When it happens on a court or a field, we call it “competition,” or between brothers and sisters it’s “sibling rivalry,” but when it happens in church—like in James’ church—we call it disunity. The infighting and dissension within James’ congregation was so great that he addressed its causes directly when he wrote, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

Coveting and avarice were so strong, these members were in active disagreement with one another. While James could have been speaking metaphorically about killing, it wouldn’t be uncharacteristic of human beings to resort to murder over one thing or another. But James doesn’t just condemn their behavior; he identifies what causes the lack they’re experiencing: a deficit of prayer and a surplus of selfish motives.

It’s clear that the promise Jesus makes to us in Luke 11:9-10 to

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

is not without this caveat of motivation. Put simply, the motivation for our prayers are so important, it can affect whether we receive what we’re requesting from God. It’s not just what we pray that’s important, but why we pray.

Motivations can be a hard thing to discern, especially within ourselves, so here are a few questions to help you test the motives of your prayers:

1 // Am I asking for this to increase my comfort level?

2 // Am I asking for this to impress other people?

3 // Do I desire this thing more than I desire knowing God himself?

4 // Do most my prayers focus on myself and my family only?

5 // Does the thing I’m asking for increase my “kingdom” or God’s kingdom?

As we individually pray with right motives—like loving our neighbor instead of ourselves, expanding God’s kingdom instead of our own, seeking reconciliation instead of revenge—collectively we’ll become a people who pursue God and take care of one another.