It is to be feared that the solemn words: “Ye ask amiss” (James 4:3), give us the reason why we have to deplore many unanswered prayers. That we should “receive not because we ask not” is easily understood, and should lead us to “ask.” For “he that asketh receives”; nor can we complain of our prayers not being answered if we do not pray. Let us therefore see to it that we “ask.”
But it is possible to ask and yet not receive.
How can this be explained?
Are we not conscious that we have asked for many things which have (for some wise reason) not been granted? Have we not prayed, and that earnestly, many a time, and yet that prayer has apparently never been answered? Why is this?
On the other hand we can enumerate precious answers to our feeble and oft faithless prayers, so that our hearts are not discouraged, nor weary, in the blessed labour of prayer when the answer is not forthcoming. God hears prayer, every prayer. His ear is open to the cry of His children. Heavy it never is. Rest assured that there is a divine and blessed meaning in the exercise of unanswered prayer. What power is it that sustains, in an unbroken continuity of prayer, for months and years—that supports the suppliant in the face of apparent neglect and refusal, as in the case of the “Syrophenician woman,” that keeps an Elijah prostrate as he pleads for rain from a sky of brass, or a Jacob wrestling throughout the night? What hidden power is that?
Pray I must, and cannot but pray, even though I am treated with a silence I cannot understand! Repelled I seem to be, but I am also compelled; my hopes are dashed, and yet, like Abram, I believe, not against improbabilities, but, strange to say, against hope itself! He “hoped against hope”! Oh! this is one of the mysteries in the life of faith, one of the enigmas in the history of the child of God, one of those secrets of the soul which has personal and intimate dealings with Him who seeth in secret and who will, in His own good time, reward openly. The power that rebukes is also the power that sustains. The God of holiness is the “God of all encouragement.”
Ye receive not because ye ask amiss.”
“Amiss”: does that mean something in the manner? No, because “we know not what things we should pray for as we ought.” No special manner or posture is necessary; no particular words, no gift or eloquence of expression; nothing unnatural or acquired is needed. We know not the words or the manner. The breathings are simply those of a child, artless, confiding, humble, submissive. No, the word “amiss” is explained in the passage: “That ye may consume it upon your lusts.”
You do not qualify your prayer by the will of God; you fail to subordinate your petition to the glory of the Lord. Your motive is not purely His good pleasure. You seek your own gratification or comfort. You would consume the answer, did you get it, on your pleasures. Therein lies the secret. You ask “evilly.”
How many crave the cessation of adversities, wars, and such like, in order that they may have their own way in self-indulgence and money-making and pleasure.
They ask “amiss.”
No wonder they receive not! But mark, “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask any thing according to His will He hears us; and if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him” (1 John 5:14-15).
“According to His will,” and the patient discovery of that will, as the childlike suppliant bends his knee, daily, yearly, in confidence and faith and hope, is the most valuable lesson of his whole life here below.
“We know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.”
How unspeakably happy, even though that knowledge is one of expectancy all the way through; and we need not be surprised if the answer given at last is found to be exceedingly abundant above all that we have asked or thought.
Hence, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Grace sits enthroned today. Let us make full use of it.