You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”  James 4:3.

As Christians, prayer ought to be an integral part of our lives.  In fact, it is something that has a direct bearing on our spiritual well-being.  If you show me someone that is not as faithful as they ought to be to God and Jesus Christ, I can with near certainty tell you that he or she doesn’t pray as often as he ought to.  I once heard a preacher say, “Seven days without prayer makes on weak.”  How true.

 In the Bible, a characteristic of those major characters that were close to God was faithfulness in prayer to Him.  Moses, Abraham, David, Joshua, Solomon, Hezekiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Elijah, Nehemiah, Paul, Peter and even Jesus all demonstrated prayer in their lives.  Yes, EVEN Jesus, the Son of God, prayed often and taught His disciples how to pray properly.   If one, who knew He was Immanuel (God with us) thought it important to pray, what does that say about we who have not seen or been with the Father physically?

In the Bible prayer is mentioned more than 500 times.  And there are many prayers (i.e. many of the psalms) that do not mention the word by name.  One source says that there are about 650 prayers recorded in the Bible.[1]  Even a cursory reading of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, reveals the significance and power of prayer.  So it is proper to ask: HOW IS YOUR PRAYER LIFE?

Considering its importance, it is imperative that Christians learn HOW to pray.   The Bible addresses what to pray for, how to pray, Who to pray to, when to pray, etc.  But it also deals with improper prayers.  In this article I want to talk about some of these improper prayers.

In the text we began this study with, James is concerned because of the selfish prayers some were offering.  Have you ever heard someone pray a selfish prayer?  I am not just talking about asking God for something you need such as wisdom (cf. James 1:3-5), or asking for His guidance, or even provisions.  I am talking about asking God to grant you what you want as a priority over others.  I have heard requests that God change governments so that they could receive more benefits.  I have heard of people asking God to give them things such as cars, a house, more money, etc.  Things that are materialistic.  At times some pray that God defeat others (i.e. their enemies).  And there are very trivial prayers such as requests for a sports team to win, or even worse – to win the lottery.   In essence this is one who sees God as their wish giver.  And no wonder people feel that way.  Many of the prominent TV preachers will tell you that God wants you to have everything in this life.  They say all you have to do is “ask in faith”.  Sometimes there is also a monetary request involved or perhaps a book they want you to buy.  And the sad truth is that in desperation, many pray to God expecting Him to give them whatever they wish.  And when they don’t get it (and the majority does NOT) they become angry with God and quit serving Him all together.  This instead of being angry at a false teacher who Peter clearly warns us against.  2 Peter 3:3 says, “By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words…”  Now I ask, who is covetous – the false teacher or the wish seeker?  Could the answer is both?

But that is NOT how God works and it is not the premise of His promises, nor is it the purpose of prayer.

The one who prays making such requests has a bigger problem that directly hinders his service to God – materialism and worldliness.  James in the same letter of our text said, “Adulterers and adulteresses!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”  Jesus Himself taught, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matt. 6:24)  Another apostle, John wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  (1 John 2:15)  Notice what John said – if you love the world or things, the love of God is NOT in you!  If that be true, how do you think God feels when the only thing you ask Him for is those things that benefit you in one way or another?

Paul was a man given to prayer.  In virtually every letter of his we read of his continual prayers on behalf of others.   You don’t read of him making request of God for material prosperity.  Instead, we read of his SELFLESS attitude.  He truly had learned that pleasing God means you give up selfish ways.  In Philippians 3:7-9 he wrote of the many worldly things he had in his favor, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith  Later in this same letter he would say, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.” (Phil. 4:11)  Writing to Timothy about the pursuit of worldly wealth and possessions he said, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Tim. 6:6)  His prayers reflected this selfless attitude.  Now there were times he prayed to God for things that would benefit him (such as being released from prison, requesting that his thorn in the flesh be removed, that he have opportunity to see certain brethren), but even in these requests it was NEVER about him!  His desire was to bring glory to God and to build up the saints everywhere (cf. 2 Thess. 1:11-12, Phil. 1:9-11, 1 Cor. 10:31, etc.).  That needs to be our approach in prayer.  And if we have this mindset, we are not going to be asking for things like the ones we noted above.

When we pray to God our prayers need to be humble and according to His will.  1 John 5:15 says that very thing, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.   Friends, this verse CANNOT be emphasized enough.  Whatever we ask, needs to be according to His will, not ours.  Did not Jesus recognize this as He prayed to the Father in the Garden? (Matt. 26:39)  When we pray to God we need to set our minds “on things above, not on things of the earth.” (Col. 3:1-2)  Prayers for selfish favor are NOT according to His will.  They are asking amiss! 

My point in this article has been to get us thinking about what we are praying for.  Let us examine our prayers and determine that we are approaching God with a proper attitude and a desire to ONLY glorify Him.  If we find our prayers to be selfish we need to ask God’s forgiveness and change our lives.  I will guarantee you, the problem runs deeper than just your prayers.  Think about it!

But what about passages that talk about receiving what you ask for?  Jesus Himself said, “Ask and it will  be given to you, seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives…” (Matt. 7:7-8)  Other passages to consider are Matt. 18:19, 21:22 “Whatever things you ask in prayer, believing you will receive”, John 14:13-14, 1 John 3:21-22, etc.

Consider gratitude in prayers.

[1] Herbert Lockyer, All the Prayers of the Bible, ©1959, Front Cover, 1990 edition