Prayer: The Foundation of Reconciliation.
Read James 4:1-10.
"You do not have because you do not ask."
James's statement that "You do not have because you do not ask" has long been held up as a statement to encourage us to pray. Coupled with the next statement in verse three, we do not receive because we ask with wrong motives, the phrase further serves to point out why our prayers are often seen as powerless and ineffective. However, what often escapes our notice is the context verse 1, and the first part of verse 2 provides for the statement. While the statement focuses upon our ineffectual prayer, the context is discussing conflicts and broken relationships. In verse 1, James confronts us with the reality of conflicts that plague our relationships. This is what leads them to commit murder. In these words, James echoes the words of Christ that point to murder as a heart condition rather than just a physical act of taking another life. What drives us and leads to broken relationships is the self desires that lead us to become jealous of others. Frustrated desires become the breeding grounds of strive.
James now brings us to prayer. Just as our selfish desires lead to broken relationships with people, it also leads us to a broken relationship with God, which short circuits our prayer and dependency upon God. Instead of prayer being focused on others and the desire to do God's will, we treat prayer like a Christmas list for Santa, where we write down what we want and expect to receive.
When we pray, we are to have a different focus. Although not limited to conflict, this prayer begins with a focus on prayer for our broken relationships. In Matthew 5:44, we are told to love our enemy and pray for those who persecute you. Instead of praying for our desires and our vindication in the conflict, we are to instead pray for God's blessing upon our enemy. Christ again affirms this in Luke 6:28, "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." Christ calls upon us to do the opposite of what is natural. Our natural response to conflict is to want to do them harm and to pray for God's judgment upon them. But he calls us to do what is good and pray for God's blessing upon their life. This is why our prayer becomes ineffective when we are in a conflict with someone. While we pray about the situation, the prayer is often focused upon our vindication and their change of heart. We want God to change them, not us. Consequently, we are asking with wrong motives.
We are to pray for God's blessing upon them and then ask God to give us opportunities to serve them. Instead of asking God to change their heart, we need to ask God to change our hearts. As you think about the broken relationships you might have with people, the first step to reconciliation begins with praying for them, that God will pour out his blessing upon them and that God will change your attitude. This is a prayer that God delights to answer.