On Unbridled Passions
“What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and wage war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” James 4:1-3 CSB
James delivers a blunt rebuttal to the question many in Jerusalem were asking: why aren’t our prayers answered?
If God were a genie He would have to be devoid of his moral code or His innate and intrinsic sense of righteousness to then give any requester of wishes what their heart most desired. Unlimited wealth to one, unrestrained sexual experiences to another, impunity to another yet, and the dismissal of charges of crimes against humanity to another.
For God to be a genie He would have to suspend the eternal laws of Goodness to offer the requestor whatever was on her mind.
Aladdin’s genie has his set of rules to prevent a lucky wish maker from abusing the rites of the wish-making business.
Practically, the Blue Mist Genie cannot:
1. Make someone fall in love with you
2. Kill people
3. Bring back the dead
4. Give out more wishes
So, from the list produced it seems as if the wisher cannot wish for much other than money and fame, perhaps the occasional relief from disease and sickness, or even the altruistic effort of feeding an innumerable number of people who would have otherwise gone without food.
But James explains that the absence of answered prayer is not necessarily a disregard for rules God has set up but more so one’s intent behind that request and secondly how one intends on using her requested blessing or answered prayer in the immediate world.
What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you?
Albert Barnes, an American theologian, and abolitionist commented on the nature of the word “passion” which in other translations is rendered as “lust” or “lusts” in his commentary of the same passage:
“Is not this the true source of all war and contention? The word rendered “lusts” is in the margin rendered “pleasures.” This is the usual meaning of the word (ἡδονὴ hēdonē); but it is commonly applied to the pleasures of sense, and thence denotes desire, appetite, and lust. It may be applied to any desire for sensual gratification, and then to the indulgence of any corrupt propensity of the mind. The lust or desire of rapine, of plunder, of ambition, of fame, of a more extended dominion, I would be properly embraced in the meaning of the word. The word would equally comprehend the spirit which leads to a brawl in the street, and that which prompted the conquests of Alexander, Caesar, or Napoleon. All this is the same spirit evinced on a larger or smaller scale.”
James explains and Barnes expounds that supplications presented before God but derive not from a place of purity and altruism, will go unanswered because they ascend from lust. Namely, unrestrained selfish pleasure-seeking desires that can and often disregard the well-being of those we exploit for pleasure and gratification.
A notable observation is that Barnes adds that “lust” is not limited to sexual gratification alone. It implies the pleasure a Nazi Gestapo officer derives from torturing an incarcerated dissident. It implies the pleasure a boss derives from harassing a staff member by threatening to terminate their employment if she does not finish more projects by the end of the week than she is physically capable of. Pleasure, like Hitler, Mussolini, Alexander, and Genghis Khan derived from conquering people and land and filling the latter with the blood of the former.
Our passions and lusts are in place to ingratiate no one but ourselves and when we use this vice to accomplish our ends for no one but ourselves God will not honor that request.
The results are damning:
“You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and wage war.”
Is anyone surprised by the outcome of an “everyone gets whatever they want” philosophy of prayer? Hedonism eats at its beholder until there’s nothing left. A community of Christian hedonists is bound to become a haven of violence, destruction, and death.
Therefore, prayer, petitions, and supplications presented to God that stem from debased selfish desires will not be answered, and that is to our benefit, because what would that say about our God? A God who gives all who ask whatever their lustful heart desires is dangerous.
He would not be God but a destroyer.
The main preventer of answered prayer is you, me, not God.
“You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
Consider then not only what it is or who it is you will pray for next and determine if that request comes from a place of Christ-honoring selfless askance that does not dishonor God nor those created in His image.
God is in the business of redemption, restoration, liberation, and sanctification. Selfish petitions that stem from lusts and passions are antagonistic and hostile to the efforts of God, therefore, it is unmistakably futile to pray for that which you now know will not be answered.
“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy — dwell on these things.” Philippians 4:8 CSB
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