You Have Not Because You Ask Not: The Meaning of James 4:2-3

You Have Not Because You Ask Not

Do you want to be successful? Of course, you do! But are you asking for what you want? In James 4:2-3, we see that God tells you that you have not because you ask not. This means that if we want something, we need to ask for it. Too often, people give up on their dreams because they don’t think they will ever come true. But with faith and a little bit of effort, anything is possible! So today, let’s take a look at James 4:2-3 and learn more about the meaning behind it.

Jesus says, “Ask and you will receive,” and this is a popular Scripture to quote—particularly when you are asking for something in your life. Jesus encourages us to “ask” in several places in the Bible, so it’s reasonable to think that if you don’t have anything, it’s because you didn’t ask for it.

Does this imply that God will fulfill my every desire? Is that what James really meant…or is there more to the story? That’s true, but there’s more to the story. We’ll dig deeper on intentions as we delve into the biblical concept that you “have not” since you “ask not.”

Who Is James Talking To?

Take a few minutes to go through this passage in James, and consider: who is James speaking to?

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 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. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. – James 4:1-3

Is James really addressing Christians in this passage? Because he uses words like fights, quarrels, kill, and covet, it might be difficult to believe. He is nevertheless talking to Christians. More significantly, he’s providing a powerful reminder of the right attitude you must have when you come to prayer. It’s as if James is giving you a litmus test to take with you when you go pray.

You Have Not Because You Ask Not

Why Are You Asking? An Investigation of Motives

When you look closely at not owing because of asking not, it becomes clear that the issue isn’t with the asking. The issue is with your reason for asking.

Some of these wrong objectives that James identifies, however, are merely symptoms of a deeper need. The driving force behind all the others is a burning ambition to acquire something you don’t have. Coveting is defined as being envious of someone else’s possession or having a strong desire to obtain something that does not belong to you.

What is the difference between feeling grateful and experiencing this emotion? One approach is to consider how you feel when you see other people being blessed and it appears like God is passing you by. Do you rejoice in the blessing of others or despise them when someone tells about how God has blessed them?

Do you prefer being envious of others rather than celebrating with them when they obtain a new job, promotion, new house, or any other number of material blessings? If that’s the case, beware; because the “covet monster” may be stirring up inside you. So next time someone tells you about what God is doing in their life, rejoice with them!

The Bible instructs us to rejoice with those who are happy. (Rom. 12:15)

The Negative Power of Coveting

Anger, for example, is a destructive and harmful emotion. It’s not only unhealthy, but it also promotes fights, rifts, and even murder. I must emphasize that James is addressing Christians in this passage. The remarkable aspect of this want is that it originates from within you. This serves as a lesson to how deceptive the human heart can be while also demonstrating how powerful your carnal nature may be if you let it go unchecked.

When James reminds us in James 4:2 that we have not because we ask not, we must first realize that it’s wonderful and that God is doing you a favor. In other words, thank God for the following verse:

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. – James 4:3

God does not respond to petitions that are offered with improper intentions. Can you imagine how we would be if God responded to our pleas that were motivated by selfish desires? We’d all be a disaster.

In James 2, we learn that while asking matters and faith does—as God reminds us through the passage—motives are even more important.

You Have Not Because You Ask Not

The Problem of Unfulfilled Expectations

Another issue is the object of your desires, or what gives you pleasure. It would be one thing if you wanted to be more like Christ or to have the Holy Spirit filled with more of His power; such goals are not only good for you but also for others. The aims James mentions are purely self-centered. You want whatever it is that you desire, and you want it right now. Is there any wonder why God would refuse to answer a request like this? 

The other consequence of these misplaced desires is fights and disputes. It’s no surprise that selfish goals cause arguments and conflicts, since when you want only what you want… What else could you expect? That’s why Paul advises us:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. – Philippians 2:3-4

What if your motivation for praying was something like this? These are the sorts of petitions God delights to answer.

How Does James 4:2 Read in Other Bible Translations?

Other translations might make the full meaning of any biblical passage more apparent. Consider these two renderings:

AMP – What leads to [the unending] quarrels and conflicts among you? Do they not come from your [hedonistic] desires that wage war in your [bodily] members [fighting for control over you]? You are jealous and covet [what others have] and your lust goes unfulfilled; so you murder. You are envious and cannot obtain [the object of your envy]; so you fight and battle. You do not have because you do not ask [it of God]. You ask [God for something] and do not receive it, because you ask with wrong motives [out of selfishness or with an unrighteous agenda], so that [when you get what you want] you may spend it on your [hedonistic] desires.

MSG – Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it. You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way.

James’s remarks are extremely powerful, and as the old adage goes: if you can’t say “amen,” just say “ouch!”

The 3-Point Prayer Test

We’ve seen in James that simply praying isn’t enough. You must examine your reasons for prayer. Because you do not inquire is not the only reason you do not receive what you ask for. I recommend that you examine these three things to aid you when you pray.

1. Check your faith.

You can’t get anything from God without faith. This is something Hebrews reminds us of.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. – Hebrews 11:6

Make sure you have faith before you pray because God will only answer your prayer if you put your trust in him. Make sure there is belief in your prayer so that he may hear it.

2. Check your ask.

Take the time to find out what you need. Make sure what you are requesting is in line with God’s will. Praying the Scripture promises that God has given you is a wonderful approach to do this. If God has promised to carry it out, then feel confident in asking for it.

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. – 1 John 5:14-15

3. Check your why.

As we have seen in James, the motivation for your request is crucial, so be sure to check yours. Why are you requesting what you’re requesting? Make sure to examine your reasons carefully. If your objectives are good and honest, you can ask with confidence.

Final Thoughts About Motives

Motives are crucial, and we can be deceived into not recognizing them in our own hearts. God is not blind, so he is prepared to expose motives if you ask him. So let’s pray what David prayed:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

Try me, and know my anxieties;

And see if there is any wicked way in me,

And lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

If you always do what I’ve suggested, I feel God will expose any unethical intentions. You can trust that your motives are correct since you have good intentions. You put yourself in a position to pray correctly if you have moral goals. This does not indicate that God will always respond the way you want him to. He is, after all, God, and he has a strategy for your life.

It also implies that if you don’t obtain the response you desire, it’s not because you asked incorrectly or with undesirable intentions. It simply means that God has something different in store for you.

When your intentions are good, you can trust that what he has will be the finest answer for you, no matter what. So go pray as much as possible, but do it with the proper intentions.

This post is part of our larger collection of popular Bible verses and quotes explanations. We want to offer simple, easy-to-read essays that address your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of certain verses in Scripture’s context. It is our goal that these articles help you comprehend the significance and objective of God’s Word in today’s world.

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