The Book of James – Desires that Battle Within

Today we delve into James 4:1-3. James writes about submitting to God and he begins with our wants. Each one of us have desires that can be used by the enemy as a snare to seek our own will and glory, causing us to step out of obedience to God. James causes us to reflect on our desires that can lead to sinful behaviour.

What spurs our conflict

James, beings this passage by asking another one of his penetrating questions “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” (James 4:1a). James here is talking to believers, and he invites his readers to self-reflect.

If you have been in any sort of disagreement, be it something that you have outwardly expressed or something that you hold within your heart, think about why you feel that way.

And in answering your ‘why’, reflect on whether you are quick to look for unreasonable, inconsiderate, and selfish behaviour from another, rather than looking at your own self. And that is what James draws out attention to in the remainder of verse 1, when he says, “Don’t they (cause of fights and quarrels) come from your desires that battle within you?”

James draws out attention to the inward condition of our heart. In James 1:14 we read “Each one of us is tempted when, by our own evil desires, he is dragged away and enticed.” Our desires are not the most trustworthy as the heart being the seat of desires is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17), therefore, unless in submission to God, our desires can lead us into sin, causing us to act contrary to what the Spirit would want.

Our wants and our actions

In James 4:2 we read, “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.”  

Desires lead us to action. This verse highlights the depths of evil our earthly desires can lead to. The word ‘kill’ in some commentaries have said to have been used figuratively for ‘hate’, and in the context of this verse we understand that people not getting what they wanted led them to do hateful things. And other commentaries, understand it for what covetous anger can lead to. Hateful feeling, hateful actions and coveting are qualities that are displeasing to God. This cautions us to think about what unchecked wants can lead to, reminding us that if we desire to be people who live out wisdom from above rather than earthly wisdom, these selfish behaviours are not to be part of our character. We are to be peace-loving (James 3:17), rather than quarrel and fight.

What about desires that are good, a spouse, a better job, better finances, a better living situation. These desires are not bad in itself but James words caution us to submit them to the Lord too. God may say, no or wait but our impatience, pride and self reliance can lead us to step out of God’s will and timing. It can lead us to get Jealous and discontent when we see others getting these desires met. For example, Abraham and Sarah, in the desire for a child do not wait on God and try to make things happen their own way. Or like the disciples our pride can get in the way and we can be more concerned about who is the greatest in the kingdom of God rather than becoming more like Christ. And these reasons emphasise the need for all our desires to be submitted to God.

Why do we not receive what we want? James writes, because we do not ask God. Does this mean that anything we ask God for, it will be given? No, rather this verse reflects a life led probably acknowledging the presence of God but the reality of seeking Him out everyday and living to please the Father is not so much the case. Such a life of prayerlessness and dependency on one’s own self cannot stand firm when the enemy lures towards sinful behaviour.

James continues in verse 3 “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasure.”

A self-centered determination to please oneself rather than God is what this verse talks about. Our motives matter to God. If we seek selfish ambition or glory, would God answer us? Prayers that do not seek the alignment of our desires with Him or to glorify Him above indulging our own hearts can see us charge ahead with what we want that seems good to the eye and reasonable to our earthly wisdom.

How should we then ask

I share what commentator S. Albury writes – In Mathew 6:9-13, when we read Jesus teaching his disciples to pray, we see that Jesus taught to first pray for God’s name (our Father in Heaven, holy be your name), His kingdom (your kingdom come) and His will (your will be done on earth as it is in heaven). And then for our provision (daily bread), our pardon (forgive us our sins) and our protection (lead us not into temptation). The purpose of prayer is not to try and get God to give what we want but to align our hearts and desires with his priorities.

Psalm 37:4 says “Delight yourselves in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

We often focus on the latter part of the verse about getting the desires of our hearts, forgetting that it takes delighting in the Lord for that to happen. What does it mean to delight in the Lord? It does not mean that we delight because we get things from God, but it is in Him that our heart should rejoices in. Our Joy is in who God is, His kingdom priorities and purposes and not what he can do for us. Our hearts should delight in pleasing the Father. As we draw closer to God, our desires too draw closer to His.

Submit your desires to God

Pause and reflect on anything that has recently caused or causing you to feel angst or discord. How do we respond to those strong emotions that well up inside? Take them to God first and ask Him if what you are feeling is right, or if it is coming from a place of insecurity, uncertainty, envy or pride. And allow God to speak into those emotions – allow Him to temper those feeling and seek Him for wisdom and discernment in how to respond rather than allowing those emotions to lead to anger or even outrage.

It is easy to want and then indulge that desire, but God calls us lay down our self and be more like Him. And that begins with drawing closer to God and submitting our heart and our desires to be shaped by Him.

Reflect on your prayers in the last few days and examine if they are more aligned with fulfilling your own wants or are they pursuing your heart and your desires to be molded towards God’s purposes?

God Bless.

46 thoughts on “The Book of James – Desires that Battle Within

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  1. “The purpose of prayer is not to try and get God to give what we want but to align our hearts and desires with his priorities.” Amen, Manu! And I think Psalm 37:4 may be one of the most misunderstood verses of Scripture. If we delight ourselves in the Lord, He IS the desire of our hearts! It’s not that He give us the “stuff” we desire, but He gives us the actual desires for what HE wants for us. Then we ask, He gives, everyone’s happy. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the encouragement you gave us to take all of our desires and feelings to God so He can tell us if they are right. Doing this will help us to have clean hearts and draw closer to the Lord. Thanks Manu! ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Dawn. The closer we draw to Him, the more in tune with his desires and purposes our own hearts become.
      Blessings to you 💙


  3. Thanks for sharing.
    It’s important to check our desires and submit them to God but it’s easy to forget that. It’s a good reminder because it’s really easy to be selfish and have this mindset that we deserve all the things we want and then become disappointed and angry if we don’t get them. As you said it’s important to pray and let God transform us and our desires so that they would align with His will.
    Great post.

    God bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I so agree that it is vital to check our desires rather than feel disappointed with God or wonder why our prayers are not being answered.
      Thank you and blessings to you too 💙

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Jo. I appreciate it. As I study through James, I find the same too, I am challenged and encouraged. I also like that James is very straightforward, he is to the point.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Manu, I am really enjoying this study in the book of James. I have gleaned so much from each post. In this post, one of the key elements I found was the importance of prayer. When we meet with God often, He molds us and our hearts. This helps us to be aligned with Him and His desires for us. And then when we have that strong connection to Him, this in turn helps us to not act inappropriately when our fleshly desires crop up. It amazes me that God has an answer for everything we might struggle with. And the answer always leads us back to Him. What a loving Father we have. Thank you, dear friend, for this insightful post. I pray you and your family have a blessed weekend. 🤗🦋

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so glad you are enjoying this series. James is a wonderful book to study. I pray that our prayers are more focused on God’s plans and purposes rather than ours. We tend to have our own list of prayers, not that we should not take them to the Lord but we need to be desires for the things that God wants us to.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Oops sorry accidentally clicked send. It’s late here and I blame it on that 😉. Thank you my friend for sharing your thoughts. Have a wonderful weekend 💙

      Liked by 1 person

  5. If there is one secret of prayer I have learned in my life is that, when you pray in line with God’s will then you sure God will answer that prayer but when you pray prayers that aren’t in line with his will, they go unanswered. Before I pray about something I have to analyze and find out is it my will or it is will that I should have this 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So true. As we draw close to God, our desires too align with his and there is a sense of peace and contentment that comes along with that as we do not strive to get what is against the Father’s wishes.


  6. As a child, we all had desires we wanted fulfilled right away. As we grow in age and hopefully closer to God, we learn to be thankful for all we have and to align our desires to what God wants for us. However, it is still easy to get distracted by worldly goods and our selfish “me first” behaviors. Thanks for the great reminder, Manu! I am enjoying this study of the book of James. 💖✨🌺

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree Jeanne, with age and maturity in the spirit, we come to know this but as you we tend to get distracted and have to remind ourselves of it.
      Thank you so much Jeanne 🤗💙

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Manu! Great post! One of my desires is I need order. It helps with my A.D.D. bc clutter strips me from focusing. But I’ll watch myself go too far. When I yell at my husband bc he left a cupboard door open or didn’t put the jelly on the right shelf (and it’s late and I’m tired,) does that warrant a raised vocal tone? 😒🤔😒

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Marla, I like order too and things being kept in its proper place. I ignore it usually or right it myself. But like you said when I am tired or I already am on edge because of something else, a tiny thing will make it easier for me to snap. I am not happy with that behaviour and wish that I would not let it get to me. I am working on it too. Not always Responding in the flesh is a process to learn, isn’t it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Amen sister! I’m glad it happens to you too bc I look up to you and now I will think of you when it’s happening and pray for strength. For both of us. ❤❤❤

        Liked by 1 person

  8. This is a good and convicting word! It goes with our sermon from today as well. The sermon today was Matt 13 and parable of the sower, I definitely need to meditate on what kind of soil I am, what am I desiring, etc. I need to submit myself to Christ! Thank you for your effort with this series!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mandy! Thank you. I guess we all need to reflect- what kind of soil we are or what are the desires within our hearts. These sort of self reflections help us stay on the path rather than drift gradually. We need these reminders and it causes us to look within.
      How are you doing my friend?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am good! I finally finished my class, thank you for your support, love, prayers, encouragement!! How are you doing?! I am SO thankful for you!!! 🤗🤗🤗🤗🧡🧡🧡🧡🧡🙏🙏🙏🙏🐶🐶🐶🐶

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am thankful for you too my dear friend. Glad to hear your classes finished am assuming a short break and then back to it or are you completely done.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I am doing good. Have had a busy few weeks and also some stressful ones. I tend to stress easily and I have to be very intentional with taking all of it to the Lord otherwise I feel very easily overwhelmed with it all. So although on one hand it has been stressful, I have been drawing close to God and that has been wonderful. The weather here is gloomy with rain but we are predicted to have some sunshine for a few days and I am looking forward to it. I love my walks with my fur baby and some ☀️. Not when I feel like I need a hazmat suit to get out in this wind and rain.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. It is a beautiful thing to find His love in our hearts, after so long being in pain…emotionally and physically. But of this conditional world that He gave us, we will truly appreciate that unconditional love underneath it all when we peel away those layers that this world brings…and finally find Him inside us. It is in experiencing sadness that we will then appreciate happiness truly, and on through all those emotions we hold…and in experiencing conditional love, only then can we truly see and appreciate His unconditional love by going through it. Great post, thank you for sharing ❤️ 🙏🏽 🦋

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The joy is experiencing his unconditional love – yes, it comes when we peel back those layers. And oftentimes it is sad times that bring us close to God. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. Appreciate it.

    Liked by 1 person

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