Open your Bibles to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10. I want to read a familiar story. I am a little hesitant at times to announce a text as familiar as this one. We have a tendency to step into neutral and say, well, I’ve heard all that before. But I trust the Lord will speak to us afresh today from his Word. Mark 10:46-52. I think you will find in this story, this passage, the nuts and bolts of what prayer is all about. It deals with the man who prays, with the One who answers prayer, what is involved in it and gives us a good perspective on this matter of prayer.
And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee. And he,. Casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus. And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.
I was telling the first group this morning that a number of years ago I started a hobby, and I am still involved in it. I collect unusual things. As far as I know, I am the only one in the world who has this kind of collection. It is something I started collecting a long time ago. It’s one reason I love to watch professional sports on television because in listening to the commentators you can add a lot of new trophies to your collection if you collect what I collect. What I collect are silly statements and foolish questions. Watching sports on TV and listening to the commentators I always add to my collection.
I remember when Danny White was first starting out as quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. On one of the first plays he fumbled the ball and lost it. The commentator very wisely came on and said, now that’s something they were hoping to avoid. I remember hearing Merlin Olson say one night when one football was way behind and time was running out. Merlin said, now, what they need to do is get some points on the board. I was so thankful that I was listening because I would never have known that. Such just didn’t occur to me. I felt like he should have shared that with the coach probably. What bugs me is that they get paid for saying things like that. Foolish questions.
I was in Little Rock preaching and a woman came up to me afterward. She was obviously great with child. She said, preacher, I want you to know that it’s nine months, three weeks, and two days, but I’m here. Another woman comes up and looks at this lady and says, haven’t you had that baby yet? I thought that was rather obvious. Every time I see a person with an arm in a cast, I can’t help but say, did you hurt your arm? Oh, no, I just enjoy wearing casts. You come home from a funeral. Someone says, where have you been? You say, I’ve been to Ned’s funeral. Is Ned dead? Oh, no, we just decided to have his funeral now and get all that out of the way. Foolish questions, silly statements. You watch it today. I guarantee you’ll ask or hear a foolish question or silly statement.
I suppose that is one reason I’ve been intrigued by some of the stories concerning the Lord Jesus because there are times when it appears that Jesus is asking a foolish question. For instance, here is a blind man Bartimaeus who may have been blind all his life as far as we know. In those days when they didn’t have welfare and charitable programs, if you had a handicap, you were reduced to being a beggar. Your life depended upon the rare generosity of the few who passed by. So there were dozens, hundreds of people like that. Most folks never paid them much attention. Here was one. Bartimaeus probably wasn’t even his name. The word means “son of Timothy.” We may not even know his name. He was so unimportant, such a nonentity that perhaps they didn’t know his name.
He is a blind man, and he hears Jesus coming by—the great physician, the miracle worker. He cries out, Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me. Jesus has him brought to him, and says to him, what wilt that I should do unto thee? What do you want? I would think it was obvious what he wanted. That is such a silly question, a foolish question. What else would the man want? Of course, he wants his sight; he wants to be healed. Why would the Lord ask such an obvious and foolish question?
Then there is that account in John 5 of the man who was crippled for 38 years beside the pool of Bethesda. Jesus comes by. You know the story. An angel would come down ever once in awhile and stir up the waters. If you got into the waters first after they had been stirred, you would be healed. So the pool was always surrounded by a lot of sick folk. Jesus walked by one day and stopped by this man who had been crippled for 38 years. He looked at him and said, wilt thou be made whole? Do you want to be healed? What a silly question, a stupid question, a foolish question! You get the idea that the Lord is toying with him, taunting him, mocking him. Why in the world would he ask that question? Of course, the man wants to be healed. Who wouldn’t? Why do you think he is here by the pool? Maybe for 38 years he has been there trying to get into the pool, but nobody will help him so he is still crippled. And Jesus asks that question: what do you want me to do for you?
But I remind myself very quickly that our Lord never asked foolish questions. If sometimes he says things and asks things that seem to us to be foolish, that’s just it. They seem to be. The Lord never asks a foolish or superfluous question, nor does the Lord ask questions to gain information. He doesn’t have to do that. He already knew what Bartimaeus wanted even before Bartimaeus knew what he wanted. The Lord doesn’t have to ask questions in order to get information. He already knows all things. I know that he doesn’t ask questions just to play with us, toy with us. He doesn’t take advantage of an honest need in a person’s life and capitalize on it and use it as a point of joke or humor. He has a very real reason for asking that question.
I tried to put myself in Bartimaeus’ place, and I know I can’t. I don’t know what it would be like to live in darkness, being blind for 38 years. I have tried to imagine at times. Here is Bartimaeus sitting here begging. Perhaps one day someone comes up to him (maybe he’s a forming begging partner) and says, oh, Bartimaeus, you should have been with me last week. I was down in a certain place, and you know that new prophet we’ve been hearing about from Nazareth. He was there. You will never guess what he did. He touched me. I can see. He healed me of my blindness. I don’t have to beg anymore. Oh, Bartimaeus, you missed you. You should have been there. Bartimaeus obviously had heard many stories like that because he knew who Jesus was. I imagine there were times when he dreamed, thought, hoped maybe one day Jesus would come to him. Maybe one day he could meet Jesus, and his eyes could be healed. Perhaps he would dismiss that because those things always happen to other people. Those are miracles that you read about in other people’s lives. Can you imagine how he felt one day when suddenly there was an unusual commotion and he begins to ask, what’s happening? Someone says to him, Jesus of Nazareth passes by. Can you imagine how his heart must have jumped? Can you imagine the thrill? He begins to cry out with a loud voice, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. They try to quiet him, and he cries out with an even louder voice. The word used here is the word of a scream or yell. Bartimeaus is definitely not having his quiet time; he is having a screaming time. He is yelling, Lord Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me. Jesus stops and commands that he brought to him. Then he asks, what do you want me to do for you?
To me that is the foundation of prayer. Prayer is God’s idea. God invented prayer; man didn’t. It is God who initiates prayer. It is God who takes the first step. He says, what wilt thou that I should do unto thee? I have often thought, I wish there were times when Jesus would have said that to me. Can you think of anything in your life right now at this moment, some problem—maybe a physical problem, a marital problem, a financial problem, a prodigal son or daughter? What you wouldn’t give if suddenly Jesus stood before you and said, listen, I will give you three wishes and you’ll have whatever you ask. Is there anything I can do for you? Would you have to think about it? Would you not immediately know of something? I would be ready to answer the Lord immediately. I would have to have more than three wishes in order to get all my wants in there. I could think of something.
That is the trouble. He’s not with us. He doesn’t do those things anymore. But I think he does. I believe Jesus is just as much with us today as he was with Bartimaeus 2000 years ago. Even in a greater way he is with us. In that day he could only deal with one at a time. He can deal with all of us at the same time today. The Lord said, I have come not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to offer my life as a ransom for many.
I don’t see any reason to believe that Jesus has changed. We come this morning to worship God, and that’s true. But that’s not all of it. We come to have God minister to us, to have God speak to us. We come to have a confrontation with God. I reckon if I leave here this morning without having an encounter with Jesus Christ, I have wasted my time in some way. I think it would do us good as we walk into this place and take our seat, if we expected the Lord Jesus to walk up and down these aisles, stop at each one, and say, is there something you need me to do? What do you want me to do for you this morning?
I want to look at that in a few moments and ask three questions about it, but the first thing I want to mention is this. Prayer is always a person-to-God encounter. Prayer is an encounter with the living God. Prayer isn’t just going through some ritual; it’s not just moving some prayer wheel. Prayer is a personal, living conversation and confrontation with the living God. We have to understand that in prayer it is God with whom we deal. Many times that prayer is really a wrestling match. I was thinking this morning about what Paul says in Romans 15:30: strive together with me in your prayers. The word strive really means wrestle, hand-to-hand combat, with me in your prayers. That prayer in many instances is a wrestling match with God.
It is not that God is reluctant to give us what we need. It is that we are reluctant to be what God wants us to be. Not long ago I was reading the story of Jacob in Genesis when he came to Jabok the river. He was going to meet his brother Esau the next day. Laban was behind him, chasing him. Esau and all his group were on the other side of the river. Jacob knew that he had had it because he had taken Esau’s birthright and done so many other things that he was fearful of meeting his brother in the morning.
That night he sent his wives and all his goods across the river. He stayed on that riverside by himself that night. The Bible says, there wrestled with him a man, and they wrestled until the sun rose. The Bible doesn’t say who that man is. Jacob may have thought it was Esau because it was dark and he couldn’t see who it was. Maybe he thought he had been attacked by Esau, or one of Esau’s henchmen. Maybe he thought he had been attacked by some bandits. There were legends in those days that each river had an evil spirit that guarded it like the sheriff of the local town. He wouldn’t let anybody cross the river without a wrestling match. At first, Jacob didn’t know who he was wrestling with; it was just a very strong man, and he was trying to throw him to the ground. Suddenly, somewhere along the way, Jacob realizes that this is not just a man; this is the Lord, the angel of the Lord. He said, who art thou? Who are you? He said, don’t ask me that. What is thy name? He said, my name is Jacob. You know the story. He limped away.
I’ve read that a hundred thousand times, and suddenly I saw something that I had not seen before. So often, in my praying I have considered prayer warfare, and it is. So often in my praying I have seen myself as wrestling with the devil and wrestling with the powers of darkness, and at times it is. But I want to tell you something. My greatest enemy in prayer is God, enemy in the sense that he is the one I am wrestling with. What I mean by that is this: my toughest fights do not come in saying no to the devil. My toughest fight comes in saying yes to God. The real struggles of my life have not been resisting temptation of the devil. The real struggles of my life have been in resisting what God wanted to do for me and in me and in my life. If all I had to contend with was the devil, that would be enough. But Jacob and we like him, in so much of our praying, are wrestling with God because he is trying to do something in our lives and we are resisting it. How often we try to throw down the very thing that is a blessing to us.
Something is happening in our life and we attribute it to the devil. I don’t know why we always give the credit for everything that happens like that. Sometimes it is God, and we don’t know it. We are wrestling with God. Our greatest struggle is not in saying no to the devil; it’s in saying yes to God—to be what God wants us to be.
With that in mind, I want us to look at these three questions.
What do you want Jesus to do for you?
What do you want me to do for you? That was the question that our Lord asked Bartemaeus. What do you want me to do for you? As I said, I believe Jesus still comes today and confronts us with this question: what do you want me to do for you? Now the question that comes to me is why did the Lord bother to ask that question anyway. If the Lord already knew what Bartemaeus wanted, then why ask him? Sometimes people have said that if the Lord already knows what we have need of anyway, why bother to pray? Jesus said that your Father already knows your need, so you don’t have to use vain repetition. If God already knows what I need, then why do I have to ask him?
I believe the angel at the river that night knew who Jacob was. I believe the Lord knew who he was wrestling with. Still he said, what is your name? Why would he ask Jacob his name when he already knew his name? Jacob said, my name is Jacob (trickster, cheat, supplanter). I believe that what God was doing to Jacob was making him tell who he was and what he was. It was a confession of his sinfulness, his need, his spiritual inadequacy. I am a cheat, a supplanter, a trickster. I am a good-for-nothing, lowdown cheat; that’s what I am. I think the Lord asks us, “What do you want?” in order to probe our hearts, to refine our asking. Sometimes I think we ask for things so flippantly and so easily.
I remember when my children were little, around Christmas time we would always ask them to make a Christmas list so we would know what they wanted. You would need a truck to carry the things they wanted. I discovered one day that all they did was sit down in front of the television set, and every time they advertised something, they wrote it down whether they knew what it was or not. If I had all the money that I’ve spent on things my kids said they wanted, and didn’t really want, I could retire. I was always looking for some way to tell which things were a passing fancy and which were a real need in their lives.
I’ll tell you how I found out. One night I was sitting in the den reading the newspaper. My son, who was about eight years old at that time, came up and was standing there. I kept reading, and he was standing there. I lowered my paper and said, what do you want, son? I forget what he asked for, but he wanted something. I said no, you can’t have it, and went back to my reading. I was aware that he kept standing there. I read, and he kept standing there. I lowered the paper, and he was standing there going back and forth on his heels and playing with his hands. I said, “Stephen, what are you doing?” “Waiting for you to change your mind.”
Do you know what I discovered? I discovered that when my child asked for something and I said no, if they took the first no, I knew it didn’t mean much to them. But if they were bulldogged tenacious and kept on asking, and worried me to death and wore me out asking, I would begin to feel it was really important to them.
It’s interesting to me that in the only two parables that our Lord ever gave concerning prayer he emphasized the stubborn persistence of asking. You ask, and you ask, and you ask—and you keep on asking. That is exactly what Bartemaeus is doing here. Bartemaeus is asking and crying out with a loud voice. Jesus says, what do you want me to do? Think about it. What do you want me to do for you? Is this really what you want? Search your heart. Is this really what you want?
In the other service I talked about this man in New Orleans that I heard about. He was in prison since 1927, and they released him. As the newscast went on, I thought about a man being in prison for all those years and then being released. The newscast went on to say that three days later he showed up back at the prison gates wanting back in. He discovered that he preferred prison life to life on the outside. I thought, my soul, what a shock. That man was counting every day all those years until he would be released, and when he got what he wanted, he found out it wasn’t what he wanted at all. I think sometimes we say, Lord, I want this and this and this, but the truth of the matter is that is not really what you want.
To the man who had been lame for 38 years, Jesus said, do you really want to be healed? I’m sure his first response was of course. The Lord’s eyes are so penetrating. They make you think. They strike you to the depths of your soul. He said, is this really what I want? Is this really what I want? My goodness, for 38 years I’ve been carried around. For 38 years somebody else has provided for me. For 38 years I’ve not had to take responsibility for my own life. It’s sort of nice to be carried everywhere. It’s sort of nice to have everybody do stuff for you. If I let this man heal me, I’ll have to get a job. I won’t be able to lie around all day. I’ll have to take responsibility for my own life. Come to think of it. I’m not sure I want to be healed.
I think the same thing is true spiritually. Sometimes we say, Lord, I wish you would do this. Send us revival. The fact of the matter is that if we knew what revival really entailed, we would probably stop praying for it. We can become used to being spiritually sick. It’s sort of nice to be a spiritual invalid. You can come to a big church like this on Sunday morning and sit back in the corner. Nobody knows whether you are there or not. They never ask you to do anything because they know you are spiritually crippled. When the nominating committee meets, and somebody brings up your name, they say, oh, no, he wouldn’t do it. He’s not well. When they hand out the pledge cards at stewardship time, they don’t bother to send you one. Oh, he wouldn’t give. He’s not well. They never expect you on Wednesday night or for visitation. Well, they understand you are not well. Let’s say you were to come down to the altar this morning and say, I want to be cured, healed, my heart to be right with God. I’m laying all on the altar for him. You know what would happen, don’t you? They would give you a box of envelopes and expect you to start giving. Your wife would expect you to be at church on Wednesday nights and say grace at the table at the restaurant. Somebody would call you up on Monday morning and ask you to teach a group of nine year old boys. That is reason enough to stay sick. The fact of the matter is that we get to the point that we like it. Let somebody else do all the work. Let somebody else bear all the responsibility. Let somebody else do all the giving, all the praying, all the caring. I’ll just sit here and enjoy it, and nobody will expect anything of me because I’m really not well. What do you want? What do you really want?
2. How badly do you want it?
My wife and I were coming back from a concert sometime ago, and we had heard this tremendous pianist. As we were driving, my wife said, oh, I’d give anything in the world if I could play the piano like that. I looked over at her and said you’re lying. You wouldn’t give anything in the world to play like that. If you really meant that, you’d practice, and practice, and discipline yourself and study. What you really mean is I wouldn’t mind waking up in the morning with that kind of ability, if the Lord would just sort of lay it on me.
I personally believe, and I don’t know if you call this heresy or not, that the original sin of Adam and Eve was as much laziness and slothfulness as it was anything else. As a matter of fact, I really am coming to the conclusion that the devil’s appeal was to their slothfulness and laziness. He said you take what I suggest you eat of that fruit, and you will instantly become as gods, knowing good and evil. You won’t have to learn. You won’t have to study. You won’t have to discipline. You won’t have to take years and years of learning good and evil. You eat and right then push, pull, click, click, become God-like that quick.
Ever since then, man has always taken the easy way out—always. If you will notice when the Lord is dealing with us in the matter of discipleship, he always calls for the more difficult path. Have you ever wondered about that? The Lord always for himself chose the more difficult path. He offered us that. If you are not willing to leave father and mother, you can’t be my disciple. He that puts his hand to the plow and looks back isn’t worthy, isn’t fit to be my disciple. If you don’t love me more than anything else on this earth you cannot be my disciple. He didn’t say you won’t make a very good one; he said you won’t make one at all.
Sometime ago I was having some physical problems. I went to the doctor and had a bunch of tests. After it was over, I went into his office and sat down. He picked up a piece of paper and began to write on it. He said, preacher, here is what I want you to do. I want you to start walking three miles, four days a week, and do it in under 45 minutes so you get your pulse rate going. I want you to get eight hours of sleep every night, want you to eat three balanced, nutritious meals every day. He went on and on and on. I said, wait just a minute. Can’t you just give me a pill? Isn’t there some pill that will help me? To tell you the truth, I’m not interested in walking three miles a day, four days a week. That appeals to me not at all. I don’t want to change my lifestyle. I don’t want to have to worry about eating nutritious food three times a day. I don’t think it is possible to find it three times a day. Can’t you just give me a pill? I want to ask you folks. Isn’t that, perhaps unconsciously, pretty much our attitude towards spiritual growth and spiritual power. Lord, if I just had some pill to take. If there was just some formula, some one-two-three step. If you are talking about working, and laboring, and disciplining and studying, and denying. He said something else. How badly do you want it?
How badly did Bartimaeus want his? He wanted it badly enough that he ignored public opinion. Everybody was trying to shut him up, quiet him down. The Bible says the more they tried to quiet him, the louder he got. I don’t know. Maybe some of them said, Bartimaeus, you are making a fool of yourself. You are attracting attention to us. You are giving beggars a bad name. Everybody is looking over at us. Shut up. You’ve got to be quiet. You’ve got to act with dignity. Bartimaeus said he didn’t care what people thought of him. He wasn’t going to let their opinion rob me of what Jesus can do for me?
Do we want it bad enough to get rid of any personal obstacle that is standing in our way? When Jesus told him to come, the Bible says, and he, casting aside his garment, jumped up and went to him. The garment they are talking about is that long outer robe that flowed. If you were going to run or do any work, you had to hitch that thing up. When the Bible talks about having your loins gird about you, that’s what they mean. You tuck that garment up under your sash and tighten the belt, or you would just throw it off. If you tried to run in that thing without it either girded up and or thrown off, you would trip and fall in the dust. He cast it away. He wasn’t going to let anything slow him down, not going to let anything get in my way, not going to let anything hinder me.
I hear of people spending a whole night in prayer. Charles E. Finney said he spent whole nights in prayer, but it is not that it takes that long for God to answer me; it takes me that long to get right enough for God to answer me. How badly do you want it? How badly do you want it? How badly do you want it? Do you want what the Lord can do for you badly enough to ignore what anybody else thinks or says, and to get rid of anything in your life that is a hindrance to you?
3. What are you going to do with it when you get it—if you get it?
One last question, not only what do you want? Not only how badly do you want it? But what are you going to do with it when you get it—if you get it? What are you going to do with it? Here’s Bartimaeus, blind. Lord, that I may receive my sight. Jesus said, thy faith has made you whole. Go thy way. Immediately he received his sight, and did what? What did he do? What are you going to do with it when you get it—if you get it?—followed Jesus in the way. I think that is terrific. Jesus gives him his sight, and gives him a choice, cuts him loose. He said, go thy way. Do anything you want to? What are you going to do with it, Bartimaeus. Let’s watch old Bart. I think we can tell a lot about his character by what he does with God gives him. Go thy way. What are you going to do? Well, I’m going down to Jericho. I’ve always wanted to see Jericho, a lot of sights and lights down there that I keep hearing people talk about. Then I want to go look in a mirror and see what I look like. There are a lot of things I want to do.
What did he do? Jesus said, go thy way. Bartimaeus said, Lord, my way is your way. He followed Jesus in the Way. Do you know what he did with that blessing God gave him? He used it to glorify God. He used it to honor God. Some of you are praying that God will give you move money. You are not using the money you have to glorify God. Some of you are praying that God will give you greater health, and you aren’t even using what health you’ve got to honor God. Some of you are praying that God will give you more time. You don’t use the time now to honor God. God is not going to give you a blessing on top of another blessing if that blessing is unused. You gather manna just for one day, and one day only.
One day there was a man in the Bible called Herod. He was an evil, vicious man. He chopped off John the Baptist’s head, chopped off James’ head. Then he made a speech. It must have been some more terrific speech for when he finished, the people jumped up and said, this is not a man, this is a god. The Bible says that the Lord smote him and he was eaten of worms. Why? God didn’t touch him when he beheaded John the Baptist. God didn’t touch him when he beheaded James the disciple. For all those other things, God didn’t do anything. But this time God smote him. Why?—because he gave not God the glory. Evidently, not glorifying God with what I am and what I have is a terrific sin.
So a lot depends on what we are going to do with what God gives us. Let me just put it this way. I believe God is willing and ready to give you anything that will make you a better follower of his. I believe God will answer any prayer, meet any need, solve any problem that will make you a better disciple of his. What do you want? Jesus is here. Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. He is asking you, what wilt thou that I should do unto you? Is there something you want to the Lord to do for you?
You may want the Lord to save you today. You may have come into this building without the knowledge of Christ as your Savior. You may not have the assurance right now that your sins are forgiven. You’ve never had a personal experience with Jesus. Jesus is saying, what do you want me to do for you? Your answer ought to be Lord, save me. Lord, that I might be saved, and my sins might be forgiven.
It may be something else that the Lord is speaking to you about—some other decision, some other need. And it always involves and he came to Jesus. Come to Jesus. There is something Jesus has that you need, something that he has that he wants to give you. But you have to come to him. You come to him.
We are going to bow our heads now . . .
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2005