You’re Praying Wrong

Ask, and it will be given you, Jesus promised. Crave, and you’ll kill for it, James warned. /

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3, NRSV used throughout)

The Roman Empire was an economy of bragging rights that required aggressive, ambitious behavior to be best, and first, and biggest. It was a predatory economy of getting everything you could for yourself at the expense of every other person. Does that sound familiar? (It is not a new idea that the US, in its economy of craving, reinforced by strong military power, has close parallels to the ancient economy of Rome.)

And the early church had to live in that economy. So James, wise elder that he is, wrote to give advice and reprimand to the church, instruction that we used to call “the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The church was tempted to imitate its cultural environment, and James insists otherwise. In the third and fourth chapters of his letter, James offers a social analysis and an alternative proposal that invites the church to choose and act differently.

The social analysis is in three stages:

“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from?” he asks first. “Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?”

There is everywhere conflict and dispute, a readiness to be quarrelsome, even to the performance of violence against those who think and act otherwise. Paul terms this the “desires of the flesh”: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Gal. 5:19–21). These are not “natural” or ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 41 / February 4, 2016
  1. Editor’s Note

    Issue 41: Crow funerals, the strangeness of light, wonder at the Renwick, and asking God rightly. /

  2. Funeral for a Feathered Friend

    Researchers are discovering why crows gather when one of them dies. Are they mourning or just learning? /

  3. How Light Changed the Rules of Opposites

    North couldn’t be south. An odd number couldn’t be even. And a particle couldn’t be a wave. Then we saw the light. /

  4. Wonder in Washington

    The newly renovated Renwick Gallery reopens with massive, immersive installations. /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 41: Links to amazing stuff.

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