James’ comments about inappropriate prayer lead to the obvious question, ‘How then should we pray?’ He gives a very simple definition of prayer when he says that it is asking God to do things. Often, the answer to a spiritual problem is to ask, ‘How is your prayer life?’ So we can make some basic comments about what James says here about prayer.
First, a Christian can be defined as a praying person. It is a sign of a real Christian. When the Lord sent Ananias to speak to Saul of Tarsus, he described Saul as now praying (Saul would have said many prayers before then, but he had never prayed until he was confronted by Jesus). Prayer should be the automatic response of a Christian – I assume this is what Paul means when he urged believers to continue in prayer (Col. 4:2).
In addition, true prayer is marked by three obvious aspects. One is that we must pray for the right things. Items for prayer come in two categories: one are things that God has promised to give and the other contains legitimate things that he has not promised to give. We can expect him to give what he has promised, but we cannot insist that he gives what he has not promised.
Also, we must pray with the right spirit. It is obvious that James’ readers had a wrong spirit when they prayed. Their motives for praying was selfish, focussed on how they could improve their own circumstances, with the implication that they were not too bothered about how others were getting on.
And we must continue to pray. This aspect of the necessity of prayer is seen in the present tense of the verbs that James uses. Without ongoing prayer, there is no progress.