You Don’t Know What You Are Asking

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

“What is it you want?” he asked.

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them.

Matthew 20:20-22

Was it wrong for this mom to ask for good things for her sons? No. Was it an unreasonable request if Jesus was about to establish His earthy kingdom with a throne in Jerusalem? Nope. After all, her two sons were two of Jesus’s closest friends and companions. Was it an act of faith to believe that Jesus was the Messiah and that He had the power to fulfill her request? Yes! It was a bold, faith-filled request, and we know God is pleased with those kinds of requests.

So, what was the problem?

The problem was that she didn’t know what she was asking.

I think that many of our prayers fall into this category, and we don’t even realize it. She didn’t realize that Jesus wasn’t yet establishing an earthly kingdom and that when His Kingdom comes “on earth as it is in heaven” it looks different than she was imagining. She didn’t realize that Jesus’s coronation would be His body nailed to a cross, a crown of thorns pressed down on His head. She didn’t realize death would precede His ascension to His throne. She didn’t realize the kind of Kingdom over which He would rule.

Garth Brooks popularized the saying, “Thank God for unanswered prayers.” And we should thank God for unanswered prayers because so many of our prayers have consequences that we can’t possibly foresee. Yet, God can foresee them. He knows that we don’t fully understand what it is that we are asking.

God can see that if we got that promotion how much traveling it would involve. He can see what it would do to our family. God can see that if He healed right now, one person would get better, but if He heals two years from now, 200 people will be impacted. God can see the weight and pressure that would come upon you if you actually got what you’ve been asking for. He can see how your heart would be crushed under the weight of responsibility. So while He’s preparing you for that thing, He loves you too much to give it to you right now.

Of course this isn’t true of all of our requests of God. But this is where trust comes into play. We aren’t going to automatically know which requests fall into the category of, “You don’t know what you’re asking.” We won’t know ahead of time, just like the mother of Zebedee’s sons didn’t know.

So we come boldly before the throne of grace with confidence and we make our requests to God (Hebrews 4:16). Then we trust God to fulfill our request or to adjust it as necessary. In humility, we need to be ready for God to tell us that we don’t really know what we’re asking and allow Him to reshape our request in line with what only He can foresee.

Are you willing to trust God even when your prayers aren’t getting answered the way you want?

God’s Will

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

Matthew 18:12-14

We learn a couple things from Jesus’s teaching here. First, we learn about the loving heart of the Father. God will pursue people in order to restore them. Secondly, we see one of the paradoxes of the will of God. We learn that the Father “is not willing” that any of these little ones should perish. And yet, we know that not everyone is saved. Some are lost even though it is not God’s will.

Peter put it this way:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:8-9

Here we learn again that God doesn’t want anyone to perish. God wants everyone to come to repentance. Yet, we know not all will come to repentance. This is just a reality of the fallen world we live in.

From both of these passages we see both the loving heart of the Father and the fact that His will is not always done on earth. It’s why Jesus had to teach His disciples to pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven“(Matthew 6:10). We wouldn’t be instructed by Jesus to pray this if it was somehow automatic. While God’s will is always done in heaven, His will is not always done on earth. So we must pray for His will to be done on earth, and we must walk in obedience to His will so that it may be done on earth.

The freedom that God gifted His creation with has been used to resist His will, rebel against His will, and thwart His will. The freedom to authentically love God as we experience His love for us has been twisted by sin and is now used for evil. That means that many things that happen in the world and many things that happen to us are not the will of God.

Dallas Willard writes, in his book Hearing God, about the erroneous belief that some Christians adopt that states that everything that comes in life is God’s will:

If you wish to know what God would have you do, it is no help at all to be told that whatever comes is his will. For you are at that moment in the position of deciding what is to come. Does it mean that whatever you do will be God’s will? I certainly hope not. If Moses had accepted this view, there would have been no nation of Israel…

Many things that happen are not the will of God…

God’s world is an arena in which we have an indispensable role to play. The issue is not simply what God wants, but also what we want and will. When we accept whatever comes we are not receiving guidance. The fact that something happens does not indicate that it is God’s will.

Dallas Willard, Hearing God, Chapter 3

God desires an authentic relationship with us. He wants to hear from us and wants us to hear from Him. Our actions and our prayers impact the outcome of the future, as does our obedience or disobedience. It matters if you pray. It matters if you obey. It changes things. We are not just fatalistic robots.

Your life in Christ really does matter!

They Could Not Heal Him

“Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.

Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “Because you have so little faith…

Matthew 17:15-20

Other manuscripts of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark have Jesus concluding this story by telling His disciples that this kind of spirit only comes out “by prayer and fasting.”

Noticed that Jesus isn’t upset that the man brought his son to Him for healing. Jesus was happy to heal. And Jesus seemed to be okay with the little faith that the boy’s father had. Jesus was not frustrated with him at all. It was His own disciples that frustrated Him.

I find it fascinating that Jesus’s frustration is that the disciples weren’t able to heal the boy themselves. Clearly, Jesus expected them to be able to do this by now. This completely flips our paradigm of prayer that we typically operate with in American Christianity.

We think our job is just to bring things to Jesus. Meanwhile, Jesus expects us to be able to operate in the authority and power that He’s given us. I wonder if Jesus ever gets frustrated with us bringing Him something that He’s already give us the authority and power to deal with ourselves, including healing and deliverance.

Here are Jesus’s expectations of His own disciples: 1) the disciples should have been able to discern that this physical ailment was caused by a demonic spirit, 2) the disciples should have been operating in enough authority and faith to get it to leave, and 3) the disciplines of prayer and fasting should have been a regular part of the disciples’ life so that they were ready for a moment like this.

But the disciples seemingly failed to meet all three of these expectations. I’m sure Jesus was thinking, “What’s going to happen when I ascend back to the Father? What would happen to this boy then?”

The expectations that Jesus had for His disciples then are the same that He has for His disciples today. We’ve been given the authority of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus expects us to be able to operate in both. We’ve been given gifts of the Holy Spirit to help us detect demonic spirits and release healing and deliverance to people around us. We’ve been given the chance to deepen our faith and our intimacy with God through prayer and fasting.

The truth is that Jesus is no longer walking the earth, so there is no Plan B. There is only Plan A. And Plan A is to see the Body of Christ, the Church, be able to operate in the gifts of the Spirit to such a degree that people with this boy’s condition get set free and healed.

We have to become the kind of conduits of deliverance, freedom, and healing that Jesus expects us to be. We need to be ready for moments like this one through our daily prayer life and regular fasting. Our faith needs to grow so that we can confidently release the Kingdom of God in any situation we face.

Until we do, Jesus’s words about His disciples back then are still true for us today, “You unbelieving and perverse generation…how long shall I put up with you?

The Amazing Father

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light… 

…a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

Matthew 17:1-2, 5-8

When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John and they saw Him talking with Moses and Elijah, they were amazed–full of awe and wonder. But when the Father spoke from heaven, they were terrified. Yet, notice that Jesus, the One who knows His Father the best, says, “Don’t be afraid.”

Because of our dysfunctional relationships with our own dads, we can feel more comfortable interacting with Jesus, even Jesus in a glorified body, than the Father. I have a great relationship with my dad, but I can still remember a time in my life when I did not want to sit and listen in prayer for the Father to speak to me. I was afraid that the Father would only speak words of criticism, judgment and disappointment. For some reason, that same fear wasn’t there with Jesus. Maybe because He is always portrayed as full of mercy, grace and compassion.

Yet, if we’ve seen Jesus, we’ve seen the Father. If we know what Jesus is like, we know what the Father is like. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossi, “The Son is the image of the invisible God…“(Colossians 1:15). Jesus had to remind His own disciples of this truth.

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.

John 14:8-10

Jesus is just like the Father. If we feel comfortable praying to and interacting with Jesus but not the Father, then we don’t know who the Father really is. The grace, love and compassion of Jesus comes from the heart of the Father.

We need to be reminded that the Father is not like our earthly dad. He’s not removed and distant. He’s not angry or hot-tempered. He’s not disapproving and hard. He’s not an addict. He’s not passive and weak. He’s not irresponsible or flighty. And even for those of us who had amazing dads, the Father is even better than that!

We don’t need to be terrified of the Father. He is slow to anger and abounding in love. He is full of power and yet full of peace. He is majestic and mighty and yet full of kindness. We are free to approach the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16) knowing He will be present for us in our time of need.

What’s keeping you from spending time with the Father?

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…

James 1:17

Vampire Christians

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone…

Matthew 14:22-23

Jesus Himself believed it was essential to get alone to spend time with the Father. Jesus intentionally dismissed the crowd and sent His disciples ahead of him to the other side of the lake. He then went alone up the side of a 3000 foot elevation around the Sea of Galilee and spent time praying.

Jesus wasn’t praying because He was checking some religious box. Jesus was perfect. Jesus never sinned. He wasn’t praying to show people how spiritual He was. He just wanted to be with His Father. He longed for the intimacy and nearness that only time alone with the Father can bring.

Jesus said that He only does “what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does“(John 5:19). He accomplished this by staying in constant communion with the Father through prayer. While Jesus “prayed continuously” as He walked through life, He also sought alone time with God where no one else was around. He got alone in order to listen to the Father as much as to talk to the Father.

With packed schedules, hurried and harried lives, many Christians are not spending alone time with God. I believe this has resulted in so much of the dysfunction in the lives of Christians and the Church. How can we expect to be shaped into the image of Christ if we are not spending daily alone time with Him? How can we expect to love the unlovable if we are not daily receiving love from the Father? How can we expect to forgive those who’ve hurt us if we are not daily reminded of the forgiveness we’ve received from Jesus?

I believe that many Christians look for programs in the local church to fill in for their lack of one-on-one time with the Lord. They want once-a-week worship services to build in them intimacy with God without ever spending alone time with Him. They want once-a-week bible studies to help them grow spiritually without having to dig into the word of God on their own. They want people praying for them but never spend time praying alone themselves. Then they wonder why they can’t seem to find a “good church” or a church that “fits them.”

The local church will never be able to give us what only time alone with the Lord gives us. It was never meant to. We have it backwards. Christians were meant to fuel up in their alone time with the Lord–worshiping, studying scripture, and praying–so that they could enter Christian community with something to give to others when they are there. Church was never meant to be a consumeristic place that meets all of our spiritual needs. American churches have too many vampire Christians who suck the life out of the community because they never receive from God the other six days a week in alone time with Him.

Spending daily time with the Lord is not a sign of super-spirituality. It’s one of the very basic, foundational things every Christian should be doing. It is an admission of our weakness, our daily need for God. It’s a posture of humility, knowing we can’t live the life we are called to live without spending regular time with the Father.

The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit can’t wait to spend time with you every single day. They love time alone with you. It’s one of their favorite things in the world. They treasure it. They can’t wait to be with you…if only you’d set aside a little time for them.

Are you spending alone time with the Lord? Or have you become a vampire Christian?

You Do It

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

“Bring them here to me,” he said. 

Matthew 14:15-18

This encounter between Jesus, the disciples, and the crowd is so important for every follower of Jesus to understand. The crowds had a legitimate need. The disciples did what we would do. They asked Jesus to do something about it. They even suggested what Jesus should do (send the crowds away so they could get food).

What do we call this today, when we go to Jesus with a request on behalf of other people? We call it prayer. Specifically, we call it petitioning prayer.

Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Yes, but we are also supposed to listen in prayer for His response. And we shouldn’t be surprised when the response Jesus gives us is, “You do it.”

Jesus tells His disciples to give the crowd something to eat, and their response is often our response. They felt inadequate. They reasoned with Jesus that they didn’t have enough to accomplish the task. They didn’t have what it takes. Don’t we do the same?

“But Jesus, that’s impossible for me to do!” “But Jesus, I don’t have enough money, talent, gifting, resources, people, help,…..etc.”

Jesus didn’t agree with His disciples. And when we give this kind of response He doesn’t agree with us either.

Jesus then says, “Bring them here to me“(Matthew 14:18).

Whatever it is that you have, bring it to Jesus. Hand it to Him. Does it feel too small, too weak, too insignificant? That’s okay. Give it to Jesus. Put it in His hands and watch what happens.

He’ll give it right back to you and say to you again, “You do it.” And as you are obedient, everything that didn’t feel like it was enough will multiply in your own hands as you give it away.

“Jesus, heal this person!” … “You do it.”

“Jesus, change this situation!” … “You do it.”

“Jesus, help those people!” … “You do it.”

“Jesus, they need freedom!” … “You do it.”

You give them something to eat. But first things first, hand it to Jesus. Put everything you have in His hands. Give it all to Him and watch what happens.

Time With Him

What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 

Matthew 10:27

Imagine waking up, not drinking coffee, and skipping breakfast. Lunch rolls around and you have too much work to do so you skip that. Just as you get home from working late, your child is late to a sporting event. So you rush out the door skipping dinner. You finally get home and get all the kids to bed. How are you feeling right now? And what are the chances of you eating something healthy?

For most of us in this moment, we’re feeling tired, run-down, exhausted, irritable and possibly depressed. The likelihood that we will eat something good for us is very slim.

While most of us would try to limit days like this because of the physical toll it would take, many of us are doing this very thing daily when it comes to our spiritual lives. We are not getting up in the morning and spending time worshiping, praying and reading God’s word. We’re not spending time in silence hearing from the Lord. And we aren’t checking in with God throughout the day.

We get to the end of each day and wonder why our spirit is worn down. We wonder why God feels distant. We wonder why we are so tempted by sin, so tempted to feed our soul with destructive things rather than healthy things.

Spending time with the Lord is like stepping into sunlight. Our spirit has a solar panel for the glory of God. When we worship, when we pray, when we read scripture, heaven opens up over us, the glory of God shines on us, and angels ascend and descend upon us (Genesis 28:12; John 1:51; Luke 22:43). The batteries in our spirit and our soul get recharged. As we draw near to God, He draws near to us (James 4:8; Hebrews 10:22). And just like a wireless charger for our phone, our proximity to Him causes our spirit to be recharged with His Spirit.

It is in this place of proximity, this place of intimacy–this place of adoration and worship–that the Lord shares things with us. If we draw near to Him and quiet our hearts enough to listen, He will whisper things into our ears. He will tell us things. He will show us mental pictures of things. He will speak.

If we get alone with Him in the dark morning hours, we will have lots to share in the daylight hours. He will tell us things to proclaim from the rooftops.

How are you spending time alone with God?

How are you daily recharging your spirit?