Lord God, I come to you again today to acknowledge you as Lord of my life. I look to your word for instruction. As I spend a bit of time meditating on scripture, I welcome your holy spirit to illuminate my heart and mind. May your word be the lamp to my feet and the light to my path today.
I read this passage yesterday and started to write a reflection, but was not able to finish it because of time constraints on my day. So we’re going to start with this today and continue on it tomorrow. We’re going to look at this section for two days, because there are two different points I have been reflection on that each merit some more thought. Read Mark 10:35-45 two times through, marking words and phrases along the way.
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-45 ESV)
When I read this passage, I had to go back and read what James and John said to Jesus a couple of times over, because I couldn’t believe it. “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” (Their question reads pretty much the same way in every translation I consulted.)
I found this question shocking, though I shouldn’t. This question exposes the basic nature of the human heart toward God: we want God to do for us whatever we ask of him.
These men are considered two of Jesus’s three closest friends (along with Peter.) They are the three Jesus took with him up on the mountain when he was transfigured. They are the three who joined Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before he was arrested. They were the only apostles with Jesus when he raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead. So they not only saw what all of the other apostles saw of Jesus’ miracles and great works and teachings—they saw even more. And after everything they had witnessed and experienced traveling with Jesus all that time, this is what they had to say: “We want you to do for us…”
It isn’t wrong to ask things of God. In fact, it is wrong not to ask things of God. We are instructed elsewhere in scripture to ask for anything—to present our requests before God. But for some reason, reading this question being asked by these men at this time and in this context really rubs me the wrong way. It just seems like they’ve missed the whole point!
Yet if I’m honest, this is pretty much what my attitude is too: I want God to do whatever I ask. Oh, I try to couch it in a way that doesn’t make me seem quite so self-serving, tagging on a, “not my will, but yours be done, oh Lord,” at the end of my intercessory prayers. But much of the time, I don’t mean that. In the moment I’m praying, with only the benefit of my small view of things, I don’t want God’s will—I want my will to be done.
Jesus responds by saying, “You don’t know what you’re asking.” As I look back on my prayer life over the years, things I have asked God to do for me, I see over and over how true this is. I spent years praying for some things that I never got, and now, as I look back on it, I realize that I did not know what I was asking for. I didn’t know what cup of suffering would have accompanied those requests if they had been granted! And as I consider them now, with the gift of hindsight, I am so grateful that God does not do “whatever I ask of him.” In my heart of hearts, I want God’s will to be done, not my own. Sometimes I forget that in the moment, but with hindsight, I always find that to be true.
Tomorrow we’ll consider the rest of the passage and how Jesus responded. But today, it’s heart-check time: when we approach God in prayer, is our attitude like that of James and John? Do we want God to do “whatever we ask of him?”