James wrote to struggling Christians about their quarreling. He rebuked them for it and for their selfish desires. He said, “You have not because you do not ask.” (James 4:2)
What is the secret to an abundant life, to spiritual health and fruitfulness? What is the key to obtaining the blessings of God? I watch people trying to obtain all the good things of life and never finding satisfaction. They do not pray. I have been in churches where there seemed to be no life, no power, no blessing from God. They do not pray.
A friend once said, “When I miss a day of prayer, God takes note. When I miss two days, I notice it. When I miss three days, everyone notices.” She was right. Missing prayer does something to my days also. I’ve no quickness of mind, no steadiness, no calm spirit in those small or large calamities that happen. Sin more easily overtakes me. I’m grumpy as the joy of the Lord becomes elusive. I’m like an appliance unplugged, a flashlight with a dead battery. I have not because I do not ask.
The Bible instructs God’s people to do many things, but the constant is prayer. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:12–13) Constant prayer is listed with the attitude fruit of the Holy Spirit, like hope and patience, but also with action fruit like generosity and kindness to others. Without prayer, the Spirit leaks out and my motivation pales. I cannot be a blessing to others.
The Old Testament gives the same advice: “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” (1 Chronicles 16:11) Prayer is not just for Sunday morning, grace at the table, and dire situations. It is for all the time, all day, continually.
It is also the way to resist temptation. Jesus told His disciples, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) They were in the Garden of Gethsemane and He was soon to be crucified. They cared. They wanted to support Him. They were also tired and could not stay awake to pray, even at this crucial time.
That sounds so familiar. Last night I went to bed with the enemy dangling a particular sinful idea in front of me. I was too tired to pray and fell asleep almost instantly. That idea woke me up four or five times in the night and even before my alarm rang. It would not go away without prayer, prayer that acknowledges the weakness of my flesh and my need for the power of the Holy Spirit.
Persistent prayer is also a challenge. I’ve prayed many requests for years. God has not said ‘no’ but the answers are still unseen. I’m encouraged by the parable Jesus told “to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” It was about a widow who kept bothering a judge as she asked for justice against an enemy. The judge was annoyed and finally said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.”
Jesus said if an unrighteous judge will give in because of persistence, what about God? Will He not give justice to His people who cry to Him day and night? Of course God cares about His people and about justice far more than a worldly judge, but Jesus asks one more question: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1–8)
Not asking God, not persisting in prayer, are signs of small or little faith. This indicates an “I can do it myself” attitude. It may also indicate that I really don’t want whatever it is anyway, or that I think whatever temptation I should be praying about seems interesting and I want to think about it — even though I know that all temptation eventually turns around and bites me.
Jesus desires that I ask, not only that I have whatever is needed, but in the asking I discover how powerful He is and how much He loves me. He says, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24) He also wants me to be totally happy, even continually filled with joy.