What are you praying for right now?
How are you asking Jesus to act in your life?
And how do you feel He's responding to your requests?
If you want a sobering reality check (and, let's face it, who doesn't?) - read Luke 8:19-56. Here we see five encounters with Jesus in which people know what Jesus needs to do. And they tell Him. Each one of their requests are perfectly reasonable. They are exactly the things you would ask if you were in their shoes. And granting them is exactly what you'd recommend if Jesus had bothered to consult you.
And yet... in each and every case Jesus refuses legitimate, heart-felt and often heart-breaking requests.
Scene one (v19-21). Jesus' mother wants to speak with Him. A good Jewish mother, worried for her over-worked, under-fed son. She wants a word. In a traditional culture where family is everything, Mary expects her son to honour her in this way. Is there anything wrong with that? There's nothing wrong with that. But Jesus denies His own mother.
In our time and place we're not shocked. But in Jesus' day, they were shocked. Three of the Gospel writers thought this was worth recording. Jesus is profoundly upsetting His nearest and dearest. But He's only just getting warmed up...
Scene two (v22-25). The disciples are sailing with the Son of God. He directs them towards a hurricane then takes a power-nap. "Master, Master, we're going to drown!" they complain. Understandable, you'd think. Jesus rebukes the weather, then He rebukes His followers: "Why don't you trust me!?"
Sheesh! They're doing their best Jesus! They just wanted a safe passage across the lake. Too much to ask??
Well just look at what happens on the other side...
Scene three (v26-39). Jesus liberates a man oppressed by an army of demons. Much better! We all like a good exorcism (well, apart from the locals who are infuriated by His methods, but who cares about them...) Jesus is back on track - doing the stuff He ought to be doing. Yet consider the ending to the story. This new-born baby Christian, in possession of himself for the first time in decades, finally puts words to his greatest desire. What does he want? He wants to be with Jesus (v38). Anything wrong with that? It's the most beautiful ambition anyone can express. This man "begs" Jesus: "Please, I just want to be with you." And Jesus says, "No, go and be a missionary to your own people.' He gives the command, the disciples push the boat from shore and the man watches His Lord and Saviour sail off into the distance. What on earth is Jesus like??
It only gets more shocking...
Scene four (v40-48). A woman with a chronic and defiling illness seeks a miracle from Jesus. She'd read that there was healing in the wings of the Messiah (Malachi 4:2), so she goes to touch the wings (i.e. the ends) of His coat. She knows He's the Christ, she trusts Him for healing. She just wants her life back. She doesn't want to make a fuss. For 12 years she's been told that she's unclean and unwelcome. She's learnt to scurry around the fringes. The last thing she wants is a face-to-face with the Holy One of Israel. She just wants a zap-and-run. Very understandable. But Jesus is having none of it. He makes the biggest scene imaginable. Hundreds of eyes are now turned on her and she has to tell her story very publicly. It's mortifying! This is not how she'd planned things. But it is how Jesus wants it. He frustrates all our natural desires.
Yet this is nothing compared to the frustration inflicted on Jairus, the synagogue ruler...
Scene five (v49-56). Can you imagine how Jairus felt as Jesus stops to talk with this woman? Jairus's 12 year old daughter lies dying and he has left her to seek Jesus' help. People were ejected from synagogues for lining up with Jesus and now Jairus has risked it all on a Rabbi who stops to chat with riff-raff. Here was a woman who'd be banned from Jairus's own synagogue. And her healing could wait, surely! She'd suffered for 12 years, she could suffer another 12 hours, couldn't she? Can you picture him, desperately trying to hurry Jesus, tugging at his arm, pleading with his disciples to do something. Has the whole world gone crazy - what on earth are Christ's priorities and why won't they match up with mine?
If I was Jairus, I'd be beside myself. But the worst is yet to come. While Jairus is trying to hurry Jesus, the most horrific words that could ever be spoken to a father are uttered, "Your daughter is dead." And if it's possible for anything to make matters worse - Jesus manages to make matters worse, because there is the Author of life, standing by, chatting to an unclean woman, while Jairus's world falls apart. Jairus had banked everything on Jesus, and Jesus had deliberately allowed a hell-on-earth to befall Jairus.
AND THEN ... AND THEN... Jesus says "Don't be afraid, trust me."
Are you kidding me? Trust you now? Now is the time to sue you for malpractice! Trust you now?
This is why Jesus is utterly, horrendously, maddeningly infuriating.
But think of this...
- He resists His mother so that He might act like a true Son and bring many into the family (v21)
- He sails His friends through a storm and into a profound appreciation for Him (v25)
- He returns Legion to his family as a whole man, and a man with a mission (v39, cf. Mark 7:31ff)
- He restores the unclean woman to community, giving her a deep assurance and blessing (v48)
- He brings this family through death to new life, with feasting to boot (v55)
Through darkness to the light. Through suffering to glory. Through death to resurrection - that's the way of Jesus.
We are enslaved to this death-bound realm. All we can think to do is cling on to life and status and blessings and we fire up all sorts of prayers with frenzied fervour. "THIS, THIS, THIS Jesus, you don't understand how vital THIS is." Jesus understands far more than we know. Which is why He stands against our natural desires. He grabs us violently by the hand and dives down with us into a death we never would have chosen.
And maybe right now you're asking: What on earth are you doing Jesus!?
Well, He's doing what He always does... bringing life from the dead.
You think He's gone too far? You think He can't redeem this situation? He raises the dead. He raises the whole world. There's nothing He can't redeem. If you're His, there's nothing He won't redeem.
But because He raises the dead His priorities will look different to yours. Insanely, infuriatingly different.
This is not a sign of His indifference towards you. It's not even a sign of some abstract inscrutability. It's just the plain, obvious truth that those who can raise dead people prioritize differently to those who are bound to death. A death-bound to-do list is a pitiful thing. But it's all we've got. So it's what we bring to the Lord in prayer. Essentially we say
"Lord, Bless my to-do list! Fulfil my desires - shaped, as they are, by a paralyzing fear of losses and crosses and an utter commitment to this passing age."
And Jesus says "No." Thank God He says "No!"
He LOVES His mother. He LOVES His disciples. He LOVES Legion. He LOVES the woman. He LOVES Jairus. And He LOVES you. Therefore He won't allow our death-bound desires to hold sway.
I don't know what redemption will look like in your situation. But reflect on this...
Mary wanted a word with her son, Jesus gave her a family.
The disciples wanted plain sailing, Jesus gave them amazement and awe at Him.
Legion wanted escape with Jesus, He gave him back to his family with a mission.
The woman wanted a zap-and-run, Jesus gave her a face-to-face.
Jairus wanted a healing, he got resurrection feasting.
One day - maybe in glory - but one day you'll be able to make a statement like that: "I desperately wanted X, but through a kind of death, Jesus brought me Y." I don't know what those details will be, and probably you won't either.
But in the meantime you can trust a Lord who, through His life and death, has
Handled exclusion far worse than Mary's
Gone through storms far rougher than the disciples'
Felt disappointment far darker than Legion's
Endured shame far deeper than the woman's
Suffered loss far crueller than Jairus's
And He's with you now in a suffering that He understands from the inside. He's done it all for you... that you might have life to the full.
It's just that true life comes from the dead.
A sermon on Jairus and the Woman (one of the sermons closest to my heart).