You’re Praying Wrong
You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. James 4:2-3
Yesterday was a blustery day. As I drove home from church, contemplating today’s passage, my truck was pushed around by 25-30 mph gusts. Driving into or perpendicular to the wind was loud enough that I couldn’t hear much else. I tried to tune it out though, as I attempted to meditate on the passage. Then, suddenly, something radically changed. All the noise was suddenly gone. I’d not realized it, but I’d turned to drive with the wind and immediately, all was serene and quiet. I was still driving 70 mph, but it sounded like I was sitting still, and I could finally hear myself think. Bucking the wind was noisy, frustrating, and difficult. Going with the wind was peaceful and right.
This isn’t a bad metaphor for James’ description of prayer. In today’s passage, he said that we don’t have what God wants for us because we don’t ask. When we do ask, we don’t receive because we ask wrong. James said when we pray, we usually ask selfishly, going to God only to get what we want. For most of us, this is the extent of our prayer experience – asking God only when we need something. We see him as a magical genie who has the power to grant us our most desperate wishes and so, we beg for our will to be done. When we don’t get it, we’re frustrated because often, we’re fighting against God’s will.
It’s not wrong to take our requests to God, but according to James, we must always be aware that our desires are corrupt, even when we’re convinced that what we want is right. Jesus had this experience. In the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before his death, he had it out with God. My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will (Matthew 26:39). Jesus knew the pain he was going to face, and he desired to avoid it. So, he told God. In the end though, he sought his father’s will above all.
To pray rightly, according to James, it to ask not only for what we want, but also to seek what God wants. This is what I want God. What do you want though? What is your will? In doing so, we may learn to seek, not our will, but God’s will. Prayer can and does change things, according to God’s plan, not ours. Prayer also changes us though, as we learn to live with his will instead of fighting against it.