You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
In this chapter James is giving correction about selfish desires and the wrong actions they produce. Selfishly trying to get things for ourselves can lead from lust and coveting to fighting and even murder and war. And still people don’t get what they want, James says, “because you do not ask” (James 4:2).
Of course, James knew that some of his readers would automatically respond, “What do you mean we don’t ask! We ask God for the things we want all the time! So why doesn’t God answer?” Verse 3 is James’ response to this expected objection.
God does not want us to pray with a list of selfish “give mes.” Asking “amiss” is asking for selfish reasons—not seeking God’s will, which truly is in our long-term best interest. Selfishly seeking pleasures now is short-sighted.
Instead our prayers must be based on right motives and right priorities, such as described in Matthew 6:33. Jesus said we should seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then the other things we need “shall be added to you.”
For more about priorities and where we should focus, see “Seek First the Kingdom of God.”