What Do You Desire?

Day 21 | Today’s passage: James 4:1-3 | Historical context of James

1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 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. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Fights, quarrels, murder. James uses some pretty strong language in this passage. “Well, this definitely doesn’t apply to me. I mean, I’m not the argumentative sort and I don’t pick a fight for no reason,” you might think to yourself—or at least, that’s what I thought. After all, James was addressing his letter to the 12 tribes of Jews scattered among the Gentiles. Not us, right?

Yet James essentially warns us that all conflicts and arguments are rooted in our self-centered desires to satisfy our personal lusts—be it for power, pleasure, or prosperity. This means that all of us who live in this world will inevitably struggle with lusting after the passions and pleasures it has to offer (1 John 2:16; Titus 3:3). When we do not have or cannot get what we want, we fight and quarrel with each other—sometimes to the extent of murder. It’s a tale as old as time, from Cain to modern-day murderers. Let’s face it: we live in a world that prizes and pursues the gratification of our personal lusts at whatever cost.

Before we conclude that we’re not as bad as Cain or a mass murderer, reflect on the last argument you had—be it with your parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker. What was the root cause of the conflict? Was it your pride getting in the way of admitting your wrongdoing? Your selfishness in not wanting to lend a helping hand at the cost of inconveniencing yourself? Your anger causing you to explode in argument? Your envy that motivated your gossiping behind the backs of fellow classmates or colleagues? If we take a moment to reflect, we would realize that much of it has got to do with our self-centred inclinations to get our way and protect our personal interests (even if it’s at the cost of someone else).

Ultimately, James says, we don’t have or can’t get what we want either because we don’t ask from God, or because we ask with wrong motives.

God gives good gifts and gives them generously whenever we earnestly seek His wisdom or will in what we do (1:5; 17). This is why James calls us to question our intentions behind our prayer requests: are they primarily aimed at fulfilling our own personal wants, or God’s sovereign will? Do we ask God to give us good grades, success in our work, or certain blessings to glorify Him, or to gratify our self-centered passions and pleasures?

The solution is to ask God to align our desires with His, so that they are according to His will. When our desires are not hinged on satisfying our flesh, but rather on pleasing and honoring Him, He promises that what we ask for will be given to us (Matthew 7:7-8). And this will not result in fights, quarrels, or murder—but in wisdom, peace, and a harvest of righteousness (3:16-18).

—Wendy Wong, Singapore

Questions for reflection

1. What advice have you recently heard from the world about pursuing what you wish for?

2. What truth encourages or challenges you to seek God boldly in your prayers?

Hand-lettering by Rachel Tu


Wendy is an aspiring writer, a TV journalist, and a disciple of Christ. She hopes that God will use what He’s given her to bless and glorify Him through her words and work. Her perfect day includes spending quality time with the Lord, curling up with a good novel, and marveling over His creation on a hike or bike ride.

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