…you do not have because you do not ask… (James 4:2, N.K.J.V.)
One of my favorite memories from raising two boys took place in a fast-food restaurant following a baseball game. My oldest son, Ryan, was a freshman in high school and had played a j.v. game in another county. Since it was a school night, and the varsity game would be late in ending, the varsity coach allowed the j.v. players to ride home with their parents rather than wait to ride the bus after the varsity game. So, when the j.v. game ended, Ryan got in the car with me and we headed for home.
I knew that he hadn’t had any supper and was hungry enough to eat the car dash, so I stopped at a fast-food restaurant on the way home. We went inside, got our food, and sat down at a table to eat. Now it was time to pray. As was our custom, each of us prayed individually and silently. Normally I would pray longer than Ryan on such occasions, but this time I opened my eyes and saw that he was still praying. As a matter of fact, he prayed quite a bit longer than I had before he finally opened his eyes.
Being the nosy parent I am, I just had to ask him why he had prayed so long. I was thinking that maybe he was thanking God for allowing him to play a good game, asking Him to help the varsity team win, or something along those lines. What I learned, though, was that I wasn’t even in the right ballpark (pun fully intended). Upon hearing my question, Ryan grinned a little as if he had been caught doing something he didn’t particularly want to share, and then he looked at me and said, “I was asking God to help you let me get a dessert.” I couldn’t help but crack up at the boy’s honest admission, and at that point there was no way I was getting out of that restaurant without having to pay for a dessert.
I hesitate to use those closing words from James 4:2 as a text passage for this post due to the fact that they must be understood in their proper context. And what is that context? James is talking about how Christians, just like lost unbelievers, are prone to get caught up in materialism, social status, and the pursuit of worldly pleasures. Rather than ask God for these things and receive them by way of His plan and timing, we claw, scratch, plot, and scheme to get them. We’ll even take them through conflict, sometimes intense conflict, if necessary. The point is, our whole approach to getting stuff is off base. Even when we do actually ask God to give us what we want, He refuses our requests because our motivation for wanting the stuff is wrong (James 4:3). It’s wrong because it comes from a place of worldliness rather than godliness (James 4:4).
I’m taking the time to explain the context of James 4:2 because I don’t want you to interpret the words “…you do not have because you do not ask” as a blank check by which you can play “name it and claim it” with God. Going back to my story about Ryan, if he wanted that dessert simply because he wanted to get something that his younger brother Royce wouldn’t be getting that night, or if he planned to take my money by force if I wouldn’t buy the dessert for him, that would be in keeping with the context of James 4:2. But because his motivation wasn’t sinful, it’s not surprising that God granted his request by melting my heart enough to get me to buy the dessert even though I was in a hurry to get back home and wasn’t itching to spend more money on that meal.
Christian, the takeaway lesson for you from this post is two-fold. First, you should never be shy about asking God to give you the things you desire. He is, after all, your heavenly Father, a Father who enjoys sending down good gifts (James 1:17). Second, you should always examine your heart before making any request to God. What is your motivation for wanting that thing? Are you willing to wait on God’s plan and timing to receive it? Will you strive to get it on your own even if God turns you down? And are you prepared to hurt someone else if that’s what it takes for you to get it? These are serious questions, and they serve as the foundation upon which you should build any request to God. If, however, your answers to them are sinless and acceptable to God, you are at liberty to ask Him for exactly what you want. Even if it’s something as trivial as a dessert from a fast-food restaurant, there’s certainly no reason not to ask.