‘You have not, because you ask not’ ~ James 4:2
As we get older, asking becomes harder. This may even extend to asking from God. In a world full of unmet expectations and seemingly unanswered prayers, we come to conclude, why ask in the first place? It then becomes that we have not, even though we asked. But since God’s Word is true, the dissonance we experience in reality points to our marred way of thinking. We think God to be a magician who pulls out from His sleeve whatever we ask Him. Better yet, we think God to be an ATM machine we can make a withdrawal anytime we want to meet whatever needs we have. In essence, we like the idea of asking if it meets our needs there and then. In so doing, we reduce God to being One who is solely at our service, while in reality, true asking should be so that we can be in God’s service. In other words, the true essence of asking is for God to give us, in order to in turn serve Him. Jesus even assures, ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened’ (Matthew 7:7-9).
Jesus Himself assures us that everyone who asks receives. He then proceeds to ask, ‘Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!’ (v9-11). However, what ends up happening is that often times, we ask for stone instead of bread and for snake instead of fish. It is obvious that no one would give their child something detrimental such as a stone or a snake to eat. In the same way, God would not give us the things that we ask which spring from our evil desires, in place of the good gifts He has in store for us. James puts it this way, ‘When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures’ (James 4:3). Does that mean that God does not want to see us happy? Quite the contrary. It is just that God’s idea of pleasure is quite different from ours. His idea of it is actually better. It is in fact the real deal. Thus, seeing how God views things is the starting point of all meaningful asking that we will ever do.
When Jesus met with the Samaritan woman at the well, He begins by asking her a question. ‘Will you give me a drink?’ (John 4:7). Jesus knew that if He had never initiated the conversation, the woman would never have spoken to Him because of the cultural and gender barriers that encased that particular period the event took place. ‘For Jews do not associate with Samaritans’ (v9), or even use the same dishes that the Samaritans used. While we are always the askers and God the giver, sometimes God inverts the procedure to accommodate those who have put barriers between themselves and God – as in this case. Some choose not to associate with God because they deem themselves unclean or too far removed that there is no point at which they can meet. As a result, they tend not to ask anything from God. The woman even remarks, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (v9). Already, the woman saw a barrier between herself and Jesus that even conversing with Him seemed like a far-fetched idea, let alone asking. So, Jesus takes the first step and asks.
While God may make the first move to engage with those who feel alienated from Him, asking of them in some way, the principle of asking remains in the court of human beings. For Jesus tells the woman, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water’ (v10). All along, Jesus wanted the woman to ask of Him so that He can give her the gift of God. From this conversation, God’s design of asking and His intention of giving becomes clear. He intends to give water that wells ‘up to eternal life’ (v14), only if we ask. In short, He intends to give us the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is because this gift comes packaged with all other gifts that prove essential to our everyday life, and help us avoid many of the problems and anguish we experience. Jesus knew perfectly well that the woman had relationship issues and commitment problems, for she ‘had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband’ (v18). However, Jesus does not start by giving her solutions to her problems, but goes to the heart of the matter. He knew that in offering her His gift, even her relational problems would be solved. For she would have contentment, discernment, and wisdom to make good choices when it came to men, and life in general.
‘His divine power has given us everything pertaining to life (eternal) and godliness, through our knowledge of him who called us to glory and virtue’ (2 Peter 1:3). However, many of the God’s gifts remain unboxed and stocked up because we do not ask for the One that carries it all, God’s Spirit – the Holy Spirit. Often times, we do not ask anything pertaining to life and godliness, but ask for cars, houses, fame, jobs, money, spouses, and the like. Although these are all good things and not necessarily wrong to ask God for, they do not really pertain to eternal life and godliness. But when we ask God for more ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22), which is in essence more of Him, He then finds it easy to give us any other worldly thing. This is because He knows the one asking has good and godly motives, and can be entrusted to use the gifts to serve Kingdom purposes. So, when our desires are right, God gives us what we ask for. It first has to begin by wanting God. David says, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart’ (Psalm 37:4). So, if we only linger in the place of prayer because we delight in a certain car, job, or any worldly affair, then we miss the point. But, if we linger in the place of prayer because we delight in God and ask more of Him, He then gives us what we ask for- Him. Additionally, He gives us our deep desires, before we can even utter a word of them.
‘But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you’ ~ Matthew 6:33