What does the verse: “you do not have because you do not ask” mean?

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You do not have because you do not ask

The apostle James wrote about asking: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:1-3).

Context of the passage

It seems that the people James was writing to had troubles and contentions. And they often relied upon their own pursuits for what they desired instead of relying on God to provide what was best for them.

The apostle James in this passage presented the common truth that uncontrolled passion for fulfilling a personal pleasure often leads to murder. “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matthew 5:22). In God’s eyes hatred is as horrible a sin as murder. True happiness and fulfillment are not gained by force.

James does not necessarily imply that some of those to whom he was speaking were really guilty of murder. He was simply saying, “You lust, and because you do not have, you kill; you greatly desire but you are not able to get, so you fight and war.”

The sin of covetousness

Self-interest, if unchecked, grows into the sin of covetousness. The tenth commandment states: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). The wrong thought can promote a wrong desire, which in time gives birth to a wrong action (Proverbs 4:23; James 1:13–15).

This commandment reveals the great truth that we are not the helpless slaves of our natural desires and passions. Within us is a force, the will, which, under the control of Christ, can control every wrong desire and passion (Philippians 2:13).

Good desires sought by unlawful ways

God has placed good desires and basic wants within the human heart, and, in part, happiness is dependent upon satisfying these God-given desires. When people try to satisfy these basic desires in unlawful ways, they face sorrow, jealousy and contention (James 1:15). These church members were not acting in harmony with God’s design for their true happiness because they had not depended on God by prayer. Supplication means that a person is willing to ask for only what God is willing to give.

Ask in harmony with God’s will

Answers to prayer depend upon both the nature of the requests and the spirit of the prayer (Luke 11:9). He who asks without the willingness to act in harmony with God’s will is praying “amiss” (1 John 5:14). Prayers of this nature are certainly not answered because the things prayed for are to be used for personal indulgence. Such prayers, even for things lawful in themselves, God will not answer.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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