I have sat through many sermons and ministry training sessions where the speaker has made a comment to the effect that I have not had my prayers answered, because I have asked “amiss”. Or words to that effect; I’m sure you have heard much the same.
AMISS is an interesting word. I seem to have always known what it means, though I can’t honestly remember learning it. So, what does AMISS mean? Well, I’ve checked and here is what I found at dictionary.com:
1. out of the right or proper course, order, or condition; improperly; wrongly; astray: e.g. Did I speak amiss?
2. improper; wrong; faulty: e.g I think something is amiss in your calculations.
3. to be offended at or resentful of (something not meant to cause offense or resentment); misunderstand: e.g I couldn’t think of a way to present my view so that no one would take it amiss.
I’m sure you find these meanings to be fairly much what you thought the word meant: – wrong, or off-target.
Honestly, those meaning make sense based on what I recall from my teachers: my prayer was not answered because my prayer was ‘wrong’ or ‘off-target’. Or in other words, I had prayed a prayer and asked or something which was not in the Lord’s will, to grant or give. Certainly I’ve heard that spoken often enough and read it in so many books about prayer.
Then I thought I’d better find out where exactly this partial quotation or wisdom is located or from where it originates. It took a couple of minutes to reveal the exact book, chapter and verse: James 4:3 which reads: “You ask and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it upon your lusts” (MKJV).
This was not quite the wording I have been accustomed to hearing from my teachers. No one has ever said to me, “you didn’t get just in case you spend it on your lusts!” I’d surely recall that teaching.
So I looked up a few other bible versions for confirmation of the wording and collected the following:
ASV “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may spend it in your pleasures.”
ESV “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
ISV “You ask for something but do not get it because you ask for it for the wrong reason-for your own pleasure.”
KJV “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”
NKJ “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
Next I did what any good bible scholar apparently does and searched in a Greek bible as the original was probably written in Greek, the common language of the day. Being a Greek bible, it was in Greek font, but fortunately the little explanation tags (Strong’s Numbers) on each word told me that “lusts” is from “ἁνδάνω handanō (to please); sensual delight; by implication desire: – lust, pleasure”.
At last, there it was confirmed for me. But not only do I not recall being told that I did not receive because I may spend the results of my prayer request on pleasures, I certainly don’t recall such pleasures being passions or lusts, and lusts of the flesh into the bargain.
Then I noticed that James 4:3 did not actually seem to talk on the theme of ‘prayer,’ as I have been accustomed to reading about prayer, so I opened my bible and read James 4. The NKJV entitled Chapter 4 “Pride Promotes Strife” and the MKJ starts: “From where do wars and fightings among you come? Is it not from this, from your lusts which war in your members? You desire, and do not have. You murder, and are jealous, and cannot obtain. You fight and war, yet you have not because you ask not. You ask and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it upon your lusts.”
Reading further on did not help, so I read the end of Chapter 3 entitled “Heavenly versus Demonic Wisdom” which ends in v16-18 with “For where envying and strife are, there is confusion and every foul deed. But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
Since James was originally written as a one piece letter without the chapter divisions or headings, Chapter 4 follows on perfectly well from 3:18 and it all makes sense. Yes, it is a prayer in a sense which is being talked about. It is about seeking victory in the Lord’s name in battle, so that we may satisfy our lusts for power or position which we cannot obtain in any other way. It is certainly not a righteous prayer or ‘asking’, for as the Lord says above in James 3:18, “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. “ But it also seems to be a veiled warning against breaking one of the 10 Commandments – for as Exodus 20:7b instructs us, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” If you are at enmity with God, if you break your vows and continue to use His name, you use it in vain. You ask “amiss.”
Did I pray “amiss” in the past? Well, based on my current understanding of James’ teaching letter, I am now certain that the niggling doubt in my mind about one specific “asking,” has been resolved. I did not ask amiss. I guess that little specific “asking” will now have to the subject of another posting.
As I sit here now, I can clearly hear the advice of the redoubtable Ms. Jackie Pullinger of Hong Kong’s St. Stephens Society whom I had the pleasure to hear during one of her training sessions, cautioning us to “always take a Bible to church”. She explained why, but I don’t recall her reasons and though I can well guess, I certainly don’t want to put words in her mouth. Now I realise I should have been a bit more careful about accepting on faith all I have heard taught and preached. I should have gone home and studied the verses. I should have checked to see if the verses are quoted out of context; is a different or inappropriate meaning being associated to a certain useful verse or phrase, in order to get a specific message over?
I’ll try to be wiser now.