Q&A | Are You Praying With The Wrong Motives?

Should we infer from a cursory reading of James 4:3 that the Bible instructs us not to ask from God with wrong motives? If so, how can we be sure that we are praying with completely pure motives?   

Francis Chigbo: First of all, James 4:2-3 says “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”  Addressing your question, we see that it’s not just in verse 3 that we see a negative consequence of an (in)action that leads us to think of it as prescriptive. We see that in verse 2 as well – “…you do not have because you do not ask of God.” So, in a very straightforward way, we can say that the implication in verse 2 is that you need to ask of God so that you can have. And if I follow that principle in verse 3, “…you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives…”, the implication is perhaps, as you rightly said, that we ought to grow to a point where our mindsets are reoriented in such a way that we begin to ask with right motives, so that, as the Bible says, we will receive what we’ve asked for. And in that case, this directly answers your question – it is prescriptive.   

However, I know that this immediately raises a follow-up question which is, “How do we ensure that we are always asking with the right motives?” The simple answer is that it’s difficult. Tomi stressed the point that even as Christians, we are presently not yet fully conformed to the image of God. So, there will always be that part of us that still selfishly tries to satisfy itself fundamentally. But I do believe that as we grow in the gospel, we are guided along the path of asking with the right motives. For instance, one of the things we know from the Bible is that if we concern ourselves with the things of God first, God is going to add all other things that we need to our lives. So, one of the things we try to do during our Kingdom Prayer Day is to focus on what we know that God is doing and let that guide the rest of our thoughts and prayers. As we fill our prayers with the gospel and what we know God is doing, we will hopefully grow in maturity and be guided towards having purer motives in our prayers.   

I would say, though, that every time I pray – and this is me personally – if I have something that is burning or bothering me, there is a place of just falling before God and praying and not wandering in our thoughts, thinking, “Is this really from a pure motive or not?” I believe that the very fact that I really feel that I have to come to God in prayer shows that I rely on God and in that sense, there is a bit of a pure motive in that. So, I don’t want us to have this feeling of “Oh maybe I shouldn’t pray for this”. If we have a need, let’s just pray about it and trust that as we continue to stay in the gospel and grow in God’s word, He will slowly but surely change our hearts and minds to what He wants it to be.  

 Emmanuel Oset: This is one of the places where, in terms of interpreting Scripture, I believe that the first rule is to always read in context. This is not from any research, but I think 90% of the questions people have are resolved by just reading what comes before and what comes after. So, with James 4, his point is not so much that you can’t ask God for what you want as much as it is that you shouldn’t ask in order to spend it on yourself. Even with the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6, we see that the whole point – as Pastor Francis was saying – is to seek first the kingdom of God while also bringing your needs. You know, this is one of the profound things about prayer – that God is not just somebody we are praying to. He is our Father, and, in that sense, we can bring very personal needs and have Him listen to them while He does with them as He pleases. So, don’t feel like you can’t ask God for personal stuff.  

Answered by Francis Chigbo, an Elder in City Church and Emmanuel Oset, a Leader in City Church.  


[This transcript has been edited for easy readability]