Prayer: Boldly Approaching God's Throne

5 - What Are Your Motives When You Pray?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Do you, as James says, ask but not receive because you "ask amiss"?

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part five of a series of selections from Profiting From the Word by A. W. Pink. Read part four.

Edited by Dr. Paul M. Elliott, president of TeachingTheWord Ministries

Do you, as James says, ask but not receive because you "ask amiss"?

Perhaps no one, since James the inspired penman of Scripture, has been more vigorous than Arthur W. Pink in his exhortations regarding prayer. In our last article, Pink dealt with the believer's need to seek the Holy Spirit's help in prayer. Next, Pink takes up the issue of motives in prayer. He draws our attention to some of the Spirit's most direct imperatives on this subject, which come in the context of one of the most polemical passages in all of Scripture. James declares in the most forceful terms that our praying must have the right objectives, stemming from right motives:

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss [Greek kakos, improperly or from a wrong motive], that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously"? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:1-10)

Commenting on this and related passages, Arthur W. Pink writes:

We are profited from the Scriptures when the Spirit teaches us the right end in praying. God has appointed the ordinance of prayer with at least a threefold design. First, that the great triune God might be honored, for prayer is an act of worship, a paying homage; to the Father as the Giver, in the Son's name, by whom alone we may approach Him, by the moving and directing power of the Holy Spirit. Second, to humble our hearts, for prayer is ordained to bring us into the place of dependence, to develop within us a sense of our helplessness, by owning that without the Lord we can do nothing, and that we are beggars upon His charity for everything we are and have. But how feebly is this realized (if at all) by any of us until the Spirit takes us in hand, removes pride from us, and gives God His true place in our hearts and thoughts. Third, as a means or way of obtaining for ourselves the good things for which we ask.

It is greatly to be feared that one of the principal reasons why so many of our prayers remain unanswered is because we have a wrong, an unworthy end in view. Our Saviour said, "Ask, and it shall be given you" (Matthew 7:7): but James affirms of some, "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (James 4:3). To pray for anything, and not expressly unto the end which God has designed, is to "ask amiss," and therefore to no purpose. Whatever confidence we may have in our own wisdom and integrity, if we are left to ourselves our aims will never be suited to the will of God. Unless the Spirit restrains the flesh within us, our own natural and distempered affections intermix themselves in our supplications, and thus are rendered vain. "Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31), yet none but the Spirit can enable us to subordinate all our desires unto God's glory.

The words that precede the passage quoted from James above are also well worth noting. Praying from right motives, James says, is a matter of seeking and possessing wisdom from above, which produces godly fruit of all kinds in the life of the believer:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18)

Next: Do You Plead God's Promises in Prayer?

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