What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. – James 4:1-3
James paints a bleak picture of passion and desires in these verses. He traces the hostilities among us back to our conflicting desires: I want what you have, so I take you down to get it. You gain what you want by gossiping about me. She gathers supporters and stages a coup to get rid of him, etc. Reading these verses alone, it’s tempting to conclude that desires are wrong in and of themselves.
However, desires are not necessarily a product of sin. God created us such that we all want to be loved, accepted and significant to other people. We are incomplete alone. We were made for companionship, fellowship, and to need each other. We shouldn’t feel guilty because we desire to matter to someone or because we long for our lives to have meaning. Desires play a key role in the life of faith.
The question is how we handle our desires and whether we are willing to listen to what God says about them.
Because of sin, our desires are spoiled. We may want the wrong things or want the right things for the wrong reasons. However, taking my place under God and next to my neighbor makes me evaluate my desires in the light of what God says is true and changes how I act on them. If I understand that I am called to love God and my neighbor as myself, it puts my desire in perspective. I don’t rob and steal because the person I’m stealing from is just as much in the image of God as I am. I check my desires for the sake of what is true and right.
The gospel forces us to ask: what do I really want? What do I think is ultimately valuable? What’s more important to me: seeking power and fame in this world or forgiveness and eternal life in the next?
When James says “you do not have because you do not ask”, he is echoing the words of Jesus, Ask it and shall be given to you. Knock and the door will open. The gospel is a promise of fulfillment. God recognizes our great need and He has promised to solve it. But the promise is not for fame, fortune, health and wealth in this world. The promise is for eternal life.
The question is have we recognized what is truly our great need. The gospel promises to solve our problem of sin and bring us the fulfillment we long for: freedom from sin, eternal life and righteousness. If you turn from your sin and seek God, God immediately begins the process of giving Life to you. It’s right for us to turn to God with our desires and to tell him we long for something we don’t know how to fix. God says, He will answer that prayer and ultimately fulfill the deepest longings of our hearts.
In addition to believing that Jesus paid the price for my sins through his death on the cross, I must also believe that the life he died to give me is Life indeed. It is that Life that I want and long for. The world promises to fulfill my desires one way; the gospel says the fulfillment of the world is a shabby imitation of what will fulfill you.
Saying I believe the gospel means I must choose who I believe. I must choose how to respond to my desires. Do I submit them to God and the lordship of Christ? Or do I seek to promote myself and find my own fulfillment?