You Have Not...
You Have Not...
A friend of mine took his small son with him to town one day to run some errands. When lunch time arrived, the two of them went to a familiar diner for a sandwich. The father sat down on one of the stools at the counter and lifted the boy up to the seat beside him. They ordered lunch, and when the waiter brought the food, the father said, "Son, we'll just have a silent prayer." Dad got through praying first and waited for the boy to finish his prayer, but he just sat with his head bowed for an unusually long time. When he finally looked up, his father asked him, "What in the world were you praying about all that time?" With the innocence and honesty of a child, he replied, "How do I know? It was a silent prayer."
The book of James is filled with lots of practical instruction... teachings concerning how you and I, as followers of Christ, should live our everyday lives in relationship to one another - and in devotion to God.
James stresses perseverance through testing... growing in maturity as we become “doers the Word” instead of hearers only. Because, as James puts it, faith without works is dead... faith that does nothing is worthless... faith that does nothing is actually not faith at all.
Of course, James wrote his “epistle” - his letter - to believers who were a lot like us... they had strengths, and weaknesses... they had joys and concerns... they struggled with faith and lack of faith.
In other words, they were human... and they needed practical advice and direction... just like you... and just like me.
Of course, James’ words are revealing... and, honestly, they’re a little uncomfortable. Because they’re so relatable. They land in our laps! We can see ourselves in James’ description... can’t we?
How many of us have complete control of our tongues? We never say things that are hurtful? Do we show favoritism at times? Are we quick to find fault in others? Are we “double-minded” at times? Yes!
We all experience and exhibit actions and attitudes that are out-of-step with our faith:
Sometimes we covet things. We certainly have needs and desires (and there’s nothing wrong with pursuing our needs and desires)... but when our wants and needs cause us to “fight and quarrel” - as James points out - our desires are unhealthy, to say the least.
In fact, James says coveting leads to death. Verse 2 of our Lesson: “You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.”
Maybe the people James was speaking of were literally murdering each other? I don’t know! But I do know that we have examples of that happening in our world today. We’ve all heard news reports of some kid being killed because someone wanted his shoes... or some husband or wife hiring a “hit man” to knock off their spouse because they wanted the insurance money.
Of course; more than likely, James was using hyperbolic language in reference to those thoughts and unrealized intentions, that, according to God’s Word, amount to murder! 1 John 3:15, “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.”
Even Jesus pointed out (in Matthew 5) that if you’re angry with someone you’re subject to judgment... if you call your brother a fool you’re in danger of hell fire... and if you lust after another in your heart, you’ve broken God’s law against adultery! Seems harsh, but thoughts and actions are intimately and unavoidably connected. Sobering though, isn’t it?
In our Lesson today, James says: “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” In other words, for James, the problem of coveting and quarreling and fighting (and even killing)... all stems from a lack of prayer. The covetous refused to pray... or... when they pray, they do so with selfish motives.
Unfortunately, the people to whom James writes sound an awful lot like people today. There are Christians who are out to further their own agenda to get what they want by any means possible. Us against Them. Liberal/Conservative, Gay vs Straight. Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice. Literal vs Allegorical. King James vs NIV. And when they’re frustrated... they lash out at each other.
But James reminds us there’s a better way. Instead of coveting, quarreling, fighting over what we have or don’t have... as followers of Christ, we’re called to ask God to provide our needs.
“You do not have... because you do not ask.”
Of course, there is debate in theological circles about whether God actually “changes His mind” in response to our prayers. Some would say that God never changes His mind, that He will always do what He had planned in the first place.
Others go to the opposite extreme and say that God cannot or will not do anything unless we ask.
James does not really get into (or address) those larger issues. He simply says that, if there’s something we need or want, we should ask God for it, instead of resorting to the cruel and ungodly ways of this world.
It stands to reason that there are some things that we will never receive unless we ask (like ketchup at McDonalds). If we ask, we will receive them. So, if there is something that we desire - or need - we’re called to ask. As Christians we’re called to pray.
Of course, when James said “you have not because you ask not” we wasn’t guaranteeing that we’ll always get everything we ask for.
Today’s Father’s Day... A father might tell his child not to take anything from the tool shed without asking first. But, if the 10-year-old asks for the chain saw, the father, for safety reasons, might not give it to him. And... that’s how God responds to us. When we ask God for something, He reserves the right to do what is best for us.
Of course, James gets to the heart of the matter in saying: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives...”
It’s always better to ask God, and depend on God for the things we need, than to scheme and fight and try to get them at the expense of other people. But, there are some requests that are still selfish at heart...
And ultimately, when we want something, or need something... we should present those requests to God... and trust that He knows best... He knows what’s best for us. And knowing that... having faith in that... is what brings peace... peace that passes all understanding.
What are you praying for today? Health... happiness... world peace? We could make a list a mile long, and we need to be praying for all those things, and more!
But... “Prayer is [about] surrender--surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. [E. Stanley Jones says...] If I throw out a boathook from the boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.”
And when we do that, our prayers are always... ALWAYS... answered.
“You do not have... because you do not ask.”