Talking to Jesus: Shotgun!

” ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ [Jesus] asked. They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’ ” (Mark 10:36-37)

You’ll need to read yesterday’s devo to catch up with this story. If you thought the brothers’ approach to Jesus with their request was manipulative, it gets worse. What they mean when they ask to sit on his right and left in His glory is to be the second and third most powerful people in His kingdom. “Can we be your vice president and secretary of state?”

ttj_350James and John believed Jesus was the Messiah, the son of God. But they thought that meant He was on earth to overthrow the Romans and the corrupt Jewish religious leaders and establish God’s kingdom on earth. As faithful followers during the last three years, they wanted some power when He set up shop.

It almost comes across as if they thought ruling in God’s kingdom is like calling “shotgun” to get the front passenger seat in your friend’s car. Too bad for the other 10 disciples, but we asked first! How many times do we do something similar, expecting God to give us something big we want because we’ve been following Him for a while?

Think: Have you ever thought God owed you something big because of your faithfulness to Him? Why do you think it’s so easy to get confused that following Jesus should lead to having our personal dreams come true when it lead Him to suffering and death?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be willing to follow Jesus even if the path doesn’t lead to everything you’re hoping for out of this life.

Do: Make a quick list of the things God owes you for your faithful service to Him. (It’s tricky!)

Talking to Jesus: Give Me What I Want!

“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ ” (Mark 10:35)

We’re going to drop in on Jesus for a week or so as He has a couple of conversations in Mark 10. In the first one, two brothers approach Jesus with the biggest prayer request in the history of human kind. Okay, that might be overstating it a little, but it was a giant “ask.”

ttj_350Notice their approach. It’s a popular strategy with 4-year-olds: “Daddy, will you do something for me?” they ask in their sweetest pre-school voice. If you slip up and say, “Sure, sweetie, what do you need?” Then they hit you with: “I want a pony and some chocolate cake and a chain saw! You promised!”

James and John try to get Jesus to say yes to their request before they actually ask it, thinking they can trick Him into giving them what they want. Do we pray like that sometimes? Do we think we have a contract with God that binds Him to deliver whatever we ask?

A good dad knows better than to give a 4-year-old a chain saw, and God the Father knows better than to be manipulated into giving us the wrong things. Can we trust Him to make that choice?

Think: Have you ever believed that God owed you a gift just because you asked for it? Does He promise to give us whatever we want? Have you ever been glad God didn’t give you something you asked for?

Pray: Thank God that He is wise enough to answer your prayers in the way that is best for you and Him and others – even if the answer is no.

Do: If you think of it, ask the parent of a 4-year-old about some of the wild things kids ask for.

Words: Best Words Ever

“I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.” (Psalm 34:1)

During the last couple of weeks, we’ve talked about how we can use our words to destroy and how we can use them to heal, encourage, and build each other up. But the best thing we can do with our words — by far — is to give praise to God.

words_350Why? For one, it’s the most obvious thing we can talk about. We are surrounded every day by God’s greatness and evidence of His love for us. Creation screams at us, “God is powerful, and He loves beauty!” Our soul screams at us, “I was hopeless without Jesus; then He rescued me!” To not talk about those things is as odd as finding an elephant in the frozen foods section of the grocery store one day and having nobody mention it.

We also praise Him because we love Him. He’s not just the distant deity we worship. He’s the Father who loves us, the one we’re learning to love with all of our heart, soul, mind, and body. When your best friend does something really amazing — or really nice to you — you talk about it. You praise her for it. It should be natural to do the same with God.

Think: Does praise for God come naturally to your lips? Why or why not? How could you be more intentional about giving praise to God?

Pray: Tell God three reasons why you think He is great.

Do: Make a short list of 10 of God’s best qualities. Make a point to mention each one to Him or someone else this week.

Words: Praise You?

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.” (Proverbs 27:2)

We live in a culture of self-promotion. To paint the best possible picture of ourselves for others has always been human nature, but we’re turning it into an art form. Your school guidance counselor probably showed you how to do it very professionally.

words_350But anyone with a Facebook or Twitter or Instagram account will be way ahead of her. Most of us have spent hours carefully constructing those posts to make our online self-representation as cool (or as “not stupid” or as “original”) as we can. We want people to know what we’re good at.

The advice of this proverb is to retire from the self-promotion business. Words about how good you are will be much more powerful coming from other lips — and you’ll be more respected holding on to those words than handing them out to everyone you meet. That will free you up to use your words to promote others.

Think: What do you risk by not telling others about your accomplishments? What could it cost you? What do you have to gain by keeping quiet about what you’re good at?

Pray: Ask God to help you to avoid praising yourself and to trust God to promote you when He wants to through the words of others.

Do: Tune your radar this week to notice when people are self-promoting or promoting others with their words. Notice also how each impacts your opinion of those people.

Words: Sugar Words

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24)

For all the destruction our words can bring, we’ve seen this week that words can also be used for healing, for encouragement, for taming out-of-control anger, and even more effectively when used in the right moment.

words_350And sometimes the right words are just sweet. Telling a friend what he or she needs to hear can actually bring pleasure that feels like eating a favorite dessert. In that way, pleasant, soothing words can be a gift, an act of service, an expression of God’s love for another person.

Do you see yourself as being available for this kind of service? Are you looking for those opportunities? Are you willing to have God use your words as a gift to the people in your life? Do you ask Him to give you pleasant words in the right moment to bring pleasure, healing, and joy to the people He puts in your path? It’s a gift anyone can give.

Think: How often do you think of your ability to use good words as a gift you can give to other people? How often do other people do that for you?

Pray: Ask God to make you willing and able to give the gift of pleasant words to your family members, friends, and even those who don’t always treat you well.

Do: Tune your radar this week to notice when someone is able to use words in a way that is pleasant and sweet to hear.

Words: Wait. Wait. Now!

“A man finds joy in giving an apt reply—and how good is a timely word!” (Proverbs 15:23)

Everybody knows that good comedy is all about timing. Hit the punch line too late or too early, and it’s just not funny. Hit the sweet spot, and it’s hilarious. You can say the same words and get an entirely different reaction.

words_350It’s not just humor. In every area of life, your words pack more or less punch depending on when you say them, as well as how you deliver them. In another proverb, the writer warns that a blessing that comes too early in the morning will be taken as a curse. (27:14) You know from personal experience that saying the right thing at the wrong moment can be a disaster.

On the flip side, wisdom tells us exactly when to drop that encouraging phrase or personal experience to relate to a friend’s pain. Wisdom tells us when it is best to say, “I’m sorry,” and when it’s best to wait for anger to cool. And wisdom picks the perfect moment to confront someone and when to let it pass. Wisdom has great timing.

Think: How’s your timing with helpful, funny, or sensitive words? What could you do to improve your timing?

Pray: Ask God for the wisdom to know when to speak, as well as what to say.

Do: Next time you see a great comedian in action, watch his or her timing. How does that help or hurt the funny?

Words: Fight Angry Fires

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

Have you spent much time playing with fire? Okay, it’s not the best habit, but fire is fascinating. To burn, fire needs fuel and oxygen. That’s why people trying to get a fire going use dry wood (or lighter fluid) and give the fire a little room to breathe. We even blow gently on a flickering fire to give it a little boost of air.

words_350Harsh words are like lighter fluid for the fire of anger. Use an edgy tone to squirt a few hard words onto the spark of an irritation and — fwoom! — instant inferno.

Instead, try this: Use a few gentle words to sprinkle a little kindness, a shower of understanding on a growing flame — and watch it die in a hiss of smoke. Gentle words are a way of removing the fuel anger needs to grow, of sucking away the air it feeds on to spread. Be a firefighter with words.

Think: Have you ever experimented with ways to put out a fire? How can you use gentle words in a similar way to cool down a conversation with a friend or family member?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be a fire-killer instead of a fire-starter when it comes to anger.

Do: Watch this PBS commercial and imagine if we all used our words to fight the fires of anger.