Just Ask | James 4

Welcome to Real Life. What do I need?

Dear Lord,
As your humble servant 
let me prove to you that 
winning the lottery won’t change me. Amen.[1]

“You don’t have because you don’t ask God.” This gentle chide in the book of James never fails to encourage me to pray. If you need something, ask for it. Easy-peasy. The Lord is handing out blank checks. So, I begin contemplating. What do I need? What do I want to see happen? 

But James’ next words give me pause.
When you ask, you do not receive,
because you ask with wrong motives
that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
James 4:2–3 NIV
Yikes! Motivation is key. Maybe the lottery prayer isn’t a good idea. God’s blank check comes with a caveat. What's driving my desires? Do I need a better car or just want a shiny, new, candy-apple-red one? Do I seek success in writing because I love to encourage people or has selfish ambition crept in? I usually begin with pure intentions, but along the way my focus easily shifts to me, me, me.

“I never pray for myself,” a woman once told me. She considered it selfish. I guess that’s one way to remove self from the equation. But does this please God? “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life,”[2] David prays for himself. Certainly, his request pleases God. David often prays for his needs in the Psalms.

James brings up motives, not to discourage prayer, but to help us understand why it seems God’s not answering. He hears us. But he won’t give us what will harm us, reward selfishness, or turn our hearts from him.

Don’t let fear of wrong motivation keep you from approaching God. He knows our hearts. And cares what’s in them. He called David a man after his own heart—not because David was perfect. David messed up in horrible ways (i.e. adultery and murder). But he sought God wholeheartedly. And God answered. Because in talking with God our hearts are transformed. 

Your heart could be, and often is, askew. That’s okay. You have to begin with what is real. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous. He came for sinners. All of us qualify. The very things we try to get rid of—our weariness, our distractedness, our messiness—are what get us in the front door! That’s how the gospel works. That’s how prayer works.

In bringing your real self to Jesus, you give him the opportunity to work on the real you, and you will slowly change. The kingdom will come. You’ll end up less selfish.  
–Paul Miller[3]

Trying to clean ourselves up before praying is like washing our hands before showering. God’s the only One who can purify our hearts. Which brings me back to James’s gentle chide, “You don’t have because you don’t ask God.” So, just ask. Easy-peasy!

Cleanse me, Lord!

Father God,
You invite us to come and ask. So, here we are.
We bring our cares, our needs, our hearts to you.
As we come, reveal anything that does not please you. And purify us.
We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Take it further:
A shout out to my latest email followers William, Sharon, and Ray. Thanks so much for your support!

[1] http://christianfunnypictures.com/2017/06/dear-lord-9-funny-prayers-start-day.html
[2] Psalm 143:7
[3] A Praying Life by Paul Miller, p. 33.
Blank check: https://centersfordiseasecontrol.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/blank-checks/
Waterfall image: My husband Terry, Seven Sacred Pools, Hana, Hawaii 2008


  1. I LOVED this. For some reason this quote hits me hard: "Your heart could be, and often is, askew. That’s okay. You have to begin with what is real." Knowing Jesus has all the facts about me is intensely comforting.

    1. Thanks, Kelly! I agree. Jesus will take us where we need to be. My heart rests in that.

  2. Yes !!! True.
    Thank you so much for posting this.
    That has become my prayer , Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you and Search me, O God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
    Wants & needs are two different things.
    Thank you for sharing .

    1. Hi Giorgia,
      I love your prayer! I'm praying it, too. Wants and needs are different, but sometimes hard to differentiate. We can trust God to give us what we really need. Thanks for reading and commenting!

    2. So true is hard to know .
      Thank you for taking the time to share and be open with us . 💜


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