You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and you do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:2-3
With all of the promises outlined in scripture regarding the fact that God answers prayer, and the specific promise of Jesus in the Gospel of John “If you shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:14), one doesn’t have to wonder about a considerate amount of misconceptions and misinterpretations about the above promise. John goes on to say, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) This context obviously qualifies the promise. If we love God and desire His purposes and His paths, we are most likely praying according to the will of the Father, and then an answer to our prayers will surely be forthcoming.
James pulls no punches! He is intensely practical and approaches the topic of answered prayer with pragmatic clarity and insight. When you do not get what you pray for don’t be surprised, look at your evil motives and the reason your request remains unheard becomes painfully obvious, you are selfish and greedy, such behavior obviously does not warrant the fulfillment of such self-serving requests. This same issue has plagued generations since and has brought forth an entire genre of new faith orientations, namely “the namers and the claimers” who confidently assert that any promise is for all people at all times. After all doesn’t God want us to be blessed and to have everything we want? Such reasoning is obviously unbiblical and seems to deny the counsel Paul gave to the young disciple Timothy: “And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. But flee from these things, you man of God; and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” (1 Tim 6:8-11 NAS)
These same people also seem to ignore that the apostle Paul suffered through immense discomforts to further the proclamation of the Gospel. On more than one occasion he outlines the suffering he gladly endured for the sake of the Gospel (e.g. 2 Cor. 11:16-33), and he includes in his letter to the Philippians that he has learned to be content: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:12-13 NIV) Paul understood the power of prayer as much as anyone, yet he had to endure incredible circumstances. Even Jesus promised: “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:20 NAS)
A number of commentators have suggested that James is strictly talking to unbelievers, but I find that the principle is equally true for those who are believers and are asking for things to satisfy their selfish ambitions or greedy passions. Such asking, according to James, is the sign of an unbelieving adulterous heart that is more concerned with the things of the world than the things of God. Psalm 66 is very clear that those who are not right with the Lord will not receive what they are asking for. “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear;” (Ps.66:18); we need to learn to abide in Christ and to submit our will and our desires to His Lordship in order to be able to know what and how to pray. If we are praying not only grudgingly ‘your will be done…’, but instead long to know the will of God, and to pray according to the purposes of God and in submission to His will then we will see our prayers answered. “But certainly God has heard; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor His loving kindness from me.” (Ps.66:19-20)