“Many of us have more clearly developed plans for finances, further education, home improvements and physical fitness than we do for our spiritual lives.” —Ruth Haley Barton
What do you want from Jesus?
This is a question that can lead to transformation, if you give it enough attention. It’s a question Jesus asks us, just as he asked the old blind man, Bartimaeus.
One day, Jesus met a blind beggar outside the gates of Jericho. Bartimaeus was there by the road, in his usual spot, waiting for people to come along with spare change.
But Bartimaeus had heard Jesus was coming near. So, he cried out loudly, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” He cried out, yelling, hoping to get Jesus’ attention amidst the crowd and hum of excitement around the Teacher. People hushed Bartimaeus, trying to shut him up and his begging. He only shouted with greater gusto: “Son of David, have pity on me!”
Then Jesus stopped everything. On the spot, as soon as he’d heard the beggar’s shouts, he commanded that the blind man be brought to him. Bartimaeus jumped up in a hurry, throwing off his coat, hobbling without hesitation over to Jesus.
Then Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
It’s as if Jesus senses that, finally, someone in this crowd might actually be ready to receive what he’s here to give, might actually feel the need for what the Messiah has come to offer humanity.
Because he was a beggar, maybe Bartimaeus had less qualms about expressing his desires. Or maybe because Bartimaeus could “see” who Jesus really was, discerning much more than many of the people around Jesus.
In Christian circles, we can tend to avoid the language of “want” and “desire.” We don’t want to be selfish, so we hold back telling Jesus what we want.
Jesus, however, insists that we ask. “Don’t hold back,” he says. “Tell me, and don’t be shy about it: What do you want me to do for you?”
What if Jesus were to ask you that question? What would you say?
As with most authentic experiences with Jesus, you and I should expect that, if we tell him what we want, he’s bound to respond with something we didn’t quite expect.
Two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, approached Jesus one day and asked him for a special request: “Give us permission to sit one on each side of you in the glory of your kingdom!” In other words, make us second-in-command in your kingdom, because we want to rule over the others.
Can you imagine how this must have landed on Jesus’ other followers? Sure enough, after hearing about James’ and John’s request, the other disciples got angry: “Who do those two think they are! Trying to get above us!”
Hearing this story, we might think that one of the lessons we should learn is not to ask Jesus for too much, like James and John did. After all, Jesus told them, “…as for sitting on either side of me, that is not for me to give–such places belong to those for whom they are intended.” Request denied. Stop asking for big things, guys and gals. Be happy with what you’ve already got.
But that’s not the lesson we should draw.
In this story, Jesus ends up telling the disciples that’s it’s fine to want greatness, but then he goes and redefines what greatness means: “…whoever wants to be great must become the servant of you all, and if he wants to be first among you he must be the slave of all men!”
Jesus has no problem with us asking him for things. But he does have a way of challenging our requests, reorienting them, and pressing us to dig deeper, to ask for something more central to our being, something more ultimately good and satisfying to our hearts.
In her book, Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton writes about spiritual disciplines, things like prayer, solitude, and Scripture. These are all ways Christians have pursued life-change, by establishing disciplines or rhythms in their life, giving more of their thoughts, time, and energy to spiritual transformation.
As people who’ve received God’s love in Jesus Christ, Christians long to become more like Jesus, to be transformed more and more into his likeness.
Yet, we realize that we cannot transform ourselves. Only God can do that. What we can do, however, is “create the conditions in which spiritual transformation can take place, by developing and maintaining a rhythm of spiritual practices that keep [us] open and available to God.”
The first step in making space in our lives for spiritual transformation is to answer Jesus’ question: “What do you want me to do for you?”
“The journey begins as we learn to pay attention to our desire in God’s presence, allowing our desire to become the impetus for deepening our spiritual journey… If we skip this part of the process, our work with the disciplines will be nothing more than another program entered into on the basis of external prodding or superficial motivators…It is not until after we have settled into our desires and named them in God’s presence that we are ready to be guided into the spiritual practices that will open us to receive what our heart is longing for.”
Building spiritual disciplines/practices in your life can open up the way for transformation. But hand-in-hand with these practices is a fundamental question, a question Jesus asks us every time we come to pray, to read Scripture, or to be in solititude: “What do you want me to do for you?”
You can learn more about Barton’s book, Sacred Rhythms, in this interview with her.