YE ASK NOT
T. Pierce Brown
As I was reading James 4:1-3, I was struck again with some important lessons which need emphasis. First, there is a statement concerning wars and fighting among them. Since we have much of the same among ourselves, it is appropriate to examine the answer he gives. Is it possible that much of the fussing that goes on in the Lord’s church is a result of lusts that war in our members?
We have examples in the ONE NATION UNDER GOD program of persons who are living on social security sending in a few crumpled one dollar bills with a note saying, “This is all I have. Use it for the glory of God.” One man on social security with salary borrowed on his life insurance and that of his wife and children and said, “Here is $10,000. I will mortgage my house if I need to that I may help more.” When we contrast that with the attitude of some who claim to be interested in getting the gospel to every person in the world, but have not contributed a dime to such programs, we are sad. It is doubtful if those who give sacrificially have the kind of lust in their members that prevents answered prayer.
My primary thought in this article has to do with the statement of James, “Ye have not because ye ask not; ye ask and receive not because ye ask amiss.” While Christ was on earth, there is no record of which I am aware of anyone with a need coming to him in faith and asking for that need to be met without having it granted, or more than granted. I do not remember any instance of any person in the whole Bible coming to God in faith, with the proper attitude who did not receive either what he asked or something better. Even Paul who received “No” as the answer to his request for the thorn in the flesh to be removed was given something better than what he had requested.
President Bush announced a cease fire in the Gulf War, for we he said we had obtained our military objectives. Although General Schwarzkopf may have been wrong in using the word “miracle” in accounting for the fact that there were so few casualties in a battle that big, it may be that the “effectual fervent prayer of” (James 5:16) a (few) righteous men availed more than this world dreams.
It may also be that God overruled the situation to give us another chance to get the gospel into that part (and all the rest) of the world. There is little doubt that if those who carried on the Crusades in the early centuries had been half as interested in crusading for pure Christianity as they were in taking a sword to defeat the enemy, there would not be as many like Saddam Hussein and his followers. We need to understand that the only thing that will bring real and lasting peace to this earth is for people to practice the principles of the Prince of Peace. Christians are the only ones who can get that done.
If we can learn to pray properly, and thus give God the avenues to answer our prayers through us, we will find that He is ready, willing and able to grant us “exceedingly abundantly above all that we are able to ask or think” (Ephesians3:20). We sometimes talk proudly about the fact that we have restored, or are restoring New Testament Christianity. Rather, often we have restored the emphasis on the necessity of teaching the true doctrine. Let us never underestimate the importance of that. A stream does not rise above its source. A person or congregation that is doctrinally unsound cannot be sound in practice. Yet a person can be doctrinally sound in words and corrupt in practice, just as Jesus indicated in Matthew 23:2.
We need to do more than restore the emphasis on doctrine. We need to do more than restore the doctrine itself. We need to restore the emphasis and practice which God ordained for the early Christians.
There are at least four things for which the church should be known throughout the world. First is our love for each other and those about us. In John13:35Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another.” Even those who are nasty, bitter, mean and vindictive claim to love those whom they excoriate, but all I can hope to do is to help us examine ourselves and try to have and show the love that Christ wants.
The second thing for which every Christian should be known is our missionary zeal. Jesus said, “Come ye after me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew4:19). No matter how we may try to water it down or soft-pedal it, the person who does not want to win another to Christ is not following Christ. The fact that Christ will make us fishers does not mean we will always be effective. A fisherman does not have to catch fish, but he does have to go fishing.
The third thing the Christian should be known for is his giving. If there is any one thing that indicates that God is love it is that He gave. God so loved that He gave. The extent of His love was indicated by the nature of His gifts. It will be so with us. I have heard almost every kind of sin confessed except the sin of covetousness. If any of my readers have ever heard of a public confession of this sin, I would like to know about it.
The fourth thing for which we should be known is prayer. I do not recall any occasion from the establishment of the church throughout the New Testament that any important things were planned or practiced that did not involve earnest prayer. About 30 times in Acts we have indications of examples or commands to pray.
Besides the reason James gives, there is another reason why our prayers are ineffective. There is often an unwillingness to be entirely honest with ourselves. One outstanding characteristic of the human race is the tendency to rationalize, justify and excuse ourselves. It started with Adam. God said, “What have you done?” Adam replied, “The woman you gave to me, she gave to me and I did eat.” It was really God’s fault, or at least the woman’s fault. One sneaky thing about most rationalizations are that the statement may be true. This one was. But as logicians might say, “It was a non sequitur.”
Even when we are forced to admit that we are trying to rationalize and excuse ourselves, we want to excuse ourselves for excusing ourselves. When we are wrong, we have a tendency to say, “I may have been wrong, but I was not as wrong as you.” Or “You were wrong first.” Or “Lots of others are wrong.” Does that change anything, or matter?
You have heard this kind of prayer, “Lord, we know that we often sin, doing things we should not and leaving undone what we should have done.” Far more seldom do we hear any specific comment indicating what those things might be. I am not suggesting that we confess private sins in public prayer. It might be out of order for a person leading prayer for the whole congregation to say, “Lord, when I saw my brother who makes far less money than I giving much more to the work of the Lord, I became envious and tried to ruin his influence. When I saw my neighbor dressed in her bikini bathing suit, I lusted after her and committed adultery in my heart.” In our private prayers we should strive for both complete honesty and specificity. There is a great difference between a general self condemnation and a true confession of sins.
We may need to write many more pages, but we have not because we ask not. When we do ask, we ask improperly. It may be to consume it on our lusts. It may be because we have an impenitent attitude. It may be that we are simply unwilling to face the truth. We may not be as sincere as we thought we were. When I prayed, “Lord, help me to be more like Christ” the thought came, “How much?” Do I really want to be enough like Christ to die for my enemies? Am I even willing to live for my friends? He gave all. How much am I giving, or do I really want to move in that direction? Those are tough questions, and resulted in my writing a workbook, THE MIND OF CHRIST. If I can learn to pray properly, and get a few others to do likewise, we may be able to help turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6), or right side up.
T. Pierce Brown
1068 Mitchell Ave.
Cookeville, TN. 38501
Phone: (615) 528-3600