“Questions aren’t curses, but are pathways to God’s answers… when we ponder and reason the things of God, we aren’t trying to outsmart him. We’re becoming more like him.”
Jennifer Dukes Lee- The Happiness Dare
I love questions…
I can’t help it. I think too much sometimes. I have a curious mind that always wants to understand more and I’m not afraid to wrestle with the difficult, unanswerable questions.
I also love when someone else poses a questions that makes me stop and think, or helps me to look at things in a different way.
Jesus was the master of this sort of question, and he asked a lot of them. The four gospels record over 300 instances of him asking a question (some are duplicates as the same story is recorded more than once) and invariably his questions were thought-provoking and designed to cut to the heart of the matter.
Although his questions were in many cases addressed to specific people in specific situations, I believe that as we ponder these questions there is a lot we can learn. I shared recently about a time when God met with me powerfully through reflecting on some of Jesus’ questions, and it is something I’d like to explore some more, so over the next couple of months I am going to do a series looking at some of these questions.
The question we are going to consider today is “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51 NLT)
Jesus asks this question to Bartimaeus, a blind beggar he encounters among a crowd which has gathered on the outskirts of Jericho. On hearing that Jesus is approaching, Bartimaeus cries out “Son of David, have mercy on me,” and he persists, despite the crowd’s attempts to silence him. Finally Jesus hears and summons him, and as Bartimaeus approaches, Jesus asks the question: “What do you want me to do for you?”
Bartimaeus responds that he wants to see; Jesus tells him his faith has made him well and instantly his sight is restored.
It’s an amazing story, but I can’t help wondering: why did Jesus ask the question? (I told you I was curious!)
To be honest, on considering this question two images come to mind: the first, the Spice Girls and their call to “Tell me what you want, what you really, really want,” closely followed by an image of the genie from Aladdin appearing and stating “Your wish is my command.” I’m not sure either of these images help us understand Jesus’ purpose.
Even in the context of the story it seems like a strange question to ask. Surely it was obvious what Bartimaeus was hoping for from this encounter. Why else would he be calling out to Jesus?
In the same way, if God is all-knowing, why should we bring our requests to him in prayer? He already knows our situations and what we want him to do.
I don’t have a definitive answer, but here are a few thoughts:
James writes “You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.” (James 4:2 NLT) and later, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (James 5:16 NLT)
It seems that sometimes things happen when we pray for them that wouldn’t happen otherwise. I have heard someone explain it saying that God has given us free will, and using our free will to pray prompts him to act.
I think the act of asking also displays faith. Choosing to ask God for what we want expresses our belief that he has the power to change the situation and that he cares enough to do something about it.
And then it opens our eyes to what God is doing. If we didn’t have to ask God, I think we would find it easy to take his acts for granted or to write them off as coincidence. Asking and receiving stirs gratitude and thanksgiving and turns us to praise.
However, God is definitely not like a genie in a magic lamp, ready to grant our hearts’ desires. Just before the encounter with Bartimaeus, Jesus asks a similar question to James and John. They approach him, asking for a favour and he responds by asking, “What is your request?” (Mark 10:36 NLT) They ask that when he sits on his throne they should be allowed to sit on either side of him.
Jesus doesn’t grant this request- he says it’s not his decision to make- but it opens up a conversation, giving him the opportunity to help them understand what they’re really asking for, to appreciate that identifying with him means suffering and that the call to discipleship is not a call to status and position but to humility and service.
I think sometimes God wants us to articulate our requests because it opens up a conversation and allows him to teach us. He won’t always grant our requests, but it may lead us into a deeper understanding of what it means to follow him.
We might not always understand why some of our requests are not granted but we can trust that he sees our need and that he knows what is best for us.
“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matthew 7:9-11 NLT)