By Pastor Glenn Pease
Two brothers came to the U.S. from Europe in 1845 to make their fortune. The older brother had a trade for he knew how to make sauerkraut, and so he took a wagon train west to California to raise cabbages. The younger brother went to school to study metallurgy. Several years passed, and the younger brother went to visit his older brother. As the older brother was showing him around the cabbage fields he noticed he was not paying any attention to what he was explaining, and he protested, "You really don't care about my work do you?" The younger brother picked up a stone and said, "Do you know what this is? It is quartz, and that yellow spot is gold. You have been raising cabbages on a gold field." It turned out to be one of the greatest gold strikes ever in Eldorado County.
Raising cabbages on a gold field is what every person does when they fail to fulfill the potential of what they possess. In the realm of prayer almost every child of God is raising cabbages on a gold field. We are playing marbles with pearls and do not begin to fulfill the potential of prayer. It has always been so, and James in 4:2 says, "You do not have, because you do not ask." Only that angel who is the accountant of heaven could ever know how many blessings God's people never receive because they never ask. Someone told the story of a man who was being shown the glories of heaven, and his angelic guide showed him a vast storage area of beautiful gifts God wanted to give His children on earth, but they never asked. The story is fiction, but the truth of it is fact.
In the next verse James says to the Christians, "When you do ask you don't receive because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions." To ask for a wrong motive is just as fruitless as not asking at all. A 7 year old boy was told by his mother that he could not go to the Sunday School picnic because of his disobedience. By the next morning she had softened, as mother usually do, and she told him he could go after all. He took the news so quietly that she asked him, "What's the matter, don't you want to go?" He sighed and said, "Its too late now Mom. I've already prayed for rain." He saw prayer as a way to get even with others. Prayer was a means by which we get God to do our will.
If only children had this immature concept of prayer, it would not be so bad, but the fact is, many Christian adults are also immature amateurs when it comes to prayer. We all miss its potential, and spend our lives raising cabbages on this gold field of spiritual riches. Prayer is the most universal aspect of man's religious nature. Man is such a praying creature that even an atheist has a hard time to keep from praying in certain situations. Like the girl in Russian who was taking a test to qualify for a job in the Soviet government. One of the questions was, What is the inscription of the Sarmian Wall? She answered, "Religion is the opiate of the people." She was not sure, however, and so obsessed with a desire to know that she went the 7 miles out of the way to check. When she saw the exact words she had given, she was so relieved that she sighed, "Thank God." It is sometimes hard for unbelievers to escape all prayer.
Charles Steinmetz, the great scientist, was asked what field for future research holds the greatest promise, and he replied instantly, "Prayer, find out about prayer." That is what we intend to do, because James very quickly in his letter gets to this subject of prayer. He knows you cannot get far in any direction spiritually without prayer. She knew that the Apostles of his divine brother and Lord never asked Him to teach them to preach or teach, but did ask, "Lord, teach is to pray." James was such a man of prayer that he was known as camel knees, because he spent so much time on them in prayer. He will help us see how important and practical prayer is for effective Christian living. The first thing he makes clear is,
I. THE REASON FOR PRAYER v. 5
The reason we pray is because we have a need. James says that if you feel you lack wisdom, ask God. Prayer is first of all a confession of our own inadequacy.
Say, what is prayer, when it is prayer indeed?
The mighty utterance of a mighty need.
The man is praying who doth press with might
Out of his darkness into God's own light.
Saying prayers and praying are not the same thing. Many times we say prayers because it is the appropriate thing to do, but to really pray is to feel a need that only God can satisfy.
If you are facing trials and lack the wisdom to see how they can make you a better Christian, you know you have a need. You can petition God and ask in all sincerity, "Lord, give me wisdom. I don't see any good. I cannot find any value in what I have to endure. Give me the wisdom to see it." The greater we feel the need, the greater the fervency of our prayer. Those who feel no need do not pray with any sense of urgency. Need is the basis for earnest prayer, for recognition of need is the reason we pray at all. We just do not ask for what we do not need, or for what we do not recognize as a need.
What we are saying is that there are different degrees of earnestness in praying. The degree varies with the sense of need. This was true even in the experience of our Lord. Certainly Jesus never prayed a superficial prayer, but He did pray with varying degrees of need, even as we do. In His hour of greatest need in the Garden of Gethsemane, Luke tells us in Luke 22:44 that when he went to pray the second time, "...being in agony he prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground." Never on this planet was a need ever felt more deeply, and never was prayer ever offered in greater earnest. Jesus establishes this truth by His life and teaching: The greater the reality of one's need, the greater the reality of prayer.
In His parable on the Prodigal Son He pictures the Prodigal feeding the pigs, and coming to a full awareness of his need. "How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father." When he felt his need deeply enough, he went to the source where his need could be met. When he felt self-sufficient he left his father, but need brought him back, and need is what brings men back to God.
Lincoln faced the burden of a great nation being torn apart at the seams, and he felt an intensity of need as few men ever have, and he wrote, "I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day." Here is intense and earnest prayer based on need felt so deeply that only God could meet it.
We are all in a civil war, but because we do not feel it deeply, we do not pray earnestly about it. It is the war within ourselves to live for the flesh, and the things of the world, or to live for the spirit, and the things of Christ. He came to seek and to save the lost, but because we do not feel deeply that the lost are really lost, we do not have intense prayer for their salvation, and we do not witness to them earnestly. Consciously or unconsciously we feel that there is always time, or that there will be a second chance, and their is nothing to worry about. By this subtle trick Satan takes most of the army of the Lord out of the battle, and slows down the conquering march of the kingdom to a crawl. Until we really feel strongly the need of getting lost people saved, we will not pray seriously for that to happen, nor will we pray for the wisdom to know how to communicate the Gospel to them.
Prayer is the link between supply and demand. Need reaches out for resources to satisfy it. This has very practical consequences in our prayer life. It means that our real prayer life is in our desires. "Prayer is the soul's sincere desire." I might say a prayer which goes, "Lord give me a deeper understanding of your Word," but if my real desire is to get more money, and my greatest need I feel is the lack of cash, then all day long by my life I am praying, "Lord give me more money." You real prayer is for what you really feel you have a need. You can ask for wisdom in 10 prayers a day, but if you do not feel any need for it, you will not receive it, for God knows that is not your real prayer. We can learn to ask for all kinds of things that sound good, but if they do not meet a need, it is not truly prayer.
The reason behind all true prayer is a sense of need. If any lack wisdom let him ask of God says James. He knows all do lack it, but if Christians do not feel this lack, and sense a need for it, there is no point in asking. Only what you really need is what you really ask for, for need is the reason you pray. After giving us the reason for prayer James next reveals-
II. THE REQUIREMENT OF PRAYER. v. 6
Recognizing a need is essential, but in itself it is not enough to get the need met by prayer. James says you must ask in faith with no doubting. God requires faith before he meets a need. If you do not believe God can give you the wisdom you lack to enable you to rejoice in life's trials, then you just as well save your breath. God gets personally involved in the laws of prayer, and they are not like natural laws. A man can cast seed into the ground, and whether he believes they can grow or not they will come forth and bear fruit. Prayer is not so impersonal. In prayer you are dealing with nature's Lord, and you cannot just send request to heaven and expect them to be answered regardless of your personal faith. "He that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarded of them that diligently seek Him." If you lack such assurance, God will not grant your request.
James is a practical man, and he is not interested in prayer that doesn't work, and so in this first reference to prayer, and in his last one in 5:15 he makes it clear that faith is the requirement for effective prayer. In that final reference he says it is the prayer of faith that will save the sick. Prayer without faith is not practical because it just doesn't work. The motto says, "Prayer changes things." But to be fully accurate it should say that the prayer of faith changes things. Without this requirement being meet prayer changes nothing. James is only echoing his Lord and brother, for Jesus said in Matt. 21:22, "And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith." Remove the requirement of faith, and prayer holds no promise.
Faith involves confidence in your need being legitimate. In other words, if you sense a need, you must believe that God can and will satisfy that need before it does any good to pray. To pray without such confidence is to fail to meet God's requirement, and such praying will be ineffective. You might just as well go out and try to sell a product that you have no confidence in as to try and get God to meet your need without faith. If you said to a prospective customer, "I would like to sell you this vacuum cleaner, but I not sure it works better than others. I'm not even sure it works, because I didn't want to try it at home since we just got new carpet. A lot of people say its not a bad little machine. Would you want one?" Your answer is clearly going to be no! Without faith in your product you will not please man, and without faith in your prayer you will not please God.
God is more discerning than any man, but even men will not give a positive response to a faithless request. God will not reward the negative. A perfect, or mature faith is a faith that says that my need is legitimate, and that my God is adequate, and He will supply what my need demands. The doubter, on the other hand, is tossed about like a wave in the wind. He is not certain what he needs, and shifts his conviction back and forth every day. He is not convinced God would meet his need even if he was certain, and so he fails to meet God's requirement for prayer. The result leads to our third point.
III. THE REJECTION OF PRAYER. v. 7-8
If you read a hundred books on prayer, probably 90 of them will each that prayer is always answered. It is fantastic the lengths to which Christians will go to try and prove what is clearly contrary to the plain teaching of the Word of God. James tells it like it is. He says that if we pray, not in faith, but with doubt and double-mindedness, we will not receive anything of the Lord. Some will try and get around this by saying God always answers prayer, but sometimes the answer is no. It is a clever face-saving trick to prevent the Christian from blaming himself for his faithlessness. He can throw the responsibility back on God and say, "Well God said no that time."
The fact is, God does say no sometimes. He did to Paul's request to be healed of his thorn in the flesh, but what is dishonest is to put all unanswered prayer in this category, and fail to see that believers are often themselves responsible for the lack of an answer. There is such a thing as prayer that is rejected. God refuses to listen and respond to it at all. He does not say no, for He ignores it because it is unworthy. For example, if a believe has sinned in his life, but still wants God's blessing, he is double minded. He wants to serve 2 masters, and Scripture says his prayer will not even be heard. This was true in the Old Testament, and it is true in the New Testament, and it is true today. In Isa. 59:1-2 we read, "Behold the Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save, or His ear dull that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear." The prophet is not telling them that God is saying no to their prayer. He is telling them that God is not even listening. Their prayer is not being answered at all.
David understood this, and in Ps. 66:18-20 he wrote, "If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!" David knew that God did reject prayer, and there are many reasons all of which revolve around man's doublemindedness. If you do not practice the golden rule, you will have many prayers rejected. If you do not forgive others your prayer for forgiveness will not be heard. If you do not meet others needs when you are able, your needs will not be met when you cry out to God. Peter even says that not living together properly as husband and wife can lead to prayers being unanswered.
Those who try and escape this clear teaching of James, and other Scriptures, will fail to realize their own responsibility, and, therefore, never correct their lives and press on to perfection. They will remain immature Christians. A. W. Tozer, that great prophet of the Christian And Missionary Alliance denomination, hit hard at the evils of teaching that God always answers prayer. In one of his editorials he wrote, "The God-always-answers-prayer sophistry leaves the praying man without discipline. By the exercise of this bit of smooth casuistry he ignores the necessity to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, and actually takes God's flat refusal to answer his prayer as the very answer itself. Of course such a man will not grow in holiness; he will never learn how to wrestle and wait; he will never know correction; he will not hear the voice of God calling him forward; he will never arrive at the place where he is morally and spiritually fit to have his prayers answered. His wrong philosophy has ruined him."
James is to practical and realistic to let Christians think prayers are always answered. If we listen to James we will see that effective prayer with our lives. We must shape up and follow Christ, for it is out of obedience that faith and confidence grow, and this is the requirement for answered prayer. Effective praying is simply the result of effective Christian living. A good prayer life is the practical result of a life of commitment to Christ. Our greatest need is to live in obedience, and we know God will hear our prayer for wisdom to do so. The answer to this prayer is the key to answers to all other legitimate prayers. It all begins by asking God.