These words are found in James 4:2. Let’s read verses 1-3 to get the context: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet 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 pleasures” (NKJV).

This passage draws an ugly picture of the human heart that is lusting after something and is willing to obtain it at any cost, even if it means murdering someone to get it. Some say this can’t possibly be referring to a true believer, but they forget that although the believer has been given a new nature, they still possess the old nature and are capable of strong desires that lead to fighting and possibly even murder. The apostle Paul speaks of this in Romans 7:8, “But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire.” In verses 13-16 he describes the conflict he had when he tried to keep God’s commandments, yet he failed time and time again. In verses 17-18 he makes a discovery: “But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells.” He came to realize that though he was forgiven and justified through Christ’s finished work on the cross, he still possessed a fallen and corrupt nature. A good example of lusting for something and being willing to do whatever it takes to get it is in 2nd Samuel chapter 11. King David lusted after Bathsheba and his desire for her was so strong that he sent her husband Uriah to certain death in order to make her his wife. This is a sad commentary on the heart of man, even that of believers.

Now to answer your question, the words “You do not have because you do not ask” mean just what they say. When we are lusting after someone or something that is not in keeping with God’s will, we often avoid prayer altogether; WE DON’T ASK. Perhaps we know in our heart of hearts that what we desire is wrong, so instead of going to the throne of grace to ask God for it, we attempt to obtain it through our own efforts, even if it means hurting other people in the process. (We may not actually kill them, but the evil in our hearts is what can lead to actual murder.) At other times we do ask and thus verse 3 states, “You ask and do not receive.” Why doesn’t God grant us our request? Because “you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” God sees the motives behind our words and when there is an “evil desire” compelling us to pray, He will withhold from us the thing we are coveting. He knows full-well that our hearts are craving something to gratify our lusts instead of desiring something that will bring honor and glory to Him, and blessing to others.  (216.1)  (DO)