James begins this chapter by telling us why our prayers are not answered.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 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. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James 4:1-3
The first sentence of Chapter 4 states that these people are fighting and arguing with each other. He asks what is causing it, then, in the second sentence, answers his own question with another question.
- Do the fights happen because of your own desires?
- Is there a battle going on inside each of you that causes you to battle on the outside?
They had desires for things they couldn’t get, but because they didn’t have them and couldn’t get them – they were killing each other with fighting and quarreling. There was a reason why their prayers were not answered. The desires were more than just a wish. They were coveting and lusting. To covet means, “to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others:”
God’s Will and My Wants Don’t Always Match
Have ever wanting something really badly? Perhaps it’s a pair of shoes and you have prayed and prayed for the money to buy them. They are beautiful and for some reason, you really, really want them. But, you can’t afford them. Then, one of your friends comes to lunch wearing “those” shoes. How do you react? Are you happy for her? Do you tell her how much you wanted the exact same pair? Or, are you angry deep down inside, wondering why she got them and you can’t? Sometimes, it just hurts because you really want something, you know you can’t get it.
The Christians Paul was talking to had gone beyond any of this. They were fighting and harming one another. Why didn’t they have what they wanted? 2 reasons:
3 Ways God Answers Prayer
These are two of the reasons why our prayers are not answered. Actually, there are several reasons why our prayers are not answered, not answered in the way we want them to be. Here are 3 ways God answers prayers:
- Yes. However, it will come in the way I know is best and the result may not be what you think it will.
- No. I know this won’t be good for you. It’s not part of the plan I have for you.
- Later. There are some things you need to learn.
I have had all three of those answers and the variations on them, and have learned that when things don’t go my way, God has a really good reason why. Looking back, I see times when I asked, begged, for something and I didn’t get it. I was disappointed, asking over and over, and wondering why. Years later, I looked back and realized that God had spared me great heartache by saying no. He just didn’t say anything – His silence meant no! Those events taught me a lesson reminding me that God’s thoughts are far greater than mine.
God Answers Prayer in His Own Time
I’ve also heard Him say, later. I didn’t like that answer either. I’m an American and when I want something, I want it right away. God just doesn’t seem to work on my timetable! Not only that, waiting doesn’t bother Him one bit. His timing is always perfect even when I don’t think so. God answers prayer in His own time.
Answered prayer doesn’t always look like we have it pictured because, not only do we pray and ask for things, we work out exactly how our request should look and what the outcome will be. Then, we get what we asked for and suddenly, things don’t seem quite right. You don’t feel as excited as you thought you would. It turns out that there is a lot more work or money involved than you thought there would be. Or, you figure out that you don’t like what you asked for at all!
Unexpected Answers to Prayer
Whenever my first husband and I would ride our motorcycles, I would always pray for safety for everyone. One day in 2015, we went for a ride with friends and I prayed like I always did. The ride was great but my husband insisted on riding at the back of the group. He never did this. He was adamant about everyone riding in front of him and upset one of the men who had already planned to ride sweep – at the back. My husband died instantly in an accident that day. It seemed that my prayer had not been answered.
However, here are the facts. No one else in the group was involved or injured. The people my husband hit, a family of four, were not even scratched in a 50-60 mph accident in which their trunk ended up on its side off the road. My husband died instantly. I always, always rode behind him – except for this one day. God had kept everyone safe and my husband was safe in His arms. My prayer was answered but it definitely did not look like I wanted it to. Yet, it was true. What could have been a horrible accident involving many people, wasn’t. Just one person was taken instantly into Jesus’ arms. I know that my prayer was answered. My husband is exactly where he longed to be – in heaven. That is answered prayer.
Here is a wonderful quote from Jon Bloom, at Desiring God:
“Therefore, we are often unprepared for the answers we receive from God. His answers frequently do not look at first like answers. They look like problems. They look like trouble. They look like loss, disappointment, affliction, conflict, sorrow, and increased selfishness. They cause deep soul wrestling and expose sins and doubts and fears. They are not what we expect, and we often do not see how they correspond to our prayers.
With regard to God’s answers to prayer, expect the unexpected. Most of the greatest gifts and deepest joys that God gives us come wrapped in painful packages.”
Are You Really Ready for What You Are Asking For?
At other times, we just aren’t ready for what we are asking for. God wants to give it to us but He knows there is something that needs to take place inside us before we can have what we want. He is not saying no. He is saying ‘later,’ and the timing is dependent on us. How many times will we have to go around the mountain until we finally learn whatever it is He’s trying to teach us? It could be tomorrow or 40 years. It’s up to us.
When He says yes, He sometimes does it knowing that we have a big lesson to learn about what we ask for. There is an old saying – be careful what you wish for! Maybe you have experienced praying for something – you got it – you were miserable. He said yes because He knew it was the only way we would learn the lesson.
When the Answer is YES!
At other times, He just gives it to us. Our motives are good. We are ready. He knows it’s good. Our prayers are answered immediately. In fact, sometimes He gives us things we didn’t even ask for just because He knew we would like it.
All of this is just like what we do with our own children. We taught our kids that we did not always have to explain why we said no. It was part of learning to have faith. Sometimes we explained but every once-in-a-while, we didn’t. Afterwards, we would explain everything to them. They liked it about as much as we did when God did that to us but we knew it would prepare them for a life of faith – and for life in general.
What Is Your Motive?
In the case of the people in James, God says they were asking but not receiving because of incorrect motives. They asked so that they could spend or literally – squander – what they got on selfish pleasures. The word used here is the Greek word hēdonais. We get the word hedonism from this word. Hēdonais means – sensual pleasure. Hedonism means the pursuit of sensual self-pleasure. So, the problem here evidently had to do with sexual indulgence. When they couldn’t get what they wanted, they fought and argued with each other. Their only reason for asking was for the purpose of personal sensual pleasure. Now we see why God’s answer was no.
Dealing With Answers We Don’t Understand
When prayer isn’t answered or is answered in a way we don’t understand, it is our chance to trust God. We can get angry and take it out on others or we can turn to Him in prayer. If God is silent, He has a really good reason. When He says no, He has a really good reason. And, if He says ‘later,’ it’s the same. He doesn’t owe us an explanation. The ball is in our court. We need to sit in His presence and wait. Wait until He reveals what we need to know. What we need to know might not be what we want to know. Also, it might take years to get an answer! Years of trusting, believing and waiting. Or, it might require accepting an answer that looks nothing like what we thought it would.
Answers to Prayer Often Wait on Repentance
In the case of the Christians James was writing to, they needed to ask for forgiveness, repent, and change their ways. If we pray for God to give us the ability to enter into sinful activity, His answer will always be no! Then, if we take out on others by fighting and arguing, His answer will absolutely be no. We have to change and put off the old man – the sinful flesh – which wants to control us.
God is Not Our Servant – This is Why Our Prayers Are Not Answered
God also says no to us when we are treating Him like a genie in a bottle. We don’t talk to Him or acknowledge Him in any way for months or years. Then, something happens and we run to find Him in the closet. We pull out the bottle, rub the side of it, wait for Him to pop out and give us what we want right now! This approach shows that we believe WE are God and, God-in-the-bottle, is our servant. He will come when we ring the bell, give us what we want, and then go away and leave us alone until we ring the bell the next time. God is God – we are not. This is not how life works.
Does He occasionally answer those prayers – the foxhole prayers? Yes, because He wants us to experience His love. However, that doesn’t continue for a lifetime. We must realize, not just the magnitude of His love for us, but also, our own humility before Him. We bow to Him, not the other way around.
Not My Will, But Yours Be Done – Why Our Prayers Are Not Answered
No matter what His answer is, our response should always be the same – Not my will, but Your will be done. It’s the same response Jesus had. If it was good for Him, it’s good for us. It might hurt, be hard to take, make us a little angry, confuse us a little, or disappoint us. He understands as long as the end result is that we allow the answer to draw us closer to Him. The yes, no, or later is meant to draw us to His heart. He will only ever do what is good and best for us. How could He do anything else when He IS love, peace, goodness, faithfulness, and wisdom. So, He can only give from what He is and there is no shadow of turning with Him.
“Every gift God freely gives us is good and perfect, streaming down from the Father of lights, who shines from the heavens with no hidden shadow or darkness and is never subject to change.” James 1:17 TPT
We Serve a Good God
All that He created was ‘good.’ He is good. He will only do good for us. So, His decisions regarding us are always good. He wants us to pray, ask, and believe. His great desire is that we engage in communion with Him. He also wants us to trust Him fully and completely – no matter what His answer is. We take our requests and place them in the hands of the living God who holds all of creation lovingly. Then we rest our heads on His chest, like a child, knowing that our Father will always do what is good for us.
You may also enjoy starting at the beginning of the Study in the Book of James – Lesson 1 Book of James
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