Is it hard for you to ask Jesus honestly for what’s on your heart? Do you end up talking yourself out of praying with the words “I can’t ask that”?
In these days of COVID-19 quarantines and changing predictions, we need a reliable place to bring our fears and frustrations. Jesus invites us to ask him anything. How can he offer such a blank check? Isn’t he afraid we’ll presume on his generosity and ask amiss?
On the contrary, Jesus knows we’re slow to pray. It’s a topic he repeatedly addressed with his disciples (Matthew 7:17, Mark 11:24, Luke 11:9). But he also knows that he himself is the Savior of our prayers. That’s why we don’t have to pray perfectly. Jesus wants us to bring our unfiltered desires to Him, so he can transform us by transforming what we want.
Jesus wants us to bring our unfiltered desires to Him so he can transform us by transforming what we want.
Jesus Asks First
What would you say if Jesus stood in front of you right now and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Wouldn’t that immediately bring clarity and focus to your prayer?
He asks this question twice within a short space in Mark 10. The first time is when James and John come to ask a big favor. But they don’t tell him what it is right away. Instead, they ask for a guarantee that he will say yes. This is prayer at its most manipulative! Does Jesus send them away with a rebuke for their impudence? No, he invites them to ask, saying:
“What do you want me to do for you?” Mark 10:36
The second time Jesus says these words is to the blind beggar in Jericho, Bartimaeus. When the beggar hears that Jesus is on his way out of town, he begins crying at the top of his lungs, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” This is prayer at its most desperate. He won’t stop, despite being shushed by those around him. But Jesus stops and calls him over. As soon as the beggar gets to him, Jesus invites him to ask, saying:
“What do you want me to do for you?” Mark 10:52
Jesus invites you and me to ask as well.
Why is it good to pray my desires?
When I hold my desires inside, I become too invested in their fulfillment. When I keep them to myself, they start to cause trouble. They fester in the dark and turn insatiable. I become anxious or greedy. Grandiose or despairing. That’s when I end up coming to God with demands instead of prayers.
But Jesus’ question, “What do you want me to do for you?” breaks the stranglehold of fear and greed by bringing our desires into the light of his presence. That’s the very reason why Paul urges us to “let your requests be made known to God.” Prayer is not just a spiritual discipline, it is the divine safety valve for our fondest hopes and most anxious fears.
Prayer is not just a spiritual discipline, it is the divine safety valve for our fondest hopes and most anxious fears.
That’s because when I pray my hopes and fears, they are not just answered, they are changed.
Jesus’ Answer Meets Our “Ask”
What do James and John ask him that day? Not much, just to sit in the seats of greatest honor, flanking Jesus’ throne in his kingdom! How does Jesus answer them? Gently. But firmly. Gently, because they truly don’t yet understand that suffering must precede glory, and that what they are actually asking is to be crucified. We, too, don’t always realize what we are asking. But Jesus does. And he gently corrects our misguided prayers.
His answer is gentle, but also firm. He says, “No.” The kingdom seating plan is part of the eternal unchangeable counsel of the Triune God and is not up for discussion.
But he does say yes to part of their request. To their ill-informed assertion that they are able to drink the cup that Jesus drinks, he says “Yes, you will drink it.” They will be privileged to suffer with him, because he will help them. That’s the guarantee he gives them that day.
Later, on the last day, they will be raised with him to a glory beyond anything they could ask or imagine.
Prayer Changes Even Us
We would all prefer a simple “yes” to our prayers, like when Bartimaeus received his sight. We’ve heard “prayer changes things,” and we want it to change things by giving us exactly what we want, when we want it, and how we want it.
But Jesus wants to give us something far better. He knows where the biggest need for change is: in our heart. He knows that turning selfish ambition into godly ambition is just as glorious as causing the blind to see–a prelude to the glory ahead. So the next time you try to pray, imagine Jesus standing before you asking, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Then go ahead and tell him.