What Does “You Have Not Because You Ask Not” Mean?

What does “You have not because you ask not” mean? That is a great question. Let’s see what the Bible has to say.

You lust and do not have, so you kill. You desire to have and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your passions.

James 4:2-3

James Uses Hyperbole

James is Jesus’ younger half-brother; James is the son of Mary and Joseph (Jesus is the human son of Mary by the Holy Spirit). So, James heard a lot of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus often used figures of speech, like parables and hyperbole, when it helped Him make His point (e.g., Mark 9:43,45,47). Figures of speech are standard in any communication. 

The Logical Outcome

James teaches using a figure of speech called hyperbole. Jesus taught about lust by using that figure of speech. The logical outcome of passion is adultery:

“You have heard that it was said by the ancients, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).”

When James teaches about killing and war, he’s pointing to the ultimate outcome of that person’s desire. The Apostle John teaches using the same amplification:

 “Whoever does not love his brother remains in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer (1 John 3:14-15).”

The Central Thought

to this passage in James is “You fight and war.” They were fighting because they couldn’t obtain their desires. 

If You Have a Need Ask God

James says they don’t have because they haven’t asked (God in prayer). Jesus said the same:

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened (Luke 11:9-10).”

If You Haven’t Asked Pray

We don’t have some of what we desire because we haven’t asked. If you have a godly desire and haven’t asked, pray for it. That’s an easy solution to not having something. 

Ask Properly

We don’t have other things because our longings are improper. God looks out for us, and if we ask for something that, unknown to us, is not in our best interests, God won’t answer. And if we wish for something that isn’t in God’s will, God won’t grant that wish. 

God Answers With Wisdom

We’ve all had times when we’ve prayed for something, haven’t received it, then looked back and been glad we didn’t receive it. It’s good that God doesn’t blindly answer our prayers as we ask them. Instead, He considers them using His lenses of wisdom. God often answers our prayers in ways we would never consider. Read more about answered and unanswered prayers here.

God is Willing to Answer

God’s willingness to answer our prayers, like the good Father He is, mustn’t be abused. God wants persistent prayer, but not if we’re asking for the wrong thing, like “that you may spend it on your passions.” God won’t be mocked, and we open ourselves to His discipline. 

God Wants Us to Ask

God is our Provider, healer, and Savior. If you have a godly wish or need, and you haven’t asked for it, James says to ask God and keep asking. But it’s evil to ask if we want to spend it on our ungodly desires.

What does “You have not because you ask not” mean? We hope this has given you things to think about. If you don’t know Jesus as your savior, please watch the GREAT NEWS FOR YOU video on this page. Hope is here for you today.


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Jesus, I don't know You, and I don't know what Your plan is for me. But thank you for coming to die in my place. I'm sorry for anything I've ever done wrong in my life. I don't understand how You could ever forgive me, but if You really would, I would like to accept your free gift of grace and complete forgiveness. Please come into my life and take control, and help me trust You. In Jesus' name I pray,

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