Question: I understand that we need to diligently seek God in prayer, but I also know there’s a level where we just need to trust Him and stop worrying. It seems that there are those who get into a works mentality about praying instead of just having a relationship with God, but I also see the high importance of prayer (“you have not because you ask not”). Where is the distinction between diligently seeking God and trying to accomplish something by our own works?
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.
Specifically, in the scriptures you asked about, found here in James, there’s context we must understand. This is actually rebuke for those who are entering into jealousies and selfish ambitions. Really James is saying you fight for all this stuff you lust after but you don’t have because you don’t ask, and in context that asking is really talking about asking for wisdom from above. Look then at verse James 4:3,
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” See, the issue here isn’t that you didn’t pray enough or the right way, per se, but the issue is the reason for what you’re seeking after. A few verses later in James 4:8, we read, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” The purpose of all of this is the idea of drawing near to God, seeking His wisdom, and keeping our motives pure.
Matthew 7:7-8 says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” This door being opened for us, is that door that leads to God. Again, the implication is not specific to what you’re asking for, but rather that you’re asking. For God, it’s about a relationship and seeking that time with Him.
This word, “works” has become almost a swear word in Christian circles but we also need to look at it correctly. Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” It wasn’t some sort of work or effort on our part that saved us. It was the gift of God in which we found assurance of faith. With this salvation, we were given a job description. Our job on this earth is good works. This is something we shouldn’t dread, but should be excited about!
But here lies a major problem with Christians, that we look at prayer as work and we look at work as dreadful. It’s time to look at prayer differently. Prayer is not some formula or something so far beyond our comprehension that we should run from it. Prayer is simply talking to God. Prayer is a relationship with our loving Father. Prayer is a gift that accompanies salvation. When we pray, He hears us. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is beautiful instruction for Christians, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Our lives should be lived in prayer. As we walk, as we work, as we’re driving in the car, and as we’re alone in times of just quiet. We need to learn to look at our lives as though the Lord actually comes with us wherever we go and to then communicate with Him along the way.
Consider this, you’re riding in the car and you have a friend with you. Do you ever speak to that friend? It would be strange if you didn’t. When you wake up in the morning and you come into the kitchen and you see your family member do you say good morning? Do you ask what they’re going to do today? God is almighty and that’s important for us to remember, we can’t boss Him, but we also must remember how relational He is and speak to Him from that place of relationship. It’s not work to pray. It’s love for God that brings us to seek and speak to Him.