The epistle of James, which happens to be chock-full of very profound and important principles regarding the Kingdom, especially as it relates to faith and prayer, attributes the lack of answers and failure of prayer to inaccurate internal architecture.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (Jam. 4:3 NKJV)
I actually like how the KJV translates the last part of that verse, “…that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” In other words, our prayers are misdirected and doomed to fail because our focus is skewed and/or corrupted by self-indulgence.
The word translated as amiss in the text above is translated from the Greek word kakṓs, meaning bad, evil, improper or just plain wrong. It can also be applied in certain contexts to something that is diseased or sick. This is not just a case of sincerely uttered prayers emanating from well-intentioned hearts that just happen to miss the mark. What James is confronting here are prayers that are inherently wrong, evil and corrupt because they stem from a diseased and perverse preoccupation with self.
Pleasures (lusts KJV) is translated from the Greek word hēdonḗ, meaning delight, desire, enjoyment, gratification, physical (or sensual) pleasure. In this context, it communicates the idea of self-indulgence, personal gratification and a preoccupation with one’s personal needs or desires. It is when we become so blinded by or obsessed with ourselves that we can’t see beyond us. The “Kingdom of God” really becomes about our own personal kingdoms, and the needs of others are either neglected or totally ignored altogether as our own carnal desires take precedence.
From preachers or pastors in church meetings and corporate religious gatherings, to regular people during their personal times of “communion” – from pulpit to pew and personal prayer closest – the majority of prayers being offered up today fall into this category. The majority of prayer requests I receive on a daily basis fall into this category. Our number one concern is our own carnal, physical or sensual pleasure being fulfilled. We are consumed with personal gratification.
It’s all about me! “I need a new car… I need a new house… I need a new job… I need a husband/wife…” We gather corporately and our focus remains upon ourselves and our personal needs. We pray to God to “Bless our church… Multiply our members… Give us a bigger building… and increase our finances.” Something is terribly wrong with this overemphasis upon ourselves, our churches and our ministries while neglecting the more important matters of the Kingdom: such as the execution of God’s justice or judgment in the earth, the practical demonstration of mercy and compassion to those who are in need – extending beyond our Kingdom communities and local congregations to affect our various territories – and the communication of an accurate message that establishes a firm foundation of faith and truth, thus producing the corresponding substance or evidence of godliness, obedience and practical displays of love (Matt. 23:23).
I was asked fairly recently what was so wrong about a church or ministry continually asking and petitioning God to meet a financial need or increase their finances. After all, how else would the church expect to see that need met if they could not approach God about it? I responded by saying that much of the financial shortfall or “need” experienced by churches/ministries today have nothing to do with God’s Kingdom but their own. We may ascribe much of what we are building to God, or attach the word “Kingdom” to what we are doing or saying, but most of it is fleshly, corrupt and personal. Also, despite the fact that all throughout the Bible – from Genesis to Revelation – there are numerous prayers recorded for our instruction and benefit from people throughout all walks of life, never once have I found a prayer in that regard.
When Moses had a need for the labor and material to build the first tabernacle, they didn’t call a corporate prayer gathering to cry out to God to meet the need. Neither did David when God put within his heart the desire to build Him a house and then gave him the blueprint for the building of the temple. Neither did Ezra or Nehemiah in their attempts to restore the walls and temple; and neither did the apostles when the Jerusalem church – Kingdom community, not building – was in dire need due to famine and drought.
Moses understood that the earthly resource required to fulfill the heavenly vision of building the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant was already in the possession of the people. It may have required sacrifice; nevertheless, the resources were already there. God didn't cause the Egyptians to bless them simply for their own personal benefit, but for God's prophetic purposes. I can recall a certain ministry praying fervently for money to overcome a huge deficit they had accumulated over several years. However, almost every staff member was driving a new vehicle and there were several areas where they were being poor stewards of the finances they already had. What they failed to realize was that God had already given them the earthly resources needed but they had squandered or mismanaged it. As such, they were praying amiss.
David understood that the massive amount of resources needed to complete his Kingdom enterprise (Solomon’s Temple) was in the hands of the enemy, and the only way to obtain these resources was through conquest and personal sacrifice. His provision was on the other side of his obedience, not the other side of his prayer.
Ezra and Nehemiah understood that their required resource was in the hands of their government allies or officials, not heaven; and the apostles knew that God's provision would be made manifest through the selflessness and compassion of the saints to support their Jerusalem brothers and sisters during their time of need. These examples all understood that God’s will, done God’s way, will never lack God’s supply – Matt. 6:26-34)
I remember attending a prayer meeting some time ago that was held just a day or two after a couple of major disasters had occurred overseas, and during a time of great calamity and distress in various parts of the earth. Thousands of people had died and multiplied tens of thousands were adversely affected, having lost loved ones and everything they owned; without a home, and without the basic necessities of life like food or fresh water. Being aware of the self-centeredness of this group’s prayer focus in the past, I wanted to see how they would respond when the occurrence of these calamitous events were so fresh in our minds. I remained quiet as I listened to the prayer requests being submitted by those in attendance: “Please pray for me that God would provide me with a car.” “Please pray for my child’s recital next week.” “I need prayer for healing from…” “Let’s continue to pray for the ministry’s finances.” After 30-45 minutes of prayer that centered completely on their personal needs (or wants) – including the church/ministry they represented – the prayer time was ended without one sentimental prayer of mercy for those people in the affected regions!
It is no wonder why James sternly refers to such self-centered prayers as being bad or evil, and then goes on to describe the perpetrators of such a corrupt and unholy religious act as an adulterous people (Jam. 4:4 ESV). It is carnal and worldly, and is a perfect description of the true character of men’s (all genders) hearts in the last day, especially religious people:
1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Tim. 3:1-5 NKJV)
This particular text of scripture would probably require an entire book to properly expound on. Paul gives us a prophetic glimpse into the kind of corrupt architecture or configuration that would define men’s hearts in the last day. And just in case you were to develop the false assumption that Paul was referring primarily to non-religious people or those we often refer to as being “in the world”, he clarifies that these people are very much religious, professing godliness, knowledgeable of Scripture and yet internally corrupt (vs. 5, 7). They are apparently guiltless when it comes to what religion recognizes as being the “major” sins – fornication, adultery, murder, etc. You will notice that the issues defined by Paul are mostly internal rather than external.
In other words, they outwardly appear upright or godly but they’re internally corrupt, thus the reason Paul describes this time as being perilous. The times are perilous not because of external acts of murder, terrorism and/or violence, but because of a corrupt internal architecture in men’s hearts. And it is such an externalized and pharisaical form of religion that is so toxic and diametrically opposed to what is truly Kingdom that we are commanded to turn away from, shun or avoid at all cost, including all who practice it!
The first thing Paul mentions is being lovers of themselves. This narcissistic mentality is what fuels the perversion. Then he almost ends his list of corrupt characteristics with the term, “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (v.4). What’s interesting about this term is that lovers of pleasure in the Greek (philḗdonos) is a compound word constructed from phílos (friend, loving) and hēdonḗ - the same word used by James regarding praying amiss – meaning a lover of pleasure or an obsession with self. Therefore what Paul is describing here is the very thing which James identifies as the predominant reason for wrong prayers.
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