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.

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: When Love = No

” ‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’ ‘We can,’ they answered.” (Mark 10:38-39)

One of the things I’m most grateful to God for is some of the prayers He has said “no” to. I now realize that I didn’t know what I was asking. Prayers for broken relationships to be fixed, to get a particular job or spot on a sports team, to avoid the pain of failure.

ttj_350As I look back now, I can see the opportunities that followed God’s negative answers. If that relationship had worked, I’d have missed one worth keeping. If I’d been good enough to make that team, I would not have discovered an unexpected lifelong passion that season. Without the pain of failure, I would have stopped trying.

Don’t get me wrong. I wanted those things badly at the time — and I still have questions about other “no” answers God has given me. I can’t find a gift or the silver lining in every rejected request. And that’s kind of the point. I’m just not smart enough to know all the implications if God did exactly what I wanted right now.

But He does. And He loves me enough to say “no” when I need it. So I’ll keep asking, and I’ll keep trying to trust His judgement on the answers.

Think: Are you convinced that God really loves you very deeply and enjoys giving you good things? Do you think He’s powerful enough to give you whatever you want? If so, what does that tell you about the times He says “no” to one of your requests?

Pray: Ask God to help you to trust His love, power, and goodness all day.

Do: Make a quick list of 5-10 prayers God has answered with a “yes” in the last few months.

Talking to Jesus: Drink

“Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.’ ” (Mark 10:39-40)

James and John didn’t know what they were asking when they came to Jesus looking for a promise of power and glory in His kingdom. And they didn’t know what He was asking when He turned the question around on them: “Can you drink the cup I drink?”

ttj_350They answered quickly: “We can,” not getting that Jesus’ kingdom would follow after Jesus’ suffering and death. His cup was full of pain. Emotional, spiritual, physical pain. His cup was full of death. Just as He said they would, both men drank His cup — not as punishment for their ignorant, selfish prayer but because they willingly followed His path, telling the world His great good news.

James drank first, executed by the king with a sword to keep the Jewish religious leaders happy. (See Acts 12:1-2.) John drank last, living and suffering longer. And in that way, God did answer their desire to share in Jesus’ glory forever, even if He couldn’t promise them the best two seats in His eternal house.

Think: Nobody really wants to suffer, but lots of people want to find something bigger than themselves worth suffering for. Do you think following Jesus’ path is something worth suffering for? Why would anyone have to suffer for following Jesus?

Pray: Ask God to help you to see the power and purpose and joy in following Jesus’ path even if you find pain along the way.

Do: Take a few minutes to look up (or ask someone who might know) how the rest of the 12 disciples suffered for Jesus while telling His good news to the world.

Talking to Jesus: How to Lose Friends

“When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.’ ” (Mark 10:41-43)

The brothers James and John made a risky play for power. They tried to manipulate Jesus into promising them the number 2 and 3 spots in His kingdom over the other 10 guys in their management training program. They picked a moment when Jesus was away from the other guys; they must have known the move would tick off their friends. It did.

ttj_350Earlier in Mark, Jesus stepped in when the group was arguing about which of them was the greatest. From our side of history — knowing all about the crucifixion and Jesus’ humility on the cross — their attitude just seems so wrong. But in the moment, it made a kind of sense. They really believed God would give Jesus the power to take over the world. As His followers, they wanted to stake their spot in His administration.

Jesus said they were acting like they belonged to some kind of secular (Gentile, non-Jewish) kingdom or corporation where a top dog runs the show and the guys under him jockey their way up the power ladder. In that world, if you outrank someone, you act like it. You boss him around. You better use your power or lose it. Jesus’ kingdom doesn’t work that way.

Think: How competitive are you? If you’re better than someone else in a sport or academics or Bible knowledge, do you expect that person to give you the respect you deserve? How hungry are you to win and for others to know you beat them?

Pray: Ask God to help you understand how Jesus’ power rankings are different than the kind of competitive rankings we’re used to.

Do: Make a quick list of the top five and bottom five most popular or powerful or influential people in your life or sphere of influence right now. Don’t show it to anyone, but hold on to your list for tomorrow’s devo.

Talking to Jesus: Everybody’s Slave

“Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)

When most of us in this culture talk about being “a servant” or serving each other, it sounds to us like doing a noble thing by helping other people. When Jesus said it in His culture, “servant” sounded like the guy you pay to clean the dishes and wash the donkey poop you stepped in off your bare feet. It wasn’t an attitude; it was a job for poor people and women.

ttj_350So when Jesus told his power-hungry disciples that the way to get ahead in his kingdom was to out-serve each other, it probably sounded ridiculous. He made it worse. If you want the real power and influence, He said, become slave to all.

A servant, at least, is a free person paid to do what he’s told. He has the option of quitting if he gets the chance. A slave has no rights; he must do what he’s told or be punished. If you want to be first in the kingdom power rankings, Jesus taught, find the bottom rung on the ladder, take a step down, and sell yourself to serve those people (and everyone else).

Think: Why would Jesus say such a thing? Why is it so hard for us to believe that living as a slave to all will make us great in God’s kingdom? Do you believe it?

Pray: Ask God for the faith to believe that the most significant life and eternity is found in serving even the most insignificant-seeming people.

Do: Know someone who spends their time serving kids, poor people, or the sick? Send an e-mail and ask them why they do it.

Talking to Jesus: Now Serving

“Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)

Jesus spelled out the bottom-line difference between the powerful in this world and the powerful in His kingdom: In this world, people seek power so they can be served, so they can call the shots, so they can set the direction, so they can be free from having to take orders.

ttj_350In Jesus’ world, the powerful are the ones who serve others, who take the orders, who follow God’s direction by giving their lives away to as many people as possible. After all, Jesus said, that’s exactly what He came to do. And that’s exactly what He did.

What is our idea of a leader? Someone who gets other people to help him accomplish his mission. What is Jesus’ idea of a leader? A servant: Someone who figures out how to help other people accomplish their missions. Someone who uses himself up to make other people successful at what they need to do — from finding food to eat to getting the day’s work done.

Think: Do you think of yourself as a leader or a follower? Either way, who is following you? Who are you following? Why?

Pray: Ask God to help you want to take leadership by becoming a servant in the same way Jesus did.

Do: Make a quick list of 5 people who serve you and 5 people you serve. What does your list say about your attitude toward serving others as Jesus did?