Posted on June 10, 2015
James 4:1-7—When Answers Don’t Come
Tonya* wanted a better job. She’d prayed a long time for a position that would be higher-paying and physically less taxing than her current job. She brought the need to our prayer group. We began to pray with her.
After several dead ends when God appeared to be saying “no”, an opportunity opened that seemed tailored to Tonya’s needs. The hours were perfect, she would have weekends off, the pay was significantly higher than she was presently earning, and benefits were included—something she’d never had before. We were all thrilled for her! We praised God together when she was offered the job.
Within weeks, Tonya began accepting weekend overtime that made it impossible for her to attend church. She moved to a larger apartment and bought a new car, which increased her “need” for overtime. One year later, she had left her church life and our prayer group behind. Where she now stands spiritually is between her and the Lord, but her life no longer bears evidence of an active faith.
More about Tonya’s story in a moment. First, let’s take a look at today’s scripture. Read James 4:1-7. Then (keeping in mind that the original letter written by James wasn’t divided into chapters and verses) back up to the end of chapter three. Read 3:18—4:7. Does bridging the chapter gap affect your understanding of this passage?
Sometimes we’re puzzled why we don’t get what we want/need. We pray and pray, yet no answer comes. James gives three possible reasons why. (The Bible gives several other potential blocks to answered prayer; these are apparently the ones James’ audience most needed to hear.) Struggling with unanswered prayer? Take an honest look inside. Might any of these apply?
• Brutal drive for desires (vs 2) – Lust and envy were causing James’ readers to fight, quarrel and even murder. Understand that this verse was not written about nonChristians mistreating Christians. This behavior was between brothers! (For instance, check out Philippians 1:15-17—a description of mistreatment Paul had experienced at the hands of fellow preachers hoping to create trouble for Paul, who was already imprisoned in Rome.) It was shameful then and now—a far cry from the Spirit-filled conduct that should characterize Christians. We must not fulfill desires by clawing and scratching, but by asking God. We need to check our motives and our methods: are they peaceable and holy, or contentious and divisive?
• Irresponsible use of a “yes” (vs 3) – Sadly, this was Tonya’s problem. She passionately pursued God until He gave her what she wanted—then she got so busy pursuing “pleasures” that she disappeared off the spiritual radar. Sometimes God, who knows our hearts, sees that a “yes” will do us more harm than good, so withholds a yes for our protection. When He does grant our desire, we need to appreciate the blessing and handle it correctly.
• Unwillingness to commit our way to God (vs 4-6) – Notice the title James calls his readers: adulterers, harlots, whores. When we go after what we want without regard for what God wants, we betray the commitment we’ve made to Him. We’re unfaithful to Him. In essence, we commit adultery with the world—valuing our fleshly desires more than we value our God. He is jealous for us, the ones in whom He has placed His Spirit. He wants our wholehearted commitment, and He will not accept second place.
When your persistent prayer goes unanswered, make sure none of these three factors figure in. Submit your desires to God, refusing to let satan lure you into spiritual adultery (vs 7). Keep the faith!
• Work on memorizing James 4:7, a short, easy (but power-packed!) verse to learn. While you’re at it, review verses from previous weeks. Those would include James 1:2-3, 12, 17, 22; 2:13, 17, 26; and 3:7-8, 17, plus any others you’ve chosen to learn. You’ve now committed to memory about 11% of the book of James. Good job!
• Do you have a long-term prayer that so far remains unanswered? Consider it in light of this scripture. Is there a possible connection?
• Read James 4:7-10, then read chapter four. Finally, read the entire book of James. Do you see how 4:7-10 fits the book’s big picture? See you next week!
*Not her real name.
© Diane McLoud 2015