Seeking One Thing

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.

Our Attachments Exposed

“Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything, and followed him (Luke 5:27-28).

There’s a difference between giving something up and having it taken from you.

Between relinquishing and being robbed.

Between opening your hands and having your fingers pried open.

This is not to say that one is easy and pleasant while the other is difficult and painful. Any and all of the above can be excruciating.

At the risk of oversimplifying, it seems that the difference is what is happening inside of us, you might even say happening in the soul. To give something up or to relinquish it suggests a willing participation in the loss. Even if the loss is hard, we yield to it. We accept what is happening.

To have something taken from us feels more like a violation and we resist it. We fight it tooth and nail, and in the aftermath of the loss we often carry around a resentment or bitterness or some kind of wound that might take a long while to get over.

These days it seems like all of us are having to deal with both.

Where Do You Find Your Peace?

There have been plenty of things that we’ve relinquished. All of us have familiar routines that have been interrupted. We probably don’t like it – but we yield ourselves to the loss because we understand that the stakes are high. Gathering for Sunday worship tops this list for me.

But plenty of people are being robbed. I think particularly of those who are losing livelihood and income. That’s a hard thing to yield to. If that’s you, you may not have a choice, and perhaps eventually you make your way to ‘yielding.’ But that’s a long and arduous journey. I think also of my college senior son (and all seniors for that matter). The way it looks now there probably won’t be a graduation. I can honestly say he’s far from yielded in that matter

Whether we are facing these days yielding or kicking and screaming, there’s something our varied losses have in common, whatever they are. They have exposed our attachments, surgically laying bare what we cherish and cling to for comfort and security and a sense that we’re ok. Maybe what we’re seeing is that some of our attachments go deeper than others.

Is Jesus Enough?

When Jesus found Levi at his tax booth and invited him to “follow me,” Levi got up and “left everything” in response to that call. That’s a remarkable statement, made without commentary or explanation, almost an off-handed observation. We noted that the same kind of radical relinquishing also marked the call of Peter and Andrew, James, and John.

And as we saw yesterday, Matthew (Levi) doesn’t go with Jesus hesitantly, digging his heels in the ground as Jesus pulls him from his tax booth. No, Matthew walks away from a financially secure career and then throws a diner party for Jesus, inviting former colleagues and associates. Sinners and tax collectors all.

After the party, things get really interesting. If Matthew expected a road to glory with a celebrity rabbi, he got fast reality check. Luke’s narrative tells us that after the call of Matthew Jesus runs into repeated conflict with the religious leaders of his day.

Why does he eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? (5:30)

Hey, Jesus . . . Why don’t you and your disciples fast? (5:33)

Hey, Jesus . . . Why do your disciples do what is unlawful on the sabbath by plucking heads of grain? (6:1)

Hey, Jesus . . . how can you heal that man’s withered hand on the Sabbath? (6:7).

Things never get much better. What Matthew signed up for soon led to the crucifixion of Jesus (this is Lent remember). But also, his resurrection. An early church tradition tells us that Matthew himself took the gospel message to Ethiopia and other part of Africa where he himself ended up dying a martyr’s death.

Matthew’s story, his very life, reflects his deepest attachment. Everything else paled in comparison to following Jesus.

Naming our Losses, Claiming our Hope

Simple question for you today: What has our collective experience, and the details of your own life right now, revealed about your attachments?

What have you had to yield? What has been taken from you?

I have to confess that these days have made me come to grips with some of my own attachments – the things that give me my sense of well-being. They’re not all very spiritual, sad to say. I’m a creature of habit. I’m used to abundance, finding what I want almost anytime I want it. Bare shelves and dashed plans have a way of getting me anxious and antsy.

I’m helped and challenged by Matthew. His example tells me that Jesus is enough. I want to wake up every day and live every moment knowing that, holding to Jesus as the deepest and all-sufficient attachment of my soul.

I want that for you too.

So yes, name your losses. Grieve what needs to be grieved. Let’s not pretend this is all just fine. But let’s pray to become the kind of people who could “leave everything” to know and serve the one from whom all blessings flow.


Gracious God, we often confuse your gifts with you the giver, setting our hearts on lesser things as the source of our joy and peace. Forgive us. As we honestly face our losses, we will not cling to things that were never meant to give us real life. We will live this day thankful for the blessings you give us and devoted to you in glad trust. Guide us we pray, in the name of your son Jesus. Amen.

Joy In the Exile

“Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything, and followed him (Luke 5:27-28).

Remember Lent? That six-week season that takes us to Easter Sunday? Well, we’re still in it. With all that’s happening, you can’t be blamed if you’ve forgotten that.

By my count it’s week 2 of a season we didn’t plan on called ‘hunker-down’ season, or something like that. Shelter in place. Shutdown. Self-isolate. Personally, I like the word ‘exile’ for what we’re living through. It doesn’t look like exile because exile means being forced from your home, and this experience is the opposite of that. Nearly all of us are practically barricaded in our homes right now.

But there’s a deeper meaning to the experience of exile. I learned this from Eugene Peterson’s excellent book, Run with the Horses. Peterson described exile as the experience of being where you never wanted to be. And that can go beyond geography. When the Babylonians destroyed the city of Jerusalem and took the people into exile, their grief wasn’t defined by a place on the map. The familiar, the cherished, the things that defined life and made it meaningful – all of that was taken from them.

To a degree, that sounds like where we are. We’re living in our own houses, but we are exiles. Right here in the USA. We haven’t gone anywhere, and yet we’re yearning for home.

Our Involuntary Fast

I can’t help but find it interesting that this global and national crisis is unfolding during the season of Lent. I did not grow up in a church tradition that observed Lent. Truthfully, I don’t recall ever hearing Lent spoken of. I was probably in seminary before I knew what it was. It is commonly associated with some kind of fasting or relinquishment. That’s not something I ever did. Even in churches that observe Lent, I’m not sure that the fasting aspect is widely practiced.

But this year, in this season of Lent, we’re all fasting from something. We might not have planned to. We might not like it. But some form of deprivation has found us. An activity, a social circle, possibly an income.

And I this most of us are finding it hard to celebrate. Yes, we are able to identify some positives in being home, being together, being better neighbors. But what we’re experiencing isn’t fun.

And that brings us to the story of Levi. We know him better as Matthew. He’s our focus this week as we make our way through Lent and think about the call of Jesus to “follow me.”

Embracing Interruption

Matthew was a tax collector. It was very likely a lucrative vocation, though among his fellow Jews (note the name: Levi) he was certainly resented if not outright despised.

As Luke tells the story of his call to follow Jesus, he uses a powerful phrase. “Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.” Don’t miss that. “Left everything.” The same kind of moment took place for Peter and Andrew. They left their nets. And then James and John, also fishermen, walked away from their Dad and the family business.

The call of Jesus represented a significant interruption to routine and work and income. But they embraced the interruption.

New Testament Scholar Leon Morris offers this commentary on that moment. He writes: “Matthew must have been the richest of the apostles. We should not miss the quiet heroism in [his response to Jesus’ call]. If following Jesus had not worked out for the fishermen, they could have returned to their trade without difficulty. But when Levi walked out of his job he was through. They would surely never take back a man who had simply abandoned his tax office. His following of Jesus was a final commitment.”

And let’s not miss what happened next.

Reason to Party

Matthew threw a party. Verse 28 mentions leaving everything. The very next verse takes us to the banquet in honor of Jesus.

Here are two things we don’t typically place side by side. Celebration and interruption. Joy and loss. But Matthew finds a reason to throw a party. Actually, the reason wasn’t hard to find at all. He was right there in the thick of it, enjoying the food and the company.

The reason for the celebration was Jesus.

I know you won’t be throwing a party anytime soon. But today I’d like to ask you to find something to celebrate in the place where you are. That might mean finding something or someone for which you are grateful.

And don’t forget this: Jesus is present. He is with you right where you are. Take time today to enjoy his company. A very practical way to do this is to spend some time listening to him in the scriptures. Jesus himself told us that his words were meant to give us joy (John 15:11). Invite him into the place where you are right now.

Open your anxious heart to the joy he wants to bring – even in exile.


In these days of exile, O God, we are inclined to worry and complain. We resent that we’ve been forced to let go of so many things. And yet, you are faithful, keeping your word to never leave us or forsake us. Make us joyful and content with your promise and lead us as we seek to follow you in these days. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.