“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. 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. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Js 4:1-4 ESV)
Phew! What kind of Scriptures to begin with. Honestly, I was hell-bent on writing a more pleasing article, yet right now I am not sure that this very thing will turn out as I had hoped before. In particular, I want to expand on the questions, “What might be the reason when God does not give us what we wanted from Him?” AND “Is it possible to ask wrongly and not to realize it?”
We read in the Bible,
“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Mt 21:22 ESV)
“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (Js 1:6-8 ESV)
“In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (Jn 16:23-24 ESV)
We see that faith is crucial. If we pray for anything without faith, we may light-heartedly abandon it since God will never hear that prayer. But where does that special faith come from of which Jesus spoke? A faith which is doubtlessly convinced of receiving that which has been asked for – how do we get there? To begin with, I would say that genuine faith asks God only for those things which are part of God eternal plan in our lives. Faith is nothing we can “produce” by repeating the same requests again…and again…and again (like a mantra). Since if we indeed have faith, then it is not even necessary to speak our desire out loud. Actually, our hearts immediately KNOW that God heard us because we FEEL the joy of an answered prayer before we see or experience its outcome. For it is written,
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1 ESV)
Well, I think it might be helpful to read Martin Luther’s exposition on FAITH.
Faith is not that human illusion and dream that some people think it is. When they hear and talk a lot about faith and yet see that no moral improvement and no good works result from it, they fall into error and say, “Faith is not enough. You must do works if you want to be virtuous and get to heaven.” The result is that, when they hear the Gospel, they stumble and make for themselves with their own powers a concept in their hearts which says, “I believe.” This concept they hold to be true faith. But since it is a human fabrication and thought and not an experience of the heart, it accomplishes nothing, and there follows no improvement.
Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God (cf. John 3). It kills the old Adam, makes us completely different people in heart, mind, senses, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. What a living, creative, active powerful thing is faith! It is impossible that faith ever stop doing good. Faith doesn’t ask whether good works are to be done, but, before it is asked, it has done them. It is always active. Whoever doesn’t do such works is without faith; he gropes and searches about him for faith and good works but doesn’t know what faith or good works are. Even so, he chatters on with a great many words about faith and good works.
Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith. Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace. It is as impossible to separate works from faith as burning and shining from fire. Therefore be on guard against your own false ideas and against the chatterers who think they are clever enough to make judgments about faith and good works but who are in reality the biggest fools. Ask God to work faith in you; otherwise you will remain eternally without faith, no matter what you try to do or fabricate.
Now justice is just such a faith. It is called God’s justice or that justice which is valid in God’s sight, because it is God who gives it and reckons it as justice for the sake of Christ our Mediator. It influences a person to give to everyone what he owes him. Through faith a person becomes sinless and eager for God’s commands. Thus he gives God the honor due him and pays him what he owes him. He serves people willingly with the means available to him. In this way he pays everyone his due. Neither nature nor free will nor our own powers can bring about such a justice, for even as no one can give himself faith, so too he cannot remove unbelief. How can he then take away even the smallest sin? Therefore everything which takes place outside faith or in unbelief is lie, hypocrisy and sin (Romans 14), no matter how smoothly it may seem to go.
(Martin Luther’s Bible Commentary, “Vorrede auf die Epistel St. Paul an die Römer”)
We see that faith is a gift from God. Nothing else. Therefore, I can only have that faith God has given to me personally. And you may have as much faith as God has given to you, too (cf. Rom 12:3). Thus I cannot have faith for you – and you cannot have faith for me. It is a personal thing between God and us – in all intimacy of our personal relationship with Him.
If we do not know what or how to pray for the right things, it might spring from our inner disunity – we are torn between two lovers, so to speak. Loving God vs. loving this world and its pleasures. Then, there is a WAR inside us; a war of continually wanting more of anything than we have right now. Eventually, regarding those James 4:1-4 verses, I think that the solution to get rid of such internal wars lies solely in being born by the Spirit from above (Jn 3) which makes us Christ’s, for it is written,
“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal 5:24)
Before actually having been born again, no human being is able to love from a pure heart. We are all carnally minded by nature as long as we have not yet received Christ’s Spirit in our hearts (Rom 8:9). As an illustration which might reveal the connection between faith and the new birth from above, we could take a look at the following story.
John Wesley, an Anglican cleric and Christian theologian, experienced after about seventeen years during which he thought to be a converted Christian that he was neither converted nor yet born again. At that time he was heading for America by ship. One day there was great distress at sea and both John Wesley and other English people feared for their life.
However, as soon as he had joined a German group of believers – called “Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine” (Herrnhuters) – he really wondered why they were singing worship songs and were praising God during that awful storm while he was scared to death.
In fact, those believers already had that faith Jesus spoke of when His disciples – devoid of it – woke Him who was sleeping in spite of stormy waters (Lk 8:25). The Herrnhuters could have said with the words of the apostle Paul, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21 ESV) Later Wesley found out that they had no fear of death because they were born again. Although Wesley was shocked at first and in a deep crisis afterwards, this awakening realization helped him to really search God who, of course, answered his prayer. The biblical foundation for that prayer is as follows,
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:13 ESV)
Then and only then we are no longer out of Eden 😉 , that is, when we have been born anew. Then we can come to that ‘unshakeable confidence’ Luther was speaking of and to the assurance of redemption from all sins ever (Rom 8:1). One might also say, then we have been justified so that the long process of sanctification which changes our whole thinking and doing can begin.