“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that
battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you
can not have what you want. 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, NIV).
the fall of Adam and humankind's sinful nature, people are unbalanced: They want
what they want—at any cost. This is the very essence of selfishness and therefore
at the root of the disturbances to which James is referring. When people are determined
to fulfill the desires of their minds and the passions of their bodies, every sort
of evil is bound to result.
Certainly conflicts within the church do stem from such
root causes as jealousy, envy, self-seeking, and the like. Churches have been torn
apart from within as a result of such activities going on unchecked. Thus, Christians
always need to be on the guard against the kind of complacency that lets evil get
However, in a broader sense, the same kind of character defects and sins
that work among church members work among groups and nations as well. Wars may not,
in every case at least, be the mere result of the sum total of individual conflicts.
Yet personal sins, such as jealousy, greed, and the like, do infect society and produce
a climate in which war becomes almost inevitable. Covetousness, rivalries, the unbridled
quest for gain—these evils not only wreck homes and blight lives, but may well seize
It is interesting to note that James says, “You cannot have what you
want.” This is almost a universal principle of human psychology: rapacious desire
to possess or “have” anything often leads to poverty, loss, and destitution. Greed
and coveting are self-defeating. The more one wants, the less one has. Yet we never
seem to learn this truth.
Our very desires affect our prayer lives, James says. We
do not have because we do not ask, and when we do ask, we ask with wrong motives
and so don't receive what we want. Here is an answer to those who say that it is
really unbelief to preface our prayers with “If it be Thy will....” We are not to
presume that we necessarily know God's will or even want it. Our mere strong desire
for something is not necessarily evidence that God gave us that desire and that we
should pray in faith for its fulfilment. We must look to our “motives” as James says.
it is just characteristic of the times in which we live, where it has become necessary
to have two-income families just to stay even financially, but there is a growing
movement among some Christians to “name it and claim it” for God when it comes to
material needs. “For Jesus' sake. Amen!”
Prayers for genuine needs are answered, but
can you see how we can perhaps be “innocently” carried away by our own desires? The
word translated “desires” in the NIV is the same Greek word from which we get “hedonism,”
a term often used of the self-indulgent. Yes, James named one of the reasons why
certain prayers may go unanswered: selfish desires.
One's goals should glorify God.
“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of
God” (1 Corinthians 10:310). If you live by the philosophy of those words, you will
see your prayers answered. But if you are selfish, self-centred, or self-indulgent,
your prayers will not be answered. Pretty simple truth, yet profound!
Michael W. Cochran
Christian Writer/Freelance Writer