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, NIV)
James wrote to the Christian community at large to encourage them along the lines of faith. He observed that many believers were compromised their faith in various ways that led to ineffective prayer. He identified several different ways that believers undermined the effectiveness of their prayers.
First, people were troubled when trials and tribulations come upon them. They accused God of bringing these trials when it is really their own selfish desires. Their lack of faith in God’s goodness led to double-mindedness and doubt (James 1:2-8, 13-14).
Next, some believers were superficial in their reading of God’s word. Their reading of the word did not lead to a change in behavior or speech. They continued to live by the world’s values. James emphasized that they were set free not by merely reading God’s word but by putting it into practice and being transformed by it (James 1:21-27).
Other believers were still so caught up in climbing the social ladder that they showed favoritism to the rich. They were so concerned with earning the favor of the wealthy that they dishonored the poor that God had chosen (James 2:1-7).
These compromises in their faith led to several consequences including quarrels among the community of believers and ineffective prayer. Some believers were so caught up in their own selfish ambition that they did not even think to ask of God. When they did stop to include God in their plans, God rejected their prayers (James 4:3). God saw their hearts and was not fooled.
Yet, God continued to reach out to those in the community of faith who were wayward. He is always willing to receive them back. James encouraged the people to turn back and come near to God with the promise that God will draw near to them. The pathway to effective prayer is to submit to God and resist the devil. Believers have a responsibility to wash their hands of sin and to purify their hearts by God’s word. As they humble themselves, confess their sins, and turn to God, God will lift them up.
They will also find that their prayers have now become powerful and effective.
Prayer: Father in Heaven, I humble myself before you. Show me what I can do today to live the way you want me to. Amen.