“What Do You Want Me to Do for You?”

In the book of Mark, Jesus posed a question to a blind man that I believe has great implication for us.

“As Jesus was going out from Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road.  And when he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’  And many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he began crying out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’  Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him here.’  So they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take courage, arise!  He is calling for you.’  Casting aside his cloak, he jumped up, and came to Jesus.  And answering him, Jesus said, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?‘ ” (Mk 10:46-51).

As you and I commune, connect, abide, dwell with God through our prayers and the practice of our faith, Jesus is asking us the same question, “What do you want Me to do for you?”  Do you have an answer?

I have answered that question a hundred times.  “Yes, Jesus, please have mercy on me!  Yes, Jesus, would you do this specific thing for me?”  This is not too brash of a request or response to our Lord.  We learned from the story of the widow and the unrighteous judge that our prayers honor God.  They don’t annoy, pester at, or bother God.

And this story of Bartimaeus shows us that we can be as specific as God leads us to be in our requests.  We can be specific and be bold.  Ephesians 3:12 says, “We have a boldness and confident access to God through faith in Christ.”  And from the book of Hebrews, “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy” (Heb 4:16).  “Therefore, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” (Heb 10:19).  Our confidence, our boldness, to approach the throne of God is because of our faith in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

Why can we be so bold?  Because we have a good Father.  We have a near Father.  We have a present Father.  God is not a distant father, standing back with arms folded, begrudging our requests.  No, God is a generous Father with arms outstretched welcoming us onto the lap of Abba Father; where we “let our requests be made known” (Phil 4:6).

Bartimaeus had a specific answer to Jesus’ question as we continue the story.  “Jesus said, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’  And the blind man said to Him, ‘Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!’  And Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well.’  Immediately he received his sight and began following Jesus on the road” (Mk 10:51-52).

Jesus answered the blind man’s specific request.  He received his sight!  But Jesus’ final response also emphasizes the importance of faith.  Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “Your faith has made you well.”  Clearly Jesus is doing the healing.  But our faith opens the door.  When Jesus walks through the door, He will decide the answer that is best for us in this moment.  Our faith is our trust in who Jesus is and in His ability to deliver us.

Jesus is asking us, you and I, “What do you want Me to do for you?”  And our response is to reply and to believe, by faith, that He will hear us and answer our requests.

The Shield of Faith

The apostle Paul writes, “Take up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one” (Eph 6:16).  Our second weapon to counter the evil schemes of Satan is faith.

You recall last time that Jesus hinted at this when He told the father of the demon-possessed son, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mk 9:23).  Jesus expanded on this idea in Matthew’s telling of the same story in Matthew 17:14-20.  Here, after Jesus commands the demon to leave and the child is cured, we see the same question from the disciples as in Mark 9.

“Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’  And Jesus said to them, ‘Because your faith was too small.  For truly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it shall move.  And nothing shall be impossible to you’ ” (Mt 17:19-20).

Jesus’ words, “Your faith is too small” have haunted me … oh, haunted may not be the best word if it carries negative connotations.  I am using haunted in the most positive way possible.  Let’s just say this phrase has become my constant companion.  At nearly every crossroad, every challenge ahead, every request for prayer, I ask myself, “Is my faith too small?”

Of course, that leads to a follow-up question about what large faith looks like, “If my faith were larger, would the outcome be different?”  A difficult question for another time.  (Well, there actually was another time since I previously wrote about this very thing in these two posts:  Can Faith Change the Outcome? and Can Faith Control the Outcome?)  But for now, let’s return to what clearly lies within our control; the measure of our faith.

Our role is not to predict or control outcomes.  Our role is to practice faith on the largest level possible.  But this increasing faith that we desire to experience is a process.  We can say with the pleading father, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24).  “I have faith, but Jesus give me greater faith.  Jesus, show me what large faith looks like.  Jesus, help my unbelief.”

When we encounter the attacks of Satan, even as they appear to be in overdrive in these days, we have a counterattack strategy.  We don’t get angry.  We don’t blame others.  We don’t lose hope.  We don’t abandon our commitments.  But we do fight back; wielding our powerful weapons given to us by God Himself; the weapons of prayer and faith.

On the Counterattack

A story of a distraught father, his demon-possessed child, confused disciples, and a miracle of Jesus, points us to our first weapon in our counterattack against the evil one.

When Jesus returned from the mountain of His transfiguration in Mark chapter 9, he found a crowd gathered.  While He was away, His disciples had failed in their attempt to drive a demon out of a child and the desperate father turned to Jesus.

After describing the child’s pain, the father pleads, ” ‘But if you [Jesus] can do anything, take pity on us and help us!’  And Jesus said to him, ‘ “If you can?”  All things are possible to him who believes.’  Immediately the boy’s father cried out, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief.’  When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.’  After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, ‘He is dead!’  But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up.  When He came into the house, His disciples began questioning Him privately, ‘Why could we not drive it out?’  And He said to them, ‘This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer‘ ” (Mk 9:22-29).

The first weapon in our defense against the evil schemes of Satan is prayer.  The boy in the story was possessed by a demon, a clear expression of a satanic attack.  Jesus defeated the demon, conquered Satan, and restored the child to safety when He cast out the unclean spirit.  And in an incredible revelation, Jesus even tells us how He did it.

The disciples, who had failed at the same task, quizzed Jesus, “Why could we not drive the demon out?”  Jesus replied, “This kind can only come out by prayer.”  Our prayers are a crucial and necessary weapon in our struggle with evil.  Prayer is our number one line of attack.  Let’s look at another story about prayer.

“Now Jesus was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man.  There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, “Give me legal protection from my opponent.”  For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.” ‘  And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; how much more, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?  I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly.  However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?’ ” (Lk 18:1-8).

Jesus lays out the point of this story in the first verse.  Jesus is teaching His followers to pray at all times and to not lose heart; to not give up.  The widow in this parable is honored for her persistence.  And Jesus connects her persistence to our own persistence in prayer with His promise that “how much more” God will bring justice to His children who call upon Him.

If we see God as represented by the unrighteous judge, we may conclude that our prayers “bother” God to the point of forcing an answer out of Him.  But that is not the point at all.  Jesus is not comparing God to the judge.  He is contrasting God with the judge.  And the key to understanding this is the “how much more” comparison is verse 7.  God is not like the judge – answering our requests out of an attitude of annoyance – but is much more in favor of answering our prayers out of our relationship; we being His children, His chosen ones.

Our prayers do not “bother” God; they “honor” God.  He has given us prayer as a way to connect deeply with Him as we implore God’s intervention in our struggle with the schemes of the evil one.  And this parable teaches us, as my fried Dave Gibson said many times, that when it comes to prayer, “it is never too late to start … and it is always too soon to quit.”

Now there is a second, and I think a little less known, weapon in our arsenal.  Both of these stories hinted at it.  In the first story of miraculous healing, Jesus told the boy’s father, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mk 9:23).  In the second story, Jesus asks aloud, related to the widow’s persistence, “What kind of faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when He comes?” (Lk 18:8).  Somehow prayer mixed with faith launches us with possibility.  We will explore that connection next time.

Satan’s Frenzy

When the world hit an iceberg, it seems that more came pouring out of the gaping hole in the boat than just the Coronavirus.  It is as if Satan has ramped up the havoc he spreads across our world.  Almost immediately our circle of family and friends was under attack.

A nine-year-old boy that we know here in Franklin suffered a cardiac arrest just as the lockdowns were beginning.  His life was spared by Jesus and the quick work of the first responders, but he faces an uncertain neuro-future.  My niece went to a hospital complaining of muscle weakness and flu-like symptoms that would not go away.  She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and had to process all this news without her parents who were excluded from the hospital due to COVID-19 safety procedures.

I could list more psychosis, cancer, illness situations that have sprung forth just in our circle.  Add to this the financial setback, especially for those who were already living on the margins.  Add the barbaric pictures of policemen in India beating folks with sticks to prevent them from boarding the trains back to their hometowns during the country’s lockdown.  Add the tremendously sad cases of COVID-19 patients dying alone.  Add, add, add and it can become overwhelming.

My spirit is in turmoil as I process and pray in these times.  And as I do, it just seems to me that Satan has gone into some kind of a frenzy.  I can’t think of a better way to express it.  It is as if Satan is unleashing a new attack of darkness and pain upon our fallen planet.  Does Satan have some sense that his time is coming to an end?

I believe there is a glorious light at the end of this dark tunnel.  What we do not have any way of knowing is how long the tunnel is.  And we cannot be sure exactly what light we will be emerging into.

I can’t help but think that maybe it will be the light of the rapture; a start of the clock to Jesus’ final victory.  Or will it be a light of revival as God’s supernatural power literally falls upon the earth and Satan’s influence will suddenly diminish?  Will it be the light of a great awakening as our fellow citizens call upon the name of the Lord.

The Bible teaches us that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (I Jn 3:8).  I believe pandemics, grave sickness, a cultural morality that is off the rails, hate, and sin are all works of the devil.  Jesus’ victory over these has at least three prongs of attack.  First, Jesus defeated Satan and sin at the cross.  Sin is no longer our master for those who have placed their faith in Jesus.

Second, once we have been redeemed, we become part of Jesus’ army in this world, taking any path He reveals to us to help defeat these works of Satan.  That is why believers are called to confront illness, hate, and immorality with love, prayer, compassion, forgiveness, and truth.

Third, Jesus will ultimately defeat Satan in the finality of Revelation chapter 19 at His second coming.  Satan’s influence will be ended permanently.

But back to the current frenzy.  If your spirit is in turmoil as mine is, what are we to do?  What weapons are at our disposal to walk in God’s peace even as we seek to push this furor back?  Along with what we have already considered in this post, God has armed us with at least two specific weapons to fend off the attacks of Satan.  We will talk about them next time.

The World Just Hit an Iceberg

On the evening of April 15, 1912, Henry Sleeper Harper and his wife survived the sinking of the great ship Titanic in a way that was “so casual that it almost seemed miraculous.”  It was a survival aided by Mr. Harper’s keen perception and sticking to his convictions.

Henry was fast asleep in his stateroom on that fateful night.  Since boarding the ship in England, he had been kept in his room by a bout of tonsillitis.  Around 11:40 pm ship’s time, Henry was awakened by a grinding sound far below deck.  It wasn’t a loud crash.  It was felt as much as it was heard.  And to Henry, it brought back a stirring memory.

Henry was familiar with the sea from his youth.  And several years earlier, he was aboard a ship that ran over a reef and sunk.  The sound and feel of that experience had just repeated itself to Henry.  When he awoke to the sound, he looked out the nearest port and saw, only a few feet away, an iceberg racing past his window.  He knew the Titanic was going down.

Henry instructed his reluctant wife to get dressed.  “Make sure you have your shoes and winter coat” he called.  The couple made their way to the upper deck.  Due to Henry’s sickness, they had to stop and rest at times.  Along the way, there were many assurances from the crew and other passengers that all was well.  The ship was in good shape.  There was talk of maybe a two-hour delay getting to New York at the worst.  Passengers were told to go back to bed.

But Henry and his wife did not go back to bed.  They ignored the wishful assurances and continued on to where the lifeboats were stowed.  There, they and a few dozen passengers waited patiently.  Finally, a few crew members arrived and instructed the group into one of the boats.  Despite many challenges brought on by the incompetence of the lifeboat crew, Mr. Harper survived the night and he and his wife and their boatload of passengers were rescued in the morning.  (You can read more of Mr. Harper’s fascinating story of survival in Harper’s Weekly magazine, April 27, 1912 and reprinted in the book, Men at Sea, by Brandt Aymar, Crown Publishers Inc, New York, 1988.)

A few weeks ago, the world hit an iceberg.  When I was awakened by the grinding sound, I looked out my “port” window.  I did not see the cause of the sound, but I did see a gaping hole that not only engulfed China and northern Italy and New York City and the UK.  But I saw India and Niger and Quito, Ecuador where bodies were lining the sidewalk outside the hospital with nowhere to take the dead.  These places that lack sufficient healthcare resources are where the berg has cut the deepest.

I can’t think of another time in my life when the entire world has been under attack from the same enemy.  The world really has hit an iceberg.

And none of us know what comes next.  Will the world continue to “sink” under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic and economic meltdown?  Or will the world bob right back up like a beach ball in a backyard swimming pool?  Or will it come back as something other than the world as we knew it?

No matter what future route our world takes, there is still a rescue waiting for each of us.  There is still a captain of the sea reaching out a hand of salvation; a hand that is more secure than any Titanic lifeboat.  As I wrote last time, life in a pandemic – and after a pandemic – is found in Jesus.

We look with compassion over this broken world that seems to be falling apart by even more than just the coronavirus pandemic.  But we do not look with fear.  Whether in life or death, abundance or scarcity, sickness or in health, employed or unemployed; real resurrection life is found in Jesus.  “Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die’ ” (Jn 11:25-26).