Asking for what we want is something we do multiple times throughout our days: ordering in the drive-thru, asking someone out on a date/for marriage, asking for the daily things we need in life.
But what about asking for what we need deep inside – the requests in life that we don’t know we really do need? What about prayers we have said to God and wonder why they haven’t been answered to our liking, or at all?
In the book of James, James, a servant of God, wrote about asking God to take care of our needs, but it was asking God in a way that was with faith instead of demanding our way. In James 4:2-3, he states, “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.”
What can be learned from this Scripture is that we may not get what we want God to bless us with because we don’t ask with the right intention in mind. We ask these requests to fulfill our wants, needs, and desires and God wishes to bless us with our prayers, but only if they are to help others and glorify Him, not just ourselves.
There is more to unpack in this verse, as well as more verses that relate the same truth, so let’s dive in and learn more of what it means to ask of God with godly intentions in mind.
What Is the Context of James 4?
Written by James, who is said in the Bible to be a “bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” James 4 discusses the need to not be prideful but humble. This chapter also explains how we shouldn’t judge our brothers and sisters or focus on only what we will do tomorrow.
The book of James is a letter written by James to the twelve tribes scattered around the world, the early Christian churches, to share with them wisdom and truth that falls in line with God’s will and Jesus’s teachings. The earlier chapters discuss topics such as watching our words (James 3), enduring trials and being doers, not just hearers, of the Bible (James 1 and 2), not playing favorites, and putting our faith into action (James 3).
When we come to James 4, it is clear that the book of James is Scripture that encourages us to look within ourselves to see what needs to be changed, knowing that the trials around us could be handled better when we are one with God in mind, body, and spirit.
James focuses chapter 4 around talking about not being prideful, but submitting to God instead and being humble in asking for needs being met, as “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). The chapter continues by telling readers not to speak evil to one another, especially fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and to not believe that one’s day is dictated by oneself, but is directed by God’s will and what He wants done first (James 4:11-17).
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The beginning of chapter 4 gives an honest perspective to the reader by asking how wars start, how strife begins, and answers the question with another question of whether these conflicts start because of people pursuing their own desires for fighting and control (James 4:1-2). This leads into the choice scripture from James 4:3 that the reason most people don’t get what they want most from God is because they ask with the wrong intentions.
The verses to follow examine more reasons people ask for what they need for the wrong reasons. These include because people who seek to be friends of the world will become enemies to God, this leading to a sense of entitlement or being proud that could make it even more difficult to hear clearly from God.
What Does the Bible Say about Asking for Things
James 4:3 isn’t the only verse that discusses asking God for help with your needs, dreams, and desires. Jesus shares one of the most recognizable verses in Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who ask receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will opened.” The same is said Luke 16:9.
Jesus also spoke of what will happen when we do ask God in faith: “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matt. 21:22).
He also shares the same sentiment in John 15:7: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”
John 16:23-24 says “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”
James 1:5 also advises what happens when we need guidance from God: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
In light of these verses, it is obvious that we should ask is in a way that is to bring God glory, and draw people to Him, while also fulfilling the needs and desires we have. God won’t agree to prayers about getting rich, vengeance on enemies, or being better than others if it does not align with His will that we love our neighbors as ourselves.
Will God Give Us Everything We Ask for?
Even if we ask God for our needs being met with the right intentions, God doesn’t necessarily have to grant those requests in prayer. In fact, there are several times that He doesn’t. But we continue to pray and ask for things anyway.
When we consider what we are asking for in prayer, we have to understand and remember that God’s timing is not the same as our timing. He doesn’t have to make your requests happen at the drop of a hat, if patience, contentment, perseverance, and love are achieved in the waiting.
God is the one who gave you those desires in your heart. Sometimes when there is a span of time before something does happen, know that it is God’s intent to bless you with this desire He gave you.
One sentiment I always remember when I am struggling with waiting for God’s provision is remembering that God’s “no” might not be a “no” but a “not yet.” Or, it could even be a “I have something better in mind.”
So, don’t be discouraged if you feel that you are asking with the right intentions and know God can provide, but find that your prayer still hasn’t been answered or fulfilled. It’s not forgotten in God’s eyes but will be used to achieve so much in His kingdom and grow you as His child.
Spend Time in Prayer
James 4:3 gives us a strong dose of reality when James shares that prayer requests we have may not be answered because we don’t ask with godly intentions but worldly intentions. In telling us that we "have not because we ask not", James is encouraging us to continue on and endure in prayer.
However, the verse is not meant to say that you can’t go to God in prayer and that He won’t answer. It is saying more that when you take the time to determine if what you are asking for is something good for you and for God, then you come to the determination of whether it is something that you would like God to fulfill or not.
It's also the understanding that just because God hasn’t answered your prayer doesn’t mean He never will; usually, because God knows us better than we know ourselves, the answer to our prayer request is better than we expect.
Blair Parke is a freelance writer for BibleStudyTools.com and editor for Xulon Press. A graduate of Stetson University with a Bachelor's in Communications, Blair previously worked as a writer/editor for several local magazines in the Central Florida area, including Celebration Independent and Lake Magazine in Leesburg, Florida and currently freelances for the Southwest Orlando Bulletin.
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.