God is attentive to our prayers. We can ask God for anything, anytime, anywhere. We can even ask God without thinking much about Him. On the other hand, He is always attentive to what we ask. James 4 tells us that we fight and don’t get what we want because we don’t ask God for what we want, or we ask with the wrong motives. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (James 4:3).
Prayer involves motives. Prayer is deeper than we think. Prayer is not meant to give us a chance to tell God what to do in the world, rather prayer is a privilege to become a part of what God is doing in the world. When our prayers leave us without what we ask or fighting with other Christians, then we ought to become aware of our true intentions.
You see this most clearly when James and John asked Jesus for something that sounded reasonable to them, especially in light of Jesus’ promises that they could ask for anything in His name. This scenario from James 4:3 (the author being the half-brother of Jesus, not the James the brother of John) is demonstrated in their question for Jesus. Read Mark 10:35-44 to review the entire example. Basically, the two brothers heard Jesus’ words that they can ask anything, anytime and anywhere. This prompted them to ask for something important. They asked if they could sit on either side of Him in the kingdom. In the end the other disciples heard it, and they were indignant that they had the nerve to ask exactly as James describes.
Boom, there you have it. A story that is repeated over and over in Christian relationships. When praying brings arguments rather than unity,it all comes down to motives. We think we know what is best. We think we can get this world all figured out. We get in our minds what needs to go down. When James and John asked Jesus to sit on either side in His kingdom, He asked them a question. He asked—Can you drink the cup I am about to drink? They immediately replied in the positive, eager to complete their interview for the top kingdom positions. They were so blinded by their request that they could not see where Jesus was taking them with His question.
A better response to Jesus would have been to understand exactly what was in the cup to which He referred. They were so focused on the end goal that they were willing to sign up for something that would have annihilated their souls. The truth is that no one could drink the cup to which Jesus referred. It would have been spiritual suicide for them to receive what they asked. Jesus didn’t give the brothers what they wanted because He loved them. Jesus referred them back to His Father and utter trust in God’s good, great plan for the Kingdom.
Most everyone I know is living a life that they do not want or on their way to discovering that what they thought they wanted is not what they thought. We pray and pray and pray for what we want only to discover that wanting God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven is the only way to pray. Jesus responded to James and John when they said they could drink His cup: “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared (Mark 10:39-40).”
And they did indeed drink the cup after Jesus made it possible by sending them the Holy Spirit. James was the first disciple to be martyred and John was the last of the 12 to die. They ended up being on either side of Jesus’ death in a way. When you ask for what you want, always keep in mind that what your true self wants is what God has prepared. Pray until you want God’s will, and you will be sure to get what you want.