Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered.
Individualism is probably one of the greatest challenges that we as Christians face in the world that we live in today. It is endemic in society; telling us that we can achieve whatever we like, if only we believe in ourselves and so on. Now there is something to be said about believing in ourselves and loving ourselves as part of God’s good creation. I am all for that but it is the imbalance of self, particularly without God, which is endemic in our post-modern society.
However, we cannot always blame the world because individualism had also been a problem for Jesus followers. Take for example the passage above, Mark 10:35-38, in which James and John want Jesus to meet their individual desires. They did not ask for much did they? Just the best seats in the Kingdom i.e. apart from the Throne of God himself. And yet, God does have concern for us, and loves us, in a very personal and individual way. He cannot always give us what we want but he gives us what is best for us, even beyond our own understanding.
Harry Emerson Fosdick warns of our propensity to use prayer as a way of ‘getting God to do our will’. Commenting on James and John he says that their mistake was to ask God to be at their disposal and, he suggests, we can get caught in the trap of doing the same. In contrast he quotes D.L. moody who prays:
Use me then my Saviour, for whatever purpose, and in whatever way, Thou mayest require.
It’s easy for us to fall into the trap of praying not thy will but mine but it’s also good to remind ourselves, in our communion with God, that God cares for us individually. He knows the very number of the hairs of our head etc.
This past week, on that social media thing called Facebook, I came across a very succinct quote from Augustine which is helping me to keep all of this in perspective:
God loves each of us, as if there was only one of us to love.
I find that quite profound and worth remembering when I come to prayer: God will answer my prayer in a manner which is not only the best answer for me. But for me in the midst of all of us.
Prayer for God’s Perfect Will
Use me then, my Saviour, for whatever purpose, and in whatever way, Thou mayest require. Here is my poor heart, an empty vessel; fill it with thy grace. Here is my sinful and troubled soul; quicken it and refresh it with Thy love. Take my heart for Thine abode; my mouth to spread abroad the glory of thy name; my love and all my powers, for the advancement of Thy believing people; and never suffer the steadfastness and confidence of my faith to abate – that so at all times I may be enabled from the heart to say, ‘Jesus needs me, and I him’