Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
If you were to ask one thing of Jesus what would it be?
One request. Right now. What would top your list? What’s the burden that sits on your heart, the need that never seems to go away, the long yearning that lives unanswered in your soul?
I know that’s not a fair question, especially in these unusual days. To be honest, even as I sit and write this, I’m not entirely clear on my own answer. There are plenty of things that I could bring to Jesus, and I’m guessing you’ve got your own menu of needs and desires.
Let’s start big: Jesus, please eradicate this disease from every country and continent on our planet.
And let’s acknowledge the obvious: Jesus, keep me and my loved ones safe in these days.
But let’s not forget: Jesus, guard and sustain doctors and nurses; watch over the weak and vulnerable; be present to the lonely and isolated; grant healing to those who are sick; give insight to researchers who are working on a vaccine; surround state and national leaders with good counsel and give them the wisdom they need.
I’m sure you could add to this. Boiling it all down to one petition, one prayer – well, that’s nearly impossible. To do so almost seems unkind, as if stealing prayer from those who need it.
Still, I hope you’ll bear with me in the question. What one thing would you ask of Jesus today?
Do Whatever We Ask
This week we’ll turn our attention to two brothers, both followers of Jesus. Not only are they numbered among the twelve, they formed the closest inner circle with Jesus. The brothers, James and John, along with Peter, shared moments with Jesus that didn’t always include the other nine. We are right to wonder why. If we follow them through the narratives in the four gospels, we can tell it was not because of their exceptional character.
There’s a particular moment when James and John come to Jesus with a request that goes beyond bold. What they ask of Jesus is audacious and self-serving. “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask” (Mark 10:35ff).
Jesus responds patiently, neither offended nor surprised. “What do you want me to do for you?”
Pause here. Let’s pretend we don’t know this story at all. There’s a split second in which we can wonder what they will ask. They want a blank check from Jesus. They want whatever they present to him to be met with his approval and power.
So what will it be? Of all that they could ask, what will top the list for these brothers? What are they conspiring to bring about?
We find out immediately. They want positions of privilege and honor when Jesus defeats Rome and re-establishes the glory days Israel knew under David. As the story continues Jesus gently tries to help them understand that “you don’t know what you are asking.” His kingdom and glory won’t look anything like the glory they want. They’ll grasp this later – but that’s another story for another time.
What I’d like you to ponder today is the request itself. I go back to where we started. What would you have asked? What would top your list?
Seek His Presence
If you will, stay with me a moment longer and let me take you from that story in Mark’s gospel to a line found in the Psalms.
There’s a line in Psalm 27 where the Psalmist writes: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek.” (Psalm 27:4)
Again – stop there. If you were writing those words what would your one thing be? What do you seek above all else? In this very moment, what are you asking?
The Psalmist continues: “That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” I think we could summarize that by saying that the one thing, the top of the list, the deepest yearning of the Psalmist is to dwell in God’s presence and know God better.
A word or two of encouragement today, and then we’ll stop until next post.
First – the good news is that you’re never limited to one prayer or one request or one desire when you come before God. Bring everything that’s going on in your life, all the clamoring noise of your heart and mind, and feel free to sit and sort it all out before the God who made and loves you.
Second – in this hard season of imposed limits, don’t neglect the presence of God. Be intentional every day about seeking his presence and seeking to know God better. As you do this, you bring every other desire and need before him. The first order of business is to enter into God’s presence. Look at or ‘behold’ his goodness and beauty as you read his words. And in that place make your requests known to God.
As Paul told us, we bring him our worries and requests. We receive his peace. That’s a good trade.
Merciful God, so many needs surround us, and so many desires rumble about inside of us. And somehow in all of this, we can manage to neglect you and your willingness to hear us when we pray. We fail to enter your presence, giving you the attention of our minds. Forgive us. Help us to put first things first, seeking you daily and living with you moment by moment, knowing that we are fully known to you. Fully known and fully loved, through Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.