In my book The Mystery of Faith I examined encounters Jesus had with people and their prayer requests. In most cases, the problem is self-evident and there is no discussion needed.
But there are a few curious instances where Jesus does not seem to assume that the prayer request is obvious. In those moments, Jesus poses a question: What do you want?
The first time those words are recorded seems to be in John 1, after Andrew and another disciple of John the Baptist start tailing Jesus down the street. Jesus notices and asks what they want. (In one of the lamest answers to that question ever, the two men mumble that they want to know where Jesus lives.)
Jesus asks a similar question as the soldiers surround him the night he is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. In his account, John writes that,
Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” (John 18:4)
He already knows and asks anyway.
Why? To exhibit humility??
Or maybe it’s to allow us to clarify where we’re at in our heads. I normally don’t ask questions where I already know the answer (or think I know). Maybe Jesus is being…
Respectful. He treats us in a way that honors a measure of dignity that he believes we have (because he created it in us). Yes, he knows what we need before we do. But he does not force the issue. He leaves room for our free will. “For now, we will talk about what is on your mind,” he says. Because later, when he decides it is time, he will not hesitate to talk to us about what is on his mind.
This patience on the part of Jesus elicits the full spectrum of responses.
In Mark chapter ten, James and John approach Jesus and he invites them to tell him what they want. (Matthew says it’s their mother coming with the request and, of course, he was there at the time to see this happen.) Quick spoiler here: Jesus replies, “What you want is not mine to give.” Uh, whoops.
That episode is immediately followed by another in which Jesus asks the question again. Mark chapter ten goes on to tell about Bartimaeus, the blind beggar sitting on the road outside Jericho. When he cries out to Jesus for attention, Jesus stops and hands him that blank check of a question. This time, Jesus grants the specific request the beggar makes.
It strikes me as unfortunate that the only time the Gospels show anyone asking Jesus what he wants, it’s demons who scream that question.
Isn’t it clear that Jesus knows what we need? Yet he is willing to limit the conversation to what is on our minds, if that is all we want.
When will it dawn on us that he is actually willing to do more than we can ask or think? And it will be better than anything we could ask or think!
Maybe it’s time for us to ask what he wants to talk about.