The second obvious teaching of these verses is that even if we are Christians, we must ask for the things that God promises. This section of God’s Word contains the positive statement of the principle (“Ask, and it shall be given you”). James 4:2 contains the negative statement (“Ye have not, because ye ask not”). But the teaching of both texts is identical. God delights to give good gifts to His children. Hence, if we do not have them, the fault does not lie in God. It lies in our failure to ask things of Him.
I believe that those texts contain the explanation of the weakness and irrelevance of much of Christian living and of much contemporary Christianity. Every now and then a minister is asked by some Christian, “Why is it that I cannot seem to find victory in the Christian life? Why does the Bible seem difficult to understand? Why do I still seem in bondage to some besetting sin? Why am I such a poor witness? Why do the high principles of Christian conduct have such little effect on my job and in the affairs of my family?” The answer is that you do not ask God for these blessings. You have not, because you ask not.
“Why is it,” many a minister is asking, “that I do not have the power of God in my teaching? Why is the Bible so dead? Why are there so few persons being converted? Why are there no leaders to expand and reinforce the ministry?” Again, the answer is simply that you are not praying. You have not, because you ask not.
“Why are there so few outstanding candidates for the Christian ministry?” many Christian laymen are asking. “Why is the church so weak, the preaching so poor, our impact upon the society so ineffective, our goals so unrealized?” Again God answers, “You are neglecting your prayer life.” You have not, because you are not asking.
Isn’t this true? Don’t these words describe the church as we know it today? And don’t they describe many of us personally? Dr. Reuben A. Torrey, who makes many of these points quite eloquently in his book The Power of Prayer, writes correctly,
We do not live in a praying age. We live in an age of hustle and bustle, of man’s efforts and man’s determination, and of man’s confidence in himself and in his own power to achieve things, an age of human organization, and human machinery, and human push, and human scheming, and human achievement; which in the things of God means no real achievement at all… What we need is not so much some new organization, some new wheel, but “the Spirit of the living creature in the wheels” we already possess.1
What do we lack in our own lives and in the church generally? Is it wisdom to deal with this sophisticated and ungodly world, to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong, and to present the claims of Christ intelligibly and with success? If it is, then we should ask wisdom of God. James says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).
1Reuben A. Torrey, The Power of Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1955), 16.