“You have not because you ask not.”

James 4.2.

Here’s a phenomenon I come across a little too often: Someone’s in need. They bring up their need to fellow Christians. And the fellow Christians respond, “Have you asked God to help you with that? ’Cause if you ask, he’ll help. You’re in need because you haven’t asked God about it. ‘You have not because you ask not.’ ”

Me, I’m pretty sure the needy person has asked God for help. Whenever I’m in need, he’s my go-to. I go to other people second. And no, not because other people suck: I wanna see if I can achieve it myself first, or I can achieve it with God’s help first. I guess it comes from the American ideal of self-sufficiency… although I admit it’s not always the wisest ideal. Some burdens ought to be shared.

And likewise some people try to avoid burdens whenever they can. That, more often than not, is the real motivation behind Christians telling the needy, “So have you asked God about it?” They don’t wanna help.

But let’s set them aside for a moment, and deal with the fact the quote they’ve used, “You have not because you ask not,” is only part of a bible verse. It’s missing the other part. The whole of the verse goes like yea:

James 4.2 KJV
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.

…Gee, that’s not all that encouraging of a bible verse.

Which is why people tend to skip the first part of the verse, if they know it. More often they don’t know it. They only know the “You have not because you ask not” part.

The point they’re trying to make is when Christians have needs, we’re meant to seek God. Seek him first, not as a last resort. The reason Christians are so regularly deprived, or do without, is because we’ve simply not sought God. We tried to achieve things ourselves. Or we did without because we presumed God wants us to do without—to be deprived, but figure “his grace is sufficient,” kinda like God told Paul when Paul asked to be freed of his thorn in his flesh. 2Co 12.9 (Another verse regularly quoted out of context, by the way.)

So the reason many Christians suffer from poverty, illness, and deprivation; the reason we don’t see enough of the Holy Spirit’s power throughout Christendom, is because we don’t expect it, don’t seek it, and don’t get it.

And y’know, this idea is true.

Seriously. Jesus taught us we can ask our Father for anything. And we can!

Luke 11.5-13 NLT
5 Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, 6 ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ 7 And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ 8 But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.
9 “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? 12 Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! 13 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

We’re to ask so we may receive; so our joy may be complete. Jn 16.24 Our Father is more generous than human fathers, and when we abide in Jesus we can ask him for anything. Jn 15.17 Anything. He can accomplish far beyond what we can ask, or even imagine. Ep 3.20 We can confidently make requests of him, 1Jn 5.14-15 and we’re even instructed to make requests of him when Jesus taught us the Lord’s Prayer.

The only things stopping us from having whatever we request of God are these: We doubt these scriptures are true. We pridefully try to fulfill our needs ourselves through our own heroic efforts, either because we don’t trust God enough to do them, or because we think we’re meant to solve them on our own. And too often our requests—rather than seeking and reflecting God’s will—are completely inappropriate. So of course God answers us, “No!”

Really not James’s point.

The problem isn’t that “Ask, and it shall be given you” is contrary to the scriptures. The scriptures back up the idea just fine. The problem is this verse. (Really, this half a verse.) The verse wasn’t written to express this idea of “Ask and receive.” It’s meant to criticize any Christians who ask God for inappropriate things.

James 4.1-4 NLT
1 What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? 2 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. 3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
4 You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.

James had no beef with people making prayer requests! His issue was people who ask for self-centered, self-focused, wrong-headed, stop-at-nothing requests. People who are willing to kill for what they covet.

Now compare this rotten attitude, with that of many of the people who teach, “You have not because you ask not.” The prosperity gospel movement in particular needs to be called out for this misbehavior, but to be fair, it’s hardly just them. It’s anyone who claims Christians should never be poor because our Father is so rich—and that if we are poor, it’s because we lack faith, or God’s punishing us for sin or unbelief or some other karmic reason.

Any Christian who teaches this, still has a lot of social Darwinism in their belief system. They presume anybody in need, deserves to be in need. Only inferior people are poor, suffer lack, or beg for help. Whereas the righteous and wise are always, automatically in a position of financial blessings, stability, and wealth. For God’ll give his kids anything our hearts desire. Ps 37.4 (Again ignoring the context: The proverb is only true of those who desire the LORD. Not material goods. Not Mammon.)

Materialistic Christians encourage us, like the prodigal son in Jesus’s story, to demand our inheritance from our Father now. Lk 15.12 ’Cause supposedly God wants us to be wealthy, happy (’cause we’re wealthy!), and healthy (now that we can afford health). This wealth isn’t necessarily to improve our relationship with Jesus, nor serve him better, nor grow God’s kingdom: They only focus on how it makes pagans jealous of our wealth, and wanna follow a God who grants them trinkets as well. Plus we’ll probably serve God better… now that we’re no longer distracted by a hierarchy of needs.

Probably? ’Cause what we see among the people who preach this, is very little fruit. When they give to charity, it’s with an uncharitable, ungenerous, tight-fisted attitude. The rest of the time, there’s a lot of conspicuous materialism, and serious warping of the scriptures so they can justify their money-love.

Look, if you wanna have nice things, go buy nice things. But don’t try to claim the bible teaches God expects his kids to have nice things. Some of us Christians definitely can’t handle wealth. Watch when Christians win the lottery, or win big at a casino, and they spend it almost immediately. Often to indulge their vices. Yeah, some Christians can handle wealth, and use it to help many, and that’s great… but how many of ’em say the core of their generosity comes from the prosperity gospel? Usually the only time people preach on it, is to defend their materialism.

So when stingy people quote James—“You have not because you ask not, so ask!”—it’s typically to defend their own greed, to defend their wealth, to claim God gave it to ’em because they asked. And it’s 180 degrees away from what James taught! He was trying to tell his readers to stop coveting the junk of this word—and these preachers teach, “You want the junk of this world? Ask God for it! He’ll give it to you! All you gotta do is ask!”

Ugh.