As our Father, God has delighted himself in granting us some things without our asking him in prayer. He does this out of love. He also withholds some things until he is asked, and this is also done out of love. This latter aspect of prayer relates to things God has made conditional; that is to say, if we ask, he will answer, but if we do not ask, he will not work in these specific areas. James says, “You do not have because you do not ask” (Jas 4:2). We can miss God’s blessing because we do not ask.
For example, James says, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (Jas 1:5). The word ask is aitéō in the original and is in the present tense; this signifies a repetitive or continuous action. This means God does not give all the wisdom we need for life when we ask one time. Rather, we ask God in prayer for wisdom regarding a specific event or need, and he gives wisdom for that particular request.
But if we do not ask for wisdom, he does not give us wisdom just because we need it; God only grants us wisdom for the particular situation we are in and for which we request wisdom. We can rest assured that he does because he promises he will. But the character of a conditional promise is that implicit in the promise to give if we ask is the reality that he will withhold it if we do not ask. This is the nature of a conditional promise, which is found throughout Scripture. Many times, as here, the conditional promise is identified by the word if.
A second thing we can do to miss God’s blessing is to ask with carnal, sinful, selfish motives. This is not necessarily the same as asking for something we may desire, need, or prefer. James warns, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (Jas 4:3). As with everything, prayer should first and foremost seek to honor God. When we bring our petitions to God in the right spirit and way, we honor God. When we fail in this area, God purposefully refrains from responding to our request.
Maybe the question that most practically determines motive is; what is the ultimate purpose of the request? Is it to elevate our self or God? Just because our request may make our life or situation better does not mean it does not have God’s glory as our ultimate desire. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive because we can express our desire within the context of our ultimate desire, which is to properly glorify God.
How can we practically identify whether our manner, praying, or our specific request is emanating from wrong motives? First, it is if we are not mostly concerned with whether our manner and request honor God. If our requests are specifically according to explicit promises of Scripture, as with wisdom, we can rest assured the request is proper. This only leaves our manner, which can be tested by whether we foremostly desire for our request to glorify God, or are we more concerned with getting what we ask for, which inherently glorifies someone else, including one’s self.
Areas in which we make specific requests outside of the realm of explicit scriptural promises are more tentative. That is because we do not have specific promises regarding conditionals in areas such as praying for a specific job, house, what school to attend, or a galaxy of other life requests; we must make our requests known and trust his goodness to do what will glorify him most. That must always be our ultimate desire.
However, one cannot use “Thy will be done” as an excuse for not praying specifically to make our request known to God because our particular request, even in areas not specifically promised in Scripture, may very well be his will. That is to say, his will in a particular situation outside of the explicit promises of Scripture may be to grant our specific request; if we fail to ask, his perfect will for us may not be experienced in that situation.
I am convinced, based upon the myriad of conditionals in the Scripture (this includes everywhere God gives man a choice to choose between accessible options), that even more exist, which are not explicitly expressed in Scripture. The existence of conditionals not explicitly revealed in Scripture also provide the basis for us to fulfill Scriptures that teach us to bring everything to God in prayer (Matt 6:6, 9–14; 1 Thess 5:17; Jude 20).
I am also convinced, based upon the very nature of conditionals, that we can miss God doing many things he desires to do for us because we simply fail to ask with the right spirit. To the end that we may find ourselves realizing when we get to heaven how many times God withheld something he was willing to do in or through us because we did not ask. For me, I would rather learn how many times he desires to bless in this life before I get to heaven; therefore, I ask so that the need may be met in a way that sets his glory on display. I seek to practice praying about everything I think about and then some!