One of the Bible verses that I keep taped to the shelf in front of the desk in my office is James 4:2: “You do not have, because you do not ask.” I keep this verse in a conspicuous place in front of me to remind me every day of the extraordinary power of prayer and to encourage me to spend time each day praying.
I have found that I need this reminder, mostly because I tend to forget over time just how important prayer really is. I need to be reminded that prayer works, that God really does answer prayer, and that earnest, fervent prayer really does have “great power as it is working” (James 5:16). That is the whole point behind James 4:2: “You do not have, because you do not ask.”
It is interesting to me that James nowhere qualifies his statement with a litany of Scriptural conditions and qualifications designed to make the more theologically precise among us feel comfortable with what he is saying.
He doesn’t mention anything about praying “in Jesus’ name” (see John 14:13–14; 16:23–24). He doesn’t mention anything about ensuring that our prayers are “according to [God’s] will” (1 John 5:14–15).
James doesn’t mention anything about persistence in prayer and how God’s timetable is not always the same as ours (see Luke 11:8; 18:1; and Gen. 25:20–21, 26, where we are told that God granted Isaac’s prayers regarding his wife, but twenty years went by before he actually received the answer). To be sure, he does stipulate that our asking is not to be a selfish asking that intends “to spend [what we ask for] on our passions” (v. 3). But there are a whole host of conditions and qualifications that James could have mentioned but does not. He simply says, “You do not have, because you do not ask.”
It seems as though James wants us to feel the full weight of what he is saying here, and he knows that if he were to add conditions and qualifications, we would miss the whole point. If he were to nuance his exhortation, we would gloss over it and take it too lightly. He doesn’t want us to focus on conditions and qualifications but on the one simple truth that
You see, when you and I focus on qualifications and conditions, we tend to minimize prayer. We downplay its power and efficacy. And when we do so, we tend not to engage in it as earnestly and as frequently as we would otherwise.
We need to feel the full weight of James’ words and to be reminded that God really does answer prayer: “You do not have, because you do not ask.” I wonder, do you really believe that? More importantly, does your prayer life bear it out?