In this episode of TGC Q&A, Paul Tripp and J. D. Greear discuss the question, “What did James mean by, ‘You do not have, because you do not ask?’” They address:
- Taking the verse seriously (:00)
- Avoiding a formulaic approach (1:16)
- Understanding God’s sovereignty in prayer (2:15)
- “Stop asking stupid questions and eat” (3:27)
- Understanding the call to pray (4:11)
- Best resources on prayer (5:06)
- Adulterous prayer (7:07)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of prayer.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
J. D. Greear: So you do not have because you do not ask. Yeah. That’s a verse that the first mistake we make is we don’t really take it seriously. That God says there are a lot of blessings that he wanted to give to us, but we just didn’t wait in a posture to receive from him.
J. D. Greear: I think of the parables. I’m very challenged by them about persistent prayer. They prayed all night for Peter’s release. It didn’t say they threw up a quick one and then resolved to the sovereignty of God and went home. It’s that somehow their prayers were the way that, they weren’t changing God’s heart, but God used that persistence in prayer to unlock that door. Knock. Knock, and you will receive means you continue to knock and continue to beat at that door. And it’s not just one time. So I think that’s one of the ways that you can misinterpret it.
J. D. Greear: I think a second way is maybe on the other side of that, and that is you turn it into a formula that I really can manipulate the will of God if I meet a certain set of conditions. Prayers are real. It’s a dynamic relationship. Prayer doesn’t just change us, contrary to the popular thing. Actually, there are things that happen through prayer that wouldn’t happen if we didn’t pray. But it’s also true that when I come before God, there is a sense I am supposed to pray every single time, “Not my will, but thine be done.”
J. D. Greear: I love how, I think it’s Eugene Peterson talks about the difference in morning prayers and evening prayers. He said, “Morning prayers in the Psalms are like, ‘God, please change this.’ Evening prayers are, ‘God, I thank you that, regardless of the circumstances, your will has been done, and I can rest in it.'” And this is one of those things that is not a contradiction to be resolved. It’s a tension to be managed, morning prayers and evening prayers.
J. D. Greear: And so that’s, I think, the two maybe big, dangerous ways you could go off. How would you as a counselor say?
Paul Tripp: I agree with everything you said. I think that the Bible doesn’t ever present God’s sovereignty in a way that allows me to be passive. God responds to the prayers of his people, and so he calls us to be perseverant in prayer, to believe that prayer matters. I think that’s what those kind of passages are about. It’s not a formula. It’s not that God is a vending machine. I put in the right coins, and I get. That’s not what it’s about.
J. D. Greear: He’s a pinata, and you whack him with your faith stick and boom, out comes the candy.
Paul Tripp: But if I could say it theologically, God accomplishes his sovereign plan through the true validity of the actions of the secondary agent. That’s us. It’s both-and. God is sovereign, not over just the ends, but the means as well. And he’s chosen prayer to be one of the means by which he accomplishes his preordained plan. That’s a beautiful thing. That never ever allows me to say, “Well, I can just hang back because God’s got it.”
J. D. Greear: Yeah. And your statement sounded much more theological than my pinata example, so I appreciate that contrast. You ever heard AA Hodge, who is one of the old Princeton theologians?
Paul Tripp: Oh, I love AA Hodge.
J. D. Greear: Yeah. He had the statement, and I’ve just loved it. I probably can’t get it exactly right. But he says, “Has God appointed the day that you will die? Yes. Can anything you do actually change that day? No. Well, then why do you eat? Well, to live. And what happens if you don’t eat? Well, then you die. Well, if you stop eating and die, would that be the day that God had preordained for you to die?” AA Hodges’ answer was, “Stop asking stupid questions and just eat.”
J. D. Greear: Eating is the preordained way that God has set for living. And so I know that, yes, there’s a tension in the sovereignty of God, but I also know that things happen when God’s people pray, when they pray persistently, and when we ask and don’t receive.
Paul Tripp: And God calls us to pray. He calls us to pray because prayer has meaning. It has purpose. It results in something. God’s not calling us to waste our time in formal religious bologna. Prayer is never that. And so it should be, for us, this joyful perseverance that a God who loves me knows this is best for me, and I believe that he hears. And so it’s not drudgery for me to pray. I get to pray. God hears me. God actually responds to little Paul Tripp sitting in his family room in Philadelphia. How magnificent is that? When I hear myself say that, it’s mind-boggling. Of course, then do it.
J. D. Greear: What are some of the best books or resources that have motivated you to pray or taught you how to pray?
Paul Tripp: I don’t know. I don’t know. To me, it’s just such a privilege that’s mine by grace. That God welcomes me into his presence and says, “Paul, I hear you. Pray to me and know that I respond.” How beautiful is that? And at that moment, it is removed from all its formal, institutional, theological quandary stuff. And God has ordained for me to do this, and he responds to me. How beautiful.
J. D. Greear: Mine, of course, is Dangerous Calling. That’s what I was going to say is the best resource on learning to pray. Beyond that, I would say Paul Miller’s A Praying Life. Man, that’s a book for me. And his dad, Jack Miller, wrote a book, Come Back, Barbara. And just when you want to look at an example of somebody wrestling theologically, the Providence and Prayer by a guy named Terrence Tiessen, he wrestles with how your views of sovereignty shape the way that you pray. And it doesn’t come out like you think it necessarily would, but if you’re wanting to get into the more of the robust parts of it. Andrew Murray, Waiting on God.
J. D. Greear: These are books that have just shown me that, I guess, the culture that I’ve grown up, the Christian culture that throws up pop prayers and a running dialogue, a laundry list you keep before God are keeping us from some of the greatest relational blessings that the Psalmists experienced, just with wrestling with God on why he wasn’t answering a certain prayer, what God was doing in you through that period of waiting, and what role faith has in accessing what God has to offer.
Paul Tripp: And you reminded me of Don Whitney’s Praying the Psalms. So good. Yeah. So good.
J. D. Greear: Yeah. Well, the last part I was thinking, because I hate to leave with James 4:2 and not get to verse three because, to me, that’s the other side of it that’s so convicting. He says, “Sometimes you ask, and then you don’t receive because you ask it so that you could spend it on your passions.” And the way he constructs it, he’s comparing it to adultery, which I’ve always thought was just …
J. D. Greear: I remember God exposed my own prayers for my ministry one time as being an adulterous prayer. When you think about that analogy, how do you pray like an adulterer? Well, if a man goes to his wife and says, “Hey, when we covenanted in marriage, you were agreeing to meet my romantic and sexual needs, and here’s how I need you to do that. I need you to talk to your friend so-and-so and convince them to sleep with me.” She’s going to reply, “That’s not what the covenant is. I agreed to meet those in myself.”
J. D. Greear: And I realized that a lot of my praying as an example for a growing church and a thriving ministry was done really so that I could have a sense of identity, so that I have a sense of worth, a sense of satisfaction. And it was like God was like, “Why are you arranging me as a liaison so that I can bring you to your real lover over here? That’s why I’m not answering that prayer is because you’re supposed to find those things in me.”
Paul Tripp: Yeah. I think of it this thing, that this thing that is probably my most self-conscious God-ward act is also my greatest struggle of idolatry because I kidnap that for what I want, what would make me happy, what would make me comfortable, what would make me appreciated. And I think because of that, prayer is spiritual war because that drift is so subtle and so easy, where I’ve drifted away from God’s glory and God’s purpose for me to this whole other laundry list.
Paul Tripp: And I think much of my prayer has been idolatrous prayer. And I pray, when I pray, that as I pray, God rescues me from me. And I don’t think I’ll ever be a graduate from that. I think that’s every day. I come with my own set of burdens, my own set of wants, and oh, the God who rescued me from me so that I’d be free from that adulterous form of prayer.