We return this week to readings in James’ letter, where he deals with a variety of topics including pleasure-seeking, learning to resist evil influences, and fair trading.
Like the rest of the letter, it is hugely practical, challenging our behaviour and the way we use our resources. Behind it however lurks the notion that following Jesus is not an easy option. We are engaged in the struggle between good and evil principles, and although the outcome is certain the present battle might be hard.
v 3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
And there you have it – one of the dominant trends of our age – seeking pleasure! Whether you read adverts for food or holidays, cars or clothing, the sub-text is always – go for what brings you pleasure and makes you feel good. Sometimes the message is blatant, at other times it is hidden behind the word ‘essential’, you really can’t manage without this thing, and besides everybody else has it or does it so why not you. Children learn to exploit this weakness in a parent’s thinking when they say, ‘Everybody else in my class has one.’
You can be pretty sure that if that is the way our culture is pointing then we as Jesus-followers are liable to be pulled in the same direction. Unless our inner self is clearly directed and differently motivated then pleasure, pleasing myself, will become the priority in daily living. It slowly but surely erodes a person’s commitment to almost every other aspect of life whether that be work, voluntary service, Christian fellowship or even marriage.
James is utterly realistic about what goes on inside a person; ‘evil desires at war within you ‘. In a pleasure-seeking culture the battle within us can become quite fierce; we probably don’t reach the extremes that James writes about ‘You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it ‘ but nevertheless desires can run deep and affect us and our relationships with others. And of course it can ruin our prayer-life.
We do well to ask ourselves about the motivation behind our prayers from time to time. Selfishness and personal pleasure can easily creep in and move us away from seeking God’s purposes as we pray.