1 What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?
2 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.
3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
James 4:1-3 (NLT)
I have been reminded of James 4:3 a few times by people who wanted to contradict my writings on the goodness of God, how much he wants to bless us with prosperity and his desire in answering all our prayers with a definite “yes”. It seems to these people that God can revoke his earlier promises to us if he thinks we have wrong motives. How do we know what motives are right and wrong? It seems that asking for things that give us pleasure is considered wrong motives.
What does that supposed to mean? Does this mean I cannot ask God for the things I like? God will only give me what I ask only if I ask for the things I hate? If that is the case, why would I bother to worship this perverse God at all?
Furthermore, if the idea that God can reject our prayers if he thinks our motives are wrong, why did Jesus not say it in his sermons? Why didn’t the rest of the apostles say the same thing? Apostles like Paul, Peter and John never mentioned anything about the wrong motives. Does this mean only James knew about this “wrong motive” doctrine?
The logical answer here is the idea of God rejecting our prayers on the basis of wrong motives does not make sense and totally unbiblical. The Bible never says God can reject our prayers due to our wrong motives.
How about James 4:3? I am going to explain the full context for this verse. The full context can be found in Verse 1 and 2 of the same chapter. Let me summarize the contents.
1. The church members were not getting along peacefully. There were quarrels and fights among them.
2. James tried to analyze the reason for this scenario.
3. He identified the cause to be the evil desires within them.
4. Those people had desires for the things that they did not have.
5. They were willing to scheme and kill for them.
6. They were jealous of what others have and they didn’t.
7. They fought and waged wars to seize what they wanted from others.
8. The reason why they could not get what they wanted is they did not ask from God.
9. Even when they asked, they did not get what they wanted because their motives were wrong.
The above are the contents of the first three verses of the chapter. Based on the full context, we can now understand the true meaning of the “wrong motives” given in James 4:3. It refers to the mentality of scarcity among the church that received James’ letter.
Let us look in detail. The church members did not get along and fought among themselves. They saw what others had that that they wanted but they didn’t have them. They were jealous and tried evil ways to get what they wanted.
Theologians will say the problem was in their desires for material things. If those people did not have such desires, they would get along peacefully among themselves. Are the theologians right? The truth is even at the time when James wrote these verses, there were already several religions that promoted the same theme on rejecting desires. We still have the same no-desires religions today and the nations that practiced them still have wars, violence and strive.
The facts we can see around us tell us that we can never achieve peace by removing our personal desires. The reason is simply because God made us with desires. Without desires, we will be nothing other than soulless drones. We will lose our individuality. Our desires are a part of us. God has never tried to stop his people from having any desires including desires for health and wealth. Health and wealth may sound like dirty words for the theologians and doctrine worshippers but not to God. Our desires define who we are. This tells us that the theologians’ approach of blaming our desires for the evils of this world is nothing more than another theological nonsense.
The problem in James 4:1-3 was not about desires but the unbelief. Why would anyone want to feel jealous and want to fight others to satisfy their desires? Obviously, this person does not believe his God is able and willing to give him what he wants. He has never asked God for them. Even if he asked, he asked with the wrong motives, meaning he asked with the mentality of scarcity.
The last part of the passage says “you want only what will give you pleasure.” It does not mean we cannot ask for our pleasure. Please note the word “only” in the sentence. It refers to the mentality of scarcity. If you have the mentality of abundance, you don’t have to ask God for the things that give you pleasure only. You will ask for things that will give others pleasure too. This is the mentality of abundance is all about.
Therefore, it is clear to us that the “wrong motives” in James 4:3 refers to the mentality of scarcity. In order to correct it, we need to adopt a mentality of abundance. When we ask God for things with the mentality of abundance, we have the right motives based on God’s definition.
Next, I would like to explain further on what is the mentality of abundance. When you have this mentality, you will see all the riches of this world and the things that you desire to be like the seawater in the oceans. How do you get seawater? All you have to do is to go to the beach and all the seawater is available for you. Whether you take a spoonful, a cupful or a bucketful it makes no difference to the ocean. You will never dry up the oceans by taking too much seawater. How much seawater do you want? Go ahead and take it.
If you have such view, you will never feel jealous, greedy or being an altruist. You will never feel jealous when you see other people taking a lot of seawater from the ocean, as though there will not be enough for you. No matter how much seawater the other guy took, there is still a lot more from the ocean. There is always more than enough for you.
You will not be greedy either. You will not scoop as much seawater as you can in due to fear that it may run out. The seawater will never run out no matter how many people take from it.
Neither will you get into altruism. Altruism is the response to scarcity that is opposite from greed. While greed says “I must grab as much as I can before others do” altruism says “I cannot take too much or there will not be enough for others”. Both greed and altruism are sins because they come from the mentality of scarcity. How much seawater do you want? Take as much as you desire and don’t worry about the rest. There is enough seawater for everyone.
In conclusion, the above passage is about James teaching us how to get all our desires manifested through prayers. This is another proof that God always says “yes” to all our prayers. What you want right now? Go ahead and ask God for it. His answer to your prayer is “Yes, I will give them to you.” This is our God.