The good fairy waves her magic wand and gives you three wishes.
“I’d like a strawberry ice-cream please.”
“I wish my nose was smaller.”
“Oh, let everyone in the world have strawberry ice-cream and small noses!”
Well, with a bit more wit our hero could have asked for another million wishes… Or he could have turned to prayer and looked at the infinite power of promise associated with it in the Word of God.
But what on earth do you ask for? God’s promises far outweigh a fairy’s wand, but how do I handle the power, choice and responsibility that the promise of prayer gives me? Can I still have lots of strawberry ice cream or do I now pray for peace in the world at Christmas?
Let’s take a look at four people in the Bible to attempt to get an answer.
The blind beggar Bartimaeus, the devoted disciples James and John, and the glorious King Solomon. All of them had to handle a similar prayer promise.
“Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout,”Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.” Mark 10:46-52
Batimaeus had no destination. He had no vision and simply begged an existence from what other people gave him. He eked out a passive life of survival from yesterday’s stale crumbs. His asking – or rather begging, was all about getting through to another need filled day. He needed a new beginning, a fresh call from Jesus. He had the courage to cry out and repent. If you’re in your own stale, visionless rut ask Christ to have mercy on you, and get ready to jump up. “Ok, what do you want?” said Jesus. “Ain’t it obvious! I’m blind!” It was indeed obvious, but Jesus wanted him to take personal responsibility for his lack of vision and speak out his need in faith. Do you really want to see? Or are you secretly secure in visionless mediocrity? Bartimaeus found his sight and got back on the road. He discovered a desire to obey and found fresh momentum in following Jesus.
Going back a few verses we find James and John.
“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:35-45
Here we have folks in the ministry praying for position and power. A lot of prayer energy goes into building the status of a church or mission rather than saving the lost! “You do not know what you are asking” may be the sure reply to many of our competition motivated prayers. A heady presumption stimulated by unhealthy ambition blinds us to the suffering and service which our prayers must inevitably own. This is the world’s way of praying and its fruits bring jealousy and division within the body of believers. Jesus immediately brings the remedy. Humble, sacrificial servant hood. Will we end up professional career missionaries staking our claim in the “Jesus market” or will we again surrender our rights in order to follow our servant King?
From a servant king to a reigning king. Let’s look at Solomon.
“That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” 2 Chronicles 1:7
Solomon gets a great promise. Most knee jerk reaction responses to such a revelation would probably be found on any Christian television channel – and in most prayer meetings. Well, what would you ask for? Money…healing…victory…ice-cream?
“Solomon answered God, “You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. Now, LORD God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” 2 Chronicles 1:9-10
This is such an important request. Seek wisdom. The fear of the Lord, a quiet abiding in his Holy Presence, is such a beginning to the incarnation of wisdom in our lives. Jesus may well have been thinking about this event when he spoke to his disciples about prayer and provision in Matthew 6:29. We are blessed by the exhortation to seek first his kingdom. This kingdom rule has much to do with wisdom. Seek wisdom “and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Solomon’s heart’s desire was for divine wisdom. More than just intellectual facts but a daily cleaving to incarnated wisdom that cries out in the streets and fashions the earth. He desired the giver more than the gifts. This disciplined heart desire for wisdom released God’s pleasure and generosity over his life.
God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, riches or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, riches and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” 2 Chronicles 1:11-12
So here we have it. How do I handle the powerful “yes” of prayer?
- Channel it through eyes wide open to vision and purpose, sustained in living word and dynamic obedience – “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”
- Root it in the reality of a heart committed to follow Jesus in humble sacrificial servanthood – “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
- Live it in a love relation with wisdom which listens and longs for divine revelation. Seeking first such wisdom will open the heart of heaven – “Since this is your heart’s desire…”
So, what do you want for Christmas?