.
Father, forgive any impure or selfish prayers we’ve prayed. As we come to you in Jesus’ name, help us to seek Your will for our lives. When we pray Father, reveal to us the true motives of our prayers. Help us grow in this area as we seek to dispel any false teaching concerning prayer or faith. Lord, teach us to be faithful as you were in seeking the Father’s will knowing it is far better to suffer in God’s will than to prosper out of it. Teach us to trust you even when things don’t make sense and remind us that our treasure is in heaven. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.