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What if you don't know what you're asking?


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?”
- Mark 6:37-38
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. He isn’t a genie or a fairy or a god who fulfills requests with a strict interpretation of the asker’s exact words … to the asker’s horror, as so often happens in mythologies around the world. Instead, Jesus applies his greater perspective to the request before him.
James and John don’t understand that Jesus will be arrested, beaten and crucified. He would be glorified by his death on the cross. And those on his right and left will be bandits who would suffer the same cruel death. Those seats are not seats that anyone would voluntarily seek.
James and John didn’t understand why Jesus said they didn’t know what they were asking. They thought Jesus’ cup would be the cup of privilege and his baptism would be an anointing to kingship. They didn’t know what they were asking.
One of our frequent human hang-ups with prayer is that we sometimes just can’t understand why God doesn’t do for us what we ask. It just makes so much sense to us. Try as we might, we can’t see a downside. From our small perspective, our requests seem completely healthy and helpful.
What do you do when God says: “You don’t know what you are asking”?
Some of us argue back. Others throw up our hands in frustration. Still others of us pick through our request to see if we can see what went wrong, to see if a simple rephrasing will get the answer we seek.
In all of this we have an opportunity to practice the discipline of trust. We can relax into the watchful care of our wise God.
Take a moment today to reflect on a request you’ve made from God that hasn’t ended in the result you’d hoped for. Feel the emotions that come to your heart as you remember that request. In your mind, picture yourself taking that request to Jesus, handing it off to him, and then taking your place beside him. Breathe and rest and say “I trust you” or “Help me to trust you” before moving on with your day.


Very apropos. Thank you. I really appreciate y'all. I also have come to realize that prayer includes listening. I'm a talker, but when I shut up and focus on Jesus I hear His calming peace and thoughts like: "I am closer than your skin, I dwell within you."

A prayer is a request or a praise. It should not be a shopping list. We don't tell God what to do or when to answer our requests. We just wait with patience and faith. Our hearts will know when it happens.

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