I had just posted January 2016 Newsletter about the critical need to get back to basics. Almost immediately, a post appeared on Facebook to demonstrate and affirm this. Hence, I am writing this article to make an even clearer point about examining our foundations; and in particular, our knowledge and understanding of Scripture, or lack of.
Here is the Facebook post from Lakewood Church, with Pastor Joel Osteen’s ‘exhortation’ based on James 4:3…
In case you are unable to make out the text, it reads, “The scripture says in James 4:3, “You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss…” When we ask to merely survive, to get by, to just endure, that’s a weak prayer. That’s asking amiss. God is saying, “I created the whole universe, I own it all. don’t come to me with a weak prayer asking me to help you live in mediocrity, endure the trouble, survive another month. No when you come to, ask big, knowing that I’m a more than enough God. Ask me for your dreams, ask me to do what looks impossible, ask me to heal you from that disease, ask me to accelerate your goals, ask me to show out in your life.” From Pastor Joel Osteen at Lakewood Church today.”
Let’s process this together.
At first glance, it sounds right, doesn’t it? Do we have a big God? YES! Can He do the impossible? AMEN! Does He want me to believe Him for more than just enough? INDEED! No wonder, this post attracted 10,829 likes and prompted 2,387 shares (as at the time of the screen shot)!
According to Pastor Joel, to ask amiss is to pray a wrong prayer or to pray beneath what God is able to do. And what Pastor Joel teaches must be right, right? After all, he is the leader of a mega church with an accompanying mega smile, not to mention the author of best-selling books. Even if he is a little off, let’s not split hairs because this is just so encouraging and uplifting, and it helps me trust God for all He has for me!
But wait! Is this what James 4:3 really means? To answer this question, the entire verse needs to be quoted and read in its context. We cannot infer anything from a verse in isolation, much less a truncated one! So, what does James 4:3 say? Here it is…
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” James 4:3
Hmmmm, I don’t know about you but it sure sounds different, doesn’t it? – and you don’t even need to have attended a course on Hermeneutics to determine this. With due respect to Pastor Joel, what is amiss here is not our prayers but his interpretation of this verse! Clearly, to ask amiss is not to pray wrongly, weakly or conservatively but to pray with the wrong attitude or motive, as stated in the missing portion of the verse, “that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
As appealing and as inspirational as it sounds, Osteen’s misinterpretation is exactly what this verse warns against! Check out the next verse, James 4:4, where James rebukes (yes, rebukes!) believers, labelling them as adulterers and adulteresses because of their worldliness! That’s the difference between a true pastor-preacher and a motivational speaker.
I hope I have made a clear enough point through this exercise and illustration. There is a dire and critical need to get back to basics, and especially back to the Word of God. Biblical illiteracy does not only refer to Christians who do not know the Word. It also includes Christians who think they know the Word but actually don’t. In fact, these are most prone to deception because of a false sense of security! And if you are one who only underlines or highlights the nice stuff in the Bible, do yourself a big favour. By all means, love the blessings, but make sure you also heed the warnings!
Be careful, dear brother or sister. Be very aware of the dangers of not being able to rightly divide the word (2 Tim 2:15). Biblical illiteracy is easily satisfied with what sounds biblical and inspirational, but often at the expense of sound biblical interpretation. Get back to basics. Return to the Word.
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Tim 2:15