"From which comes wars and fightings among you? Come then not hence even of your lust that war in your members? Ye lust and have not. Ye kill and desire to have and cannot obtain. Ye fight and war, yet ye have not because ye ask not.
Underscore that phrase "Yet ye have not because ye ask not. If there's anything that everyone needs to do, it is to learn how to pray. The man who can pray can do anything, for prayer can do anything that God can do, and God can do anything. Our desperate need in these days is to link our lives with the omnipotent God, who has called upon us and told us to pray. Jesus said, "Ask and ye shall receive, and James says, "You have not because you ask not.
You don't have a failure in your life but what it is a prayer failure. You don't have a sin in your life but what prayer could have prevented that sin. You don't have a genuine need in your life but that that need cannot be met through fervent believing prayer. How we need to learn how to pray.
We're going to study the subject of victorious prayer under three headings. First of all, we're going to see the presumption of unoffered prayer. And then we're going to see the problem of unacceptable prayer. And then we're going to see the principle of undeniable prayer. How to pray so that our prayers cannot, will not, shall not be denied.
The presumption of unoffered prayer
First of all, I want you to see the presumption of unoffered prayer. "Ye have not because ye ask not."
God wants to bless us. God wants to give us what we need. But we're so presumptuous. We're so proud. We're so that we go about in our own strength: fighting, warring, scheming, planning, hating, killing, conniving, striving, trying in our own way to get the things we think we need. It is prayer that links our lives with the omnipotent power of God.
A little boy was trying one day in his play to move a huge stone and was trying with all of his might to roll that stone over, to shove the stone. And his little muscles were bulging and there was perspiration on his face. And he was biting his tongue and just trying to move that stone. His father was watching and said to him, "Son, are you using all of your strength? And the little boy said, "Yes, Daddy, I'm using all of my strength. And his dad said, "No you're not. You haven't asked me to help you.
Sometimes we are burdened down with weighty problems and we strive and we cry and we fight and we war and we wrangle and we're saying I'm doing everything I know to do. Have you asked your Father to help? Have you linked your life with his? Could it be that God wants to bless you and the reason that God is not blessing you could be so utterably simple? You have not because you ask not.
When I was down in Florida pastoring a church as a young man in college I had a little country church down in the Indian River section of Florida where the finest citrus fruit, I believe, in the world is grown. And I went down to that little country church out in the middle of the orange grove, and one of the leading deacons down there, a kind man who had been so good to us through the years, said, "Adrian, I want you to get some oranges from my grove to take back to college. I said, "Very well, Mr. Engrum. But I wasn't prepared, for he brought several huge duffle bags full of oranges. Canvas sacks full of oranges. I said, "Mr. Engrum, we can't eat all of those oranges before they spoil. He said, "Well, you take them back to college and give them away. I said, "Very well. And so I put all of those oranges in the truck of my automobile, drove them back to college, lugged them up the stairs to our apartment there, garage apartment, and had all of those oranges there in a closet. And they were taking up a lot of space and they were starting to mildew and starting to spoil, and I just couldn't give them away fast enough. Certainly more than we could eat.
But one afternoon or one noontime Doris had prepared soup and sandwich for us between classes, and I was eating and I looked out in the backyard and I saw a little fellow sneaking around in the backyard. It became obvious to me that he was going to steal an orange out of my yard. Now we only had one orange tree, and it was a sour orange tree. Have you ever tasted a sour orange? The most bitter fruit known to man. One bite and you have lockjaw. It's unbelievably sour. This little fellow didn't know they were sour, and he was going to steal one, and I just watched. I saw him as he took that orange and made his way off.
I didn't have much money, but I would have given a dollar to see him take the first bite. I thought about it. You know the Bible says, "The bread of deceit is sweet, but afterward a man's mouth should be filled with gravel. Well, it's easy to make the same application to swiping sour oranges. But you know the thing that I could not get out of my heart and out of my mind is this. Suppose that little fellow had come up those stairs, knocked on my door and said, "Mr., may I have one of those oranges? You know what I would have said to him?
Absolutely not, because it's sour. But, son, if you'll come in here I will load you down with more oranges than you can carry, and the best. I've got oranges that are spoiling. I've got oranges that are going to waste. I've got oranges that I need to get rid of.
It's going to amaze you when you get to heaven. I believe God's going to call you over and open a door to his storehouse and say, "Look in there. Those are things I wanted you to have. Those are things that I wanted to load you down with but I couldn't give them to you. You went your own way warring and scheming and planning and conniving and figuring, and you have not because you ask not.
"Oh what peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer."
Did you know that prayerlessness is a sin? It's a sin. The Bible says, "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you. Did you know the Bible tells us that we're to pray all of the time. The Bible says very clearly in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 that we are to "pray without ceasing. The Bible says in Luke 18:1 that "Jesus spake a parable unto them to this end that men ought always to pray and not to faint.
When you don't pray, you're not just simply missing a blessing. You're committing a sin. You're doing without the things that God wants you to have and you're sinning against the Lord. And let me say this as I said in the introduction to this message. There is no sin in your life but what prayer would have prevented it. The Bible says in Mark 14:38 "Watch and pray lest ye enter into temptation.
John Bunyan wrote in Pilgrim's Progress "Prayer will make a man cease from sin, and sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.
Are you praying? There is no substitute for prayernot energy, not enthusiasm, not eloquence, not intellect. There is no substitute for prayer. My life is no greater than my prayer life. What I am that is important is not what I am on this platform but what I am in the closet before I come here. What you are in your life when you teach your class is linked to your prayer life. I'm telling you that if prayerlessness is a sin, then some of us need to repent. Before you do anything else, you need to repent of the sin of prayerlessness. We can do more than pray after we pray, but we can do not more than pray until we have prayed. Oh, the presumption, the arrogance of unoffered prayer. Are you guilty of that sin?
The problem of unacceptable prayer
The second thing James speaks of is the problem of unacceptable prayer. Sometimes the problem is not that we don't offer our prayers. The problem is that sometimes we offer them and God will not accept them. God will not hear our prayers. Why?
James 4:3, "Ye ask and receive not because ask amiss [that is you're asking wrongly] that you may consume it upon your life. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? That word enmity means warfare with God. "Whosoever, therefore, will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
Sometimes people pray long and loud but their prayers are not answered. Their prayers get no higher than the ceiling, because their prayer is unacceptable. And why is it unacceptable? Because it is based on the wrong motivation. There are people who are wanting to sacrifice the answer to their prayer upon the altar of their lust. They're not asking for the glory of God. They're simply asking that they might consume it upon their lust. Their motivation is basically selfish and basically sinful, and God is not going to subsidize our sin. God is not going to underwrite our selfishness.
James illustrates what he's talking about when he says, "You adulterers and adulteresses. When we were saved, when we were born again, we became the heavenly bride and Jesus the heavenly Bridegroom. That's a figure of speech and the way that the Bible describes our relationship with Christ. Just as a bride should be chaste and pure and separated and give herself to the groom alone, the Church should belong to Jesus Christ and him only. Do you understand that?
Suppose living here in the city of Memphis is a fine man who marries a young lady and she stands at the marriage altar and says"I take thee, John, to be my lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward in sickness as in health, in poverty as in wealth, till death do us part. I will keep myself to you alone so long as we both shall live, so help me God. And then suppose after she makes that commitment to John over here she falls in love with a fellow named Bill and she and Bill begin to live an adulterous relationship, and John knows about it. Then suppose she comes to John and she says, "John, I have some things I need. John, would you, please, give me some money? And, John, would you please let me have the keys to the automobile. Bill and I are going to New Orleans for a weekend. Now do you think that John is going to subsidize that adultery? Do you think that John is going to give her what she requests? Do you think that John is going to say, "Here, I'm going to underwrite your sin ? Of course not.
God is saying that when we come and become a friend of the world and then say, "God, you give me that I might commit spiritual adultery with the world, God says that our prayers are not going to be answered. The reason that some of our prayers are not answered is they're so selfish, they're so worldly, they're so ungodly. We're not interested in the glory of God. The motivation is simply that we might have more, do more, enjoy more.
There is the problem of unacceptable prayer. You said, "Well, I thought I could come to God and get my needs met. You can. "My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." You may have your selfish desires denied, but you'll never have your legitimate needs denied if you come the right way. You may pray for personal needs, but you may not pray for sinful and selfish desires and expect to have your prayer answered.
The principle of undeniable prayer
The third thing and the most important thing I want us to note is the principle of undeniable prayer. How can we pray so that our prayers will not be denied? How can we pray so as to get through with God? How can we pray so as to link our lives with omnipotence?
James gives us five principles of undeniable prayer.
Principle number one is sensitivity to the Spirit. Look in verse 5. "Do you think that the Scripture sayeth in vain the Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? Now who is the Spirit that dwells in us? The Holy Spirit. And this word lusteth means he has strong desire, strong desire. It has no sexual connotation in the Greek language whatever. But the Holy Spirit within us has some very strong desires. And the Holy Spirit within us is very envious. Now what is he envious for? He is envious for the cause of Christ. May I give you another translation, and listen to it very carefully. "The Holy Spirit, which he made to dwell in us, jealously yearns for the entire devotion of the heart. "The Holy Spirit, which he has made to dwell in us, jealously yearns for the entire devotion of the heart.
Do you know what God demands of you before you pray? Your whole heart. And do you know what the Holy Spirit is saying in you as he lives in you right now? Give your entire devotion to Jesus Christ. "I am the Lord thy God. There is none other. Thou shalt have no others gods before me, for I the Lord thy God is a jealous God. And God does not want a place in your life and God does not want prominence in your life. God demands preeminence. And the Bible says that in all things Jesus Christ may have the preeminence and the Holy Spirit, whom God has given you, is constantly over and over and over again saying in your heart and in your life Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord. Do you want to get your prayers answered? Then you be sensitive to the Spirit. This is what the Bible calls praying in the Spirit. You see, we pray in the Spirit through the Son to the Father. The Holy Spirit wants to think through our mind. The Holy Spirit wants to feel through our heart. The Holy Spirit wants to speak through our lips. The Holy Spirit wants to weep through our eyes. The Holy Spirit wants to groan through our spirits in prayer. We're to be praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit. And so James says, first of all, first of all, the first principle is sensitivity to the Spirit.
Not only must there be sensitivity to the Spirit but there also must be submission to the Father. I want to look beginning now in verse 6 what James says, "But he giveth more grace wherefore he sayeth God resisteth the proud but he giveth grace to the humble. Submit yourselves, therefore, to God. Submit yourselves, therefore, to God. There is no answered prayer until you are submitted to God. That's what the Holy Spirit makes us sensitive about. That's what the Holy Spirit is so jealousy yearning over us about, to make us submissive to God.
Do you know why sometimes our prayers are not answered? We are saying not thy will but mine be done. Let me tell you something, friend. Prayer is not some exercise where you talk God into doing what he doesn't want to do. You'll never do that. Prayer is not your bending God's will to fit your will; prayer is finding the will of God and getting in on it. When we come to God submitting our will to the Father, are you submitted to the will of God? This is the confidence that we have in him, the Bible says, that if we ask in anything according to his will he heareth ought. Our problem is that we're so unbroken, so haughty, so arrogant we come strutting into the presence of God. No wonder God doesn't answer our prayer. Submit yourselves, therefore, to God. Are you submitted to God? Is his will your will? Do you want more than anything else today to do the will of God? I say, "Do you? If you don't, you're wasting your time when you pray. Prayer is not for rebels. James says, "You have not because you ask not. You ask and receive not because you ask amiss. Submit yourselves, therefore, to God.
The third principle is standing against the devil. Look again, if you will please, in verse 7, James 4:7. "Submit yourselves, therefore, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
We have an enemy, a real enemy, a cunning enemy, a sinister enemy, a malevolent enemy, an enemy who hates us. Now don't get inflated about that. It's not because you're so important in your own rights that the devil hates you. The devil's real war is with God. And wicked persons have always known that if you cannot hurt an individual then hurt someone that individual loves and you've hurt them anyway. And that's the reason the devil's warfare is against you. God's warfare is against the devil. And how does God intend to win the war? Through the prayers of his people. Isn't that strange? God intends to win the war through the prayers of his people. Omnipotent deity has limited itself to our prayers. And God moves when we pray, and prayer is warfare. The devil understands that.
The devil doesn't mind if we meet here this morning, not at all. He doesn't mind if this choir sings. The devil doesn't mind if you do everything except pray. The devil mocks our schemes. The devil laughs at our organization. The devil sneers at our building. But the devil fears our prayers. The devil will do anything he can do to keep you from praying. The devil will even encourage you to read the Bible if it will keep you from praying. The devil will encourage you even to go to church on Sunday morning if it will keep you from praying.
But when you submit to God and when you can say I am jealous for the cause of Christ and Jesus Christ is Lord, then you can say to that devil, "Devil, in the name of Jesus Christ, I defy you. I repudiate you. I resist you. You're trespassing on my Father's property. In the name of Jesus and in the power of the blood, be gone. And he must flee from you. Powerful prayer.
Fourthly, there's the principle of separation from the world. Verse 8, "Draw nigh to God and he will draw night to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
Now what is James talking about? You might as well not try to be separated from the world until you resist the devil. And you might as well try not to resist the devil until you submit to God. And you might as well try not to submit to God until you're sensitive to the Holy Spirit. But once you have made the submission and once you have made this resistance, now is the time to be separated from this world.
It's not that if you can clean up your life God will accept you. No, you can't clean up your life until you come to God. Till you repudiate the devil you're never going to have victory over the world. But what is James saying when we come to this point in our prayer life? That we cannot come to God with dirty hands. We cannot come to God with divided hearts. We cannot come to God with double minds. We can't come to God facing both ways. For whosoever is a friend of the world is the enemy of God. God didn't save us and bathe this world with his blood to have us serve the devil. Is there some unrepented sin in your life? Is there some habit, some attitude, some grudge, some gossip, some resentment? Then get rid of it. Cleanse your hands. Purify your heart, you double minded. You remember what James has already said in another place? "A man is unstable in all of his ways. Let that man think he shall receive anything of the Lord.
Are you going to let go of this world and take hold of God with both hands? Then, you'll know power in prayer. The Bible says, "Ye shall search after me and find me when you search with your whole heart. If there's anything that God despises it is religion, praying. There must be a separation from the world. The Bible says clearly and plainly in Psalm 66:18 "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.
So much of our praying is God bless us, anyhow. I'm not going to repent of my sin. I'm not going to let go of the things of this world. But, God, please bless me. Please answer my prayers, anyway. He's not going to do it. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. That doesn't say if I've sinned the Lord will not hear me, because we've all sinned. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. God cannot bless, God cannot honor our prayers when there's sin in our heart. Therefore, James says, "Cleanse your hands and purify your heart, ye double minded.
The last principle James mentions is in 4:9, and it's the principle that I call seriousness and soberness in our purpose. James says, "Be afflicted and mourn and weep and let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves, therefore, in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
I'll tell you one more reason why our prayers are not answered, because our prayers are not fervent. They're giddy, silly, , easily uttered, soon forgotten. James says it is time that we prayed in keeping with the urgency and the emergency of the need. We need to learn to weep before the Lord. Hezekiah was about to die. He turned his face to God and prayed, and God said, "I have seen thy tears. I have heard thy prayer. Has God seen your tears? Oh, we have plenty of organizers but not too many agonizers.
When was the last time you ever shed a tear over some soul that was mortgaged to the devil? When is the last time you missed a meal to pray? When is the last time you fasted and prayed? When is the last time you spent a night in prayer? When is the last time when you got hold of God and said, "Oh God, I'll not let you go unless you bless me ? God forgive our weak prayers, our easy prayers, our lazy prayers, our take it or leave or leave it prayers, our unbroken prayers. "A broken and a contrite heart thou wilt not despise, O God.
James says get serious about your praying. James says in the fifth chapter "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. And I have sensed that 20th century Christianity is missing primarily in fervency when it comes to praying. There's something about it. God can tell when we mean business.
O God, help me, help us to learn the secret of victorious prayer.
Adrian Rogers is pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee and host of the radio program "Love Worth Finding." His books include Unveiling the End Times in Our Time (Broadman & Holman, 2004).