The first sermon in American history was preached at Plymouth, Mass., on December 9, 1621 by Robert Cushman, a deacon and Puritan leader. His text was 1 Corinthians 10:24, “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” In his sermon he warned against “swelling pride, self-love and conceitedness,” and he condemned certain jealousies and quarrels among the settlers.
Mature faith does not quarrel or pursue selfish pleasures. There’s a flow or logic in James’ letter, though it isn’t organized like Paul’s epistles. James draws in part on the genre of wisdom literature, with its tendency to use aphorisms and sudden changes in topic. That seems to be the case here. The mentions of “peace-loving” and “peacemakers” at the end of chapter 3 apparently prompted James to return to the topic of fights and quarrels (1:19–20). Where do these originate? Sinful or self-centered desires (v. 1).
These desires are defined by lack or absence (v. 2). “You desire but do not have. . . . You covet but you cannot get what you want.” The verb “kill” can be understood in both a literal and a figurative way, so that James is identifying both murder and hatred as the end result of selfish desires.
These desires could be filled by God if we would ask, but they would not be filled in the ways we think (v. 3). If we don’t ask at all, we’re failing to trust our generous Father (1:5, 17). But God does not grant our petitions when we ask with selfish motives or for self-centered pleasures. Our needs and desires might be real, but we often try to fill them with the wrong things in the wrong ways. We need God’s wisdom to pray for the right things in the right ways.
When we bring our desires to the Lord, He brings them in line with His desires (Ps. 37:4). Only then can we pray as we ought for the things we ought. Whatever “dream” you’re chasing now, it’s the wrong one if it’s more important to you than your relationship with God. Let the prayer of your heart today be to want what He wants.