fresh bread: knowing what to pray for

Having read Matthew 20:20-34 as a part of today’s reading in the Fresh Bread project, you surely noticed the following two back-to-back incidents:

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus … [and] asked a favor of him. … “Say that these two sons of mine will sit, one on your right hand and one on your left, in your kingdom.” … Jesus replied, “You don’t know what you’re asking! …

… two blind men sitting along the road [on hearing] … that Jesus was passing by … shouted, “Show us mercy, Lord, Son of David!” … Jesus stopped in his tracks and called to them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. “Lord, we want to see,” they replied. Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they were able to see, and they followed him.

Prayer is much, much more than asking things of God, right? But when you do ask something of him, for what do you ask?

The mother of Zebedee’s sons asked one thing of the Lord: give mine your best for their benefit. The two blind beggars asked one thing of the Lord: benefit us just to see you.

There’s a world of difference.

Both asked blessing for themselves, but the former did so with her own’s end in mind, the latter did so with just the beginning in mind. The woman asked selfishly while the men asked so as increase their awareness of Jesus. The former had honor for her own in mind, while the latter longed to behold God’s glory. The woman wanted her sons to sit and bask in God’s blessing while the men wanted to go with God wherever he might lead them. The former wanted what would appear to be power and resources while the later asked for not a thing regarding resources and were content to remain powerless.

It’s not just a good question, or even an important one. It is, rather, the crucial question: “What do you want Jesus to do for you?” And our reasons for asking reveals much about what (or who) really matters most to us. Our speech will betray us.

It comes down to this: do you want yourself or the Savior to be at the center?

  • It’s the difference between “God bless America” and “God bless everyone, no exceptions.”
  • It’s the difference between “God make me well” and “God make me usable to you now and however you would call me to be.”
  • It’s the difference between “Keep us from suffering loss” and “May we count all things for loss, but Christ.”
  • It’s the difference between “continue with us through this service and through the remainder of our lives here on this earth” and “give us the grit to stay with you wherever and through whatever you would lead us.”
  • It’s the difference between “Give us more comfort and peace” and “Unsettle us with a holy discontent for everything less than you.”
  • It’s the difference between “Increase our numbers” and “Increase your glory.”
  • It’s the difference between “God protect our troops” and “God, in your wisdom and goodness, do with us all what you will.”
  • It’s the difference between “Keep us free from molestation” and “May we offer a good confession each time we are put to the test.”
  • It’s the difference between “Bring us back at the next appointed time” and “Lord, make us fully yours in this and every moment.”

Or to take us straight back to the text that got us here …

  • It’s the difference between having a passion and being shown Christ’s compassion.
  • It’s the difference between seeing and being enabled to truly see.
  • It’s the difference between sitting in one place and getting up to follow.
  • It’s the difference between yourself at the center and Christ as your all.

All of which will likely mean the difference between Jesus shaking his head, saying to us “You don’t know what you’re asking” and him stopping in his tracks, calling to us, and having compassion on us.

Lord, we want to see. See you. See you go wherever you would lead and see you do whatever you would with us. And to never stop seeing you. Amen.

ct: an uncomfortable joy – 1 Thessalonians

Intimations from 1 Thessalonians … are that believers’ suffering is an aspect of our participation in God’s work of bringing forth the new age. Believers share in the birthing process initiated by Jesus, and so know afflictions. …

… it is not simply that believers know affliction because we are foreigners in this age devoted to itself and not to God. Believers know affliction primarily because affliction is the necessary prelude to release, to the birth of the new age in which God’s will is done. And believers, who are essential to God’s continuing project of delivering God’s creation from evil, will necessarily partake of suffering, since, as Christ himself demonstrated, deliverance requires suffering. …

The suffering that is peculiar to the believer is, then … the suffering of misfits. Believers’ energy is focused on participating in the energies of faith, hope, and love and these energies are out of time with the dynamic of the present time. …

1 Thessalonians challenges us to notice where we subtly, and perhaps overtly, avoid exercising our option to work faith, to labor love, and to be steadfast in hope. This letter challenges us to ask ourselves whether we avoid putting our energies into these modes of life because we recognize at some level that to do so will be costly. (L. Ann Jervis, At the Heart of the Gospel: Suffering in the Earliest Christian Message, pp.19,24,32,33)