************ Sermon on James 4:2b-3 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 11, 2007
"Ask and You Will Receive"
Topic: FaithAs this story illustrates, prayer does make a difference: prayer changes things, prayer brings results, prayer makes things happen.
Subtopic: Obstacles that Test
Title: Elijah's God Lives
In the book "Miracles in Black," we are told of an African convert who was left at a new mission station to carry on the Lord's work with a cannibal tribe. It was the dry season when Joao Mbaxi took over, but soon the tropical rains would be coming. Month after month went by, however, without a cloud appearing in the sky. Then came the time for the normal dry period. By now everyone was suffering, and many were on the brink of starvation. In all the years they had worshiped their ancient gods, the rains had never failed them, and so Joao was told that he must leave the country and take "the white man's God" with him. The courageous Christian refused to go. Then, flushed with anger, the chief warned, "If your God doesn't make it rain by sunrise tomorrow, we will drink your blood and eat your flesh!"
So Joao went to his hut and prayed for divine help with great urgency. Meanwhile the members of the tribe waited for the morning when the Christian leader would become the victim of their horrible feast. Just before daylight, thunder was heard in the distance, lightning flashed across the sky, and abundant rain refreshed the entire region! As a result, Joao was able to continue his work for Christ.
I We Must Ask Before We Get
A Why do we pray? We pray because we know God gives His grace and Spirit only to those who ask for these gifts (Q & A 116). Or, as James told us in chapter 1 already, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5). Think of Solomon. He did not get the wisdom he was famous for until he asked God for it in a night-time vision (1 Kings 3). James tells us that we won't get unless we pray: "You do not have, because you do not ask God," says James (2:2). The point is this: we need to ask before we can receive.
B Don't forget who are the people James was writing to. He was writing to servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ who were being persecuted for their faith (James 1:1). He was reminding them how to live out their Christian faith. He was telling them that their beliefs should be practiced.
For whatever reason, these Christians were not asking God for His blessings. I am sure they had all sorts of reasons. Some were too busy trying to make a living. Others were trying desperately to keep away from their persecutors. Still others were tied up with their travels and business. Some were so prosperous and secure and wealthy they saw no need to ask God for things. And some maybe did not believe that God hears and answers prayer.
C Whatever the reason, the Christians James was writing to were not asking, they were not praying. And therefore they were missing out on God's blessings. They were missing out on wisdom. They were missing out on grace. They were missing out on Spiritual gifts. They were missing out on love and joy and peace. They were missing out on victory over temptation and sin. Some were even missing out on life's basic necessities like food and drink and clothing and shelter. "You do not have, because you do not ask God." We need to ask before we can receive.
"You do not have, because you do not ask God." James is laying out a basic principle of the Christian life: we need to ask before we can receive. We need to be praying and asking of God from Whom all blessings flow.
Do you ask? Do you pray? Or are you too busy to pray? Are you so distracted by life and enemies that you cannot bother? Are you so rich and prosperous that you don't see the need? Are you so tied up with your plans and travels that prayer is way down your list of priorities?
All of us have needs. Unless we ask we do not get. Unless we ask we will be missing out. Unless we ask we are shortchanging ourselves on many wonderful blessings.
D "You do not have, because you do not ask God." We need to ask God before we can receive. Think, for a moment, what this means. This means God is the source of every blessing. Many people today think of the government as the source of every blessing. In our free market economy many think of Wall Street as the source of every blessing. Still others think of themselves, their abilities, and their hard work as the source of every blessing. And some others look to the church or relief agencies as the source of all blessings. Notice what has happened – God is no longer seen as the source of every blessing and there is no longer a reliance upon God.
E "You do not have, because you do not ask God." We need to ask God before we can receive. Think, for a moment, what else this means. This means we have a God Who listens. This means we have a God Who hears our prayers. This means we have a God Who answers our prayers.
Topic: PrayerIn the same way, God hears the cries of His people. Whenever we call on Him, and from whatever situation, we can know that He is listening and that He answers.
You have heard of the 911 emergency telephone call program. Where this system is in operation, a person who dials 911 doesn't have to tell the operator his location. His name, address, and phone number appears immediately on an operator's screen.
"911" has been a dramatic success. For example, a 6-year-old boy called 911 to report that his house was on fire. Even while the operator was telling the frightened boy what to do, fire equipment was being sent. A terrified girl called to say that a man was trying to break into her home. Within 3 minutes an arrest was being made and the child was safe. And in another city, a girl whispered to a 911 operator that a man was hurting her mother, and then hung up. Police arrived in time to capture a rapist.
II Wrong Asking
A The Christians that James was writing to had a couple of problems when it came to prayer. First, they were not asking so they were not getting. Second, when they did pray they did not get what they were asking for.
We see that James deals with the problem of unanswered prayer. Why is it that prayers sometimes go unanswered? What is the problem? What is the reason? James says,
(James 1:6) But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.Doubt is deadly when it comes to prayer. If you pray but don't really believe God will give you what you are asking for, then you cannot expect an answer. If you doubt God's promises or God's might or God's providence, then you cannot expect an answer.
We should not expect to receive, says James, when we doubt God will answer. We should not expect to receive, says James, when we doubt God's ability to answer. We must stand on His promises. They must be the anchor and foundation of our prayer. God promises to hear, He promises to listen, He promises to answer.
B "Name it and claim it" is a theology of prayer that many Christians have adopted. These Christians say you can have what you want if you just have no doubt. Make out your wish list and keep on believing and you will find yourself perpetually receiving. Name it and claim it. It is as simple as that. This is true for health, wealth, marriage, work, business, children, or whatever else you care to name and claim.
And yet, we all know it doesn't happen this way. Sometimes we can be fervent in our prayers and they still remain unanswered. What is the problem? James answers this in our text:
(James 4:3) When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
I received a delightful email almost a year ago on prayer and prayers that are not answered.
Topic: PrayerDo you see what needs to be done? We need to ask for the right things. We need to ask in the right way. We need to ask according to God's will.
Title: Prayers that aren't answered
I asked God to take away my habit.
God said, No.
It is not for me to take away, but for you to give it up.
I asked God to grant me patience.
God said, No.
Patience is a byproduct of tribulations; it isn't granted, it is learned.
I asked God to give me happiness.
God said, No.
I give you blessings; happiness is up to you.
I asked God to spare me pain.
God said, No.
Suffering draws you apart from worldly cares and brings you closer to me.
I asked God to make my spirit grow.
God said, No.
You must grow on your own!, but I will prune you to make you fruitful.
I asked God for all things that I might enjoy life.
God said, No.
I will give you life, so that you may enjoy all things.
I asked God to help me LOVE others, as much as He loves me.
God said...Ahhhh, finally you have the idea.
Too many times we think of God as being in the business of granting our every wish and desire. We think of God as being in the business of serving us and our wants rather than us being in the business of serving Him. We think of God as an all-powerful magician Who pulls out all sorts of treats for us from His magical hat. I came across a quote this past week: "Your cravings as a human animal do not become a prayer just because it is God whom you must ask to attend to them" (Dag Hammerskjold in Markings, Christianity Today, Vol. 35, no. 2).
C We need to ask before we can receive. But this does not mean we receive everything for which we ask. As James puts it:
(James 4:3) When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.Sometimes we do not receive because we ask with wrong motives. We pray for what we want, not what God wants. Many times in prayer we seek to further our own agenda, our own desires. I've told you before the prayer that a woman prayed on her wedding day:
Dear God. I can hardly believe that this is my wedding day. I know I haven't been able to spend much time with You lately, with all the rush of getting ready for today, and I'm sorry. I guess, too, that I feel a little guilty when I try to pray about all this, since Larry still isn't a Christian. But oh, Father, I love him so much, what else can I do? I just couldn't give him up. Oh, You must save him, some way, somehow.
You know how much I've prayed for him, and the way we've discussed the gospel together. I've tried not to appear too religious, I know, but that's because I didn't want to scare him off. Yet he isn't antagonistic and I can't understand why he hasn't responded. Oh, if he only were a Christian.
Dear Father, please bless our marriage. I don't want to disobey You, but I do love him and I want to be his wife, so please be with us and please don't spoil my wedding day.
This sounds like a sincere, earnest prayer, does it not? But if it is stripped of its fine, pious language, it is really saying something like this:
Dear Father, I don't want to disobey You, but I must have my own way at all costs. For I love what You do not love, and I want what You do not want. So please be a good God and deny Yourself, and move off Your throne, and let me take over. If You don't like this, then all I ask is that You bite Your tongue and say or do nothing that will spoil my plans, but let me enjoy myself.How many times aren't our prayers selfish and self-centered like this prayer? How many times don't we pray about our own pleasures and desires?
Instead of praying in such a selfish and self-centered fashion we need to pray for whatever advances God's Kingdom and Christ's glory. We need to learn to ask God for what is best according to His will.
D We need to ask before we can receive. But this does not mean we receive everything for which we ask. As James puts it:
(James 4:3) When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.Too many times the focus of our prayers is me. But, as I said a few weeks ago, you can never once say the Lord's Prayer and say "I, My, Me".
Topic: UnselfishnessIf you want your prayers to be heard, if you expect your prayers to be heard, their focus cannot be just yourself.
Title: Neither I, Nor My, Nor Me!
You cannot say the Lord's prayer,
and even once say "I".
You cannot pray the Lord's prayer,
and even once say "My".
Nor can you pray the Lord's prayer
and not pray for another.
For when you ask for daily bread,
you must include your brother!
For others are included in each and every plea.
From the beginning to the end of it.
it does not once say "me".
E We need to ask before we can receive. But this does not mean we receive everything for which we ask. As James puts it:
(James 4:3) When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.Too many times the focus of our prayers is wants rather than needs. In the Lord's Prayer Jesus teaches us to pray for daily needs; James is teaching us the same thing. When it comes down to it, what is it that we need? We need food, water, air, clothing, shelter, jobs, transportation, medicine, love, friends. What kinds of things don't we need? We do not need fancy sports cars, all sorts of recreation equipment, expensive steak dinners, the finest of wines, vacation condos, trips to Hawaii, and so on.
If we focus on luxuries and pleasures in our prayers rather than on the necessities of life, then we can be sure God will close His ears to our prayers.
(James 4:2-3) You do not have, because you do not ask God. (3) When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
As servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, let us learn from James the necessity of prayer and the way to pray.
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