You ask and do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, so that you may spend what you request on your pleasures. – James 4:3
James scolded his Christian readers for living according to the destructive wisdom of the world. They are allowing themselves to be driven by envy and ambition. This does not reflect a trust in God to provide all they needed and much more. As a result, their lives are consumed with fights and quarrels to get what they want.
James identified their root problem: They didn’t even ask God for what they wanted. They believed in God, but they didn’t trust Him to provide for them. And they really didn’t trust that if He would say no, that would be the best for them.
Here in this verse, James reveals that when they did ask God for what they wanted, they were simply trying to manipulate Him. Their prayers were not really requests, they were an effort to make God serve their selfish desires. They weren’t engaging in trust in the Father who loved them and wanted to provide what was truly best for them. Instead, they were trying to plug God into their worldly approach to get what they wanted.
The God who loves us won’t allow Himself to be used to serve envy and ambition. He wants us to bring our requests to Him with a spirit of humility and trust. He wants us to trust Him, allowing Him to give to us the good He has for us as a gift and in His perfect time.
James 4:1–12 builds on the end of chapter 3, describing how living according to the world’s wisdom has led to great conflict among James’s Christian readers. They were fighting with each other because they couldn’t get what they wanted. James says that living that way is adultery. It’s ”cheating” on God. He calls them to quit their friendship with the world, humble themselves, repent from their sin, and receive God’s grace. God is the Lawgiver and Judge, not man.
What was causing fights and quarrels among the Christians to whom James was writing? They were living by the world’s wisdom. This false perspective says human beings should do whatever it takes to get what they want in this life, even if it hurts other people. James says that to live that way is adultery, but God gives grace. Christians should repent and move close to God again. We should trust Him to provide, to be the Judge, and to lift us up in His time. In humility, we must acknowledge that all of our plans are dependent on Him, and He can change them at any moment.