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?