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Sunday, March 29, 2020

if you are willing

A man with leprosy came to him and begged on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40) 

Okay, I have to be honest, I’ve never been a big “name it, claim it” type of guy when it comes to prayer.  That mentality just seems to be a lot more about “my will be done” than it does about “Thy will be done.”  I think that’s why I love this scene in Mark’s gospel so much.  It is such a great example of how to come humbly and submissively before the throne of God with a desperate plea. 

This needy, hurting, broken man comes to Jesus, falls on his knees, and begs for healing.  But it is the way he does it that I love.  I love his posture, I love his request, and I love how Jesus responds.  It offers such a great image for prayer.  It makes me wonder if Jesus would be really pleased if we all approached him in this way.  It was raw and passionate and real, yet held no demand.  It carried no sense of entitlement or obligation.  And it did not seem to be wrought with a sense of trying to manipulate God into doing what the leprous man wanted.  It was simply a broken person, in great need, falling on his knees before the God who made him, and begging that God to intervene on his behalf—if he was willing.  That is the key.

“I know you can,” states the requestor.  “That is, if you are willing to.”  Almost as if to say: “I know you can, O God.  I know you are able.  I know you have the power to help.  But I need to ask, in your great wisdom, if you are willing.”  What a great prayer!  It puts the ball clearly in God’s court.  It leaves our circumstances completely under his control and care.  It reminds us that it is his will that counts the most, not our own.  No one knew this better than Jesus: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)  And Paul had the same experience when he pleaded with the Lord to take away his “thorn in the flesh,” but the only response he received was: “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Cor. 12:9) 

Years ago I had the privilege, with a group of friends, to sit under the teaching of a wise and wonderful man; a man who was well into his nineties and had been following Jesus for over seventy years.  He was intimately familiar with the ways and the practices of prayer.  During one of our sessions together, one of my friends asked him to describe his prayer life, and I will never forget what he said.  Part of his answer had to do with how he prayed for certain things and people.  “When someone asks me to pray for something,” he said, “I don’t immediately begin praying for exactly what they asked me to, I take it to the Lord first and ask him how he wants me to pray for that person or circumstance.  Then, after I have received an answer from the Lord, I pray.  That way I am able to pray in line with his will, not merely the will of the one who had asked me to pray.” 

And there you have it.  “If you are willing, you can make me clean,” said the man who was covered with leprosy.  And Jesus’ response was priceless: “I am willing.  Be clean!”  Thanks be to God.

Lord Jesus, teach me how to pray.  Thank you that you can do all things.  Give me the strength and the courage and the grace to ask, like the leper, if you are willing.  And help me to fully accept whatever answer you may give, knowing that you love me deeply and will care for me fully, at all times and in all ways.  Thank you that, regardless of my circumstances, I can fully trust in you.  Amen.

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