1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
We need to understand what James is and isn’t teaching us about prayer in these verses. This isn’t magic nor is it telling us that if we really believe that our wish will come true. Instead, we need to realize how this ties in with our desires and humility.
Why do we want most of the things that we want? It’s because other people have them or because we’re told that we can’t have them. Our sinful nature often wants things simply because we’re told that we can’t have them. The things that we want aren’t necessarily sinful even, it might just be that we can’t afford them or shouldn’t go into debt for them. But the knowledge that we can’t have it makes us want it even more.
It is one of the most basic tenets of our sinful nature – we want what we can’t have. Think back to Eve in the garden. The serpent tempted her with the idea that God was holding out on her. If she wasn’t allowed to eat the fruit, it must have been because God was keeping something from her. It never occurred to her that God was protecting her.
So, how does this connect with humility and prayer? A humble person is one who is looking to do God’s will. This means that whatever they ask from God will be focused on doing His will. A person who is focused on doing God’s will is going to ask with different motives than a person who is looking out for themselves or trying to keep up with everyone else.
When we ask with God’s motives in mind, He will answer our prayers and give us what we ask. But this also means that we must humbly acknowledge that even when we have good intentions in mind, God may have greater plans in store for us than what we envision. Therefore we must pray with God’s will in mind as we ask but we must also ask that if God has something greater in store, that His will would be done rather than our own well intentioned will.