Wanting all God wants to give us in order to further His glory is what we should be about. That should be a primary goal of every Christian. But we can want things God can give us, but want them for the wrong reason. For instance, how many of us have pondered what we would do if we had a million dollars? We think about the tithe and how that would help the church we attend and how we can give some money to some worthwhile causes, but ultimately we want the million dollars for our own use. This isn’t for God’s glory. And we don’t just do this with material things. We can do this with spiritual things as well:
Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
“What is it you want?” he asked.
She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
– Matthew 20:20-23, NIV
James and John wanted to be #1 and #2 behind Jesus when they got to heaven. So they put their mom up to the task of asking Jesus. Now you have to ask, why would they want this? There’s nothing about the Father’s glory in this request. The request is a self-centered one. It may be spiritual, because we’re talking about heaven, but it’s not godly. It’s not righteous. It’s not holy. Jesus’ response is quick. He asks a simple question, one to which they answer quickly. They probably answer so quick because they think by answering, “We can,” Jesus is going to green light their places in heaven. Except He didn’t. Jesus tells them they will drink from the same cup, but their place in heaven isn’t His to give. It’s up to the Father. Oops. Guess that didn’t work out so well, did it? In fact, it didn’t work out like they expected at all. They probably didn’t understand what Jesus meant by the cup He was going to drink from. In hindsight we understand it to mean the pain, suffering, and death/separation he underwent. James would be the first apostle to die:
It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. – Acts 12:1-2, NIV
John did not die a violent death. Instead, he lived to old age as all of his friends were killed. I don’t know which cup would be worse to drink: dying in such a manner as James, or living and seeing all of your friends killed. But both did indeed drink from Jesus’ cup.
It’s great to want whatever God wants to send our way. It’s even ideal to ask God for something special, as we saw yesterday with Elisha asking for the “birthright” to be passed from Elijah to him. However, it’s not just what we’re asking for that’s important. As with all things and God, the nature of our heart with respect to the request is crucial. James and John asked (through a proxy: mom) for something great spiritually, but they asked out of selfishness. That doesn’t work with God. He doesn’t see that as all right. Now, that won’t mean he won’t answer the way we want Him to. For instance, the Israelites wanted a king like the ones they saw around them. So God gave them Saul. Saul was a lousy king. But he was exactly what the people thought they wanted. If God answers us with exactly what we asked for and our hearts aren’t right, there’s probably a painful lesson to be learned. It’s better to skip all that. It’s better to ask with a heart that is focused on God, on His Kingdom, and on His glory. I know, easier said than done. But that should be our goal. That should be what we strive for. If our ways are His ways and our goals are His goals and are dreams are His dreams and are our hearts are like His, wow. Just imagine that. We can want it all. But we need to make sure we want it all for the right reasons.