A Definite Challenge for Definite Prayer
C. H. Spurgeon
“‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him.”- Mark 10:51
No doubt our Lord’s disciples imagined that he was going up to Jerusalem to establish the Kingdom. They hoped that they would be partakers of that earthly grandeur which they had fondly pictured would glitter around the person of the Son of David. Therefore, when the blind man ventured to vehemently cry out to him, whom they esteemed to be a great King, they thought it was daring intrusion. Who was the son of Timaeus that he should say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me”? They were all anxious to quiet the voice of misery in the presence of so much majesty.
But our Lord Jesus Christ did not spurn the blind man’s prayer as intrusive or impertinent. He was not angry with him. He did not even pass by without taking any notice. What he did was to stand still, and command the man to be brought to him.
May we not draw some comfort from the thought that our prayers are never intrusions? Whenever we go before God in deep distress, he is always ready to listen to our cry. Whatever grand purpose or important project engages his mind, he will surely be attentive to the longings of his needy petitioners. Though our Lord Jesus Christ is at this moment King of kings and Lord of lords, and inconceivably glorious, though hosts of angels count it their highest delight to do his bidding, yet he bears in heaven the same heart towards sinners which he had on earth. Amidst the thunders of the everlasting hallelujahs, he can detect the sighs of the prisoners, the cries of sorrow from the sufferers, and the groans of the contrite. He will pause to pay attention to the requests of blind beggars and, in his pity, he will relieve their distress. Shouldn’t this encourage those of you who are seeking him?
Whatever Satan may suggest to the contrary take this passage of God’s Word as an encouragement. He did hear the blind man’s cry when he was on earth, and he will hear you now that he is in heaven. And you, backsliding child of God, difficult as you may find it to pray, if unable to clearly express your griefs, your sighs will be heard, your tears will be seen, and you will certainly have an audience from him who delights in mercy. There are times even with those who live nearest to God when they fall into despondencies, and imagine that their voice is shut out from heaven’s gate, but it is not true. When I cannot come to God as a saint, what a mercy it is that I may come to him as a sinner! And if I have lost all my evidences of salvation, what a blessing it is that I need not stop to find them, that I may go to the mercy-seat without any!
“Just as I am without one plea,
But that his blood was shed for me.”
When I am reduced to being a beggar of internal grace, and I find myself naked, and poor, and miserable, I can still hear God saying to me, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” In our worst condition, prayer is still effective. As long as we live, let us pray. Until you hear the gates of hell closing, and you are locked up in eternal darkness, don’t doubt the right of petition, or the effectiveness of your earnest plea. There is an ear to hear in heaven so long as there is a heart to plead on earth.
Let this first thought be riveted on your minds, and you will, I trust, be prepared for three further reflections which I now wish to introduce to you. Our Lord, before he healed the blind man, said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Therefore, I infer that: -
I. It is important that a seeking sinner should know what it is that he really wants, and sometimes Christ delays to give salvation until men and women are brought more clearly to understand what is comprehended in that immeasurable blessing.
A large proportion of those persons who express a certain desire to be saved have no Scriptural idea whatever of what being saved is. I am afraid that many who profess to have found salvation are really the victims of religious excitement, greatly moved by the exhortations they have heard, yet they have little or no real understanding as to the fundamental truths on which their hope is based.
The most current idea, of course, is that to be saved means to be delivered from going down into the pit, from enduring the sentence of everlasting torment. We grant that it does comprise this, though that is far from being its sole intent. This is a result of salvation, though it is not the essence of salvation as it is discovered in the souls of the redeemed. Men and women are saved, blessed be God, many years before the time of their death, and are conscious of being saved too. In some respects they are as thoroughly and perfectly saved as they will be when they get to heaven. Salvation is not postponed until the Day of Judgment, when you will have deliverance from hell; it may be enjoyed here on earth when your sins are forgiven, and you are redeemed from the present evil world.
Or it may be that you have a vague impression that salvation consists in the pardon of your sins. This is true, but it does not include all the truth. When you say, “I want to have my sins forgiven,” do you know what sin is? Have you ever had any clear view of what it really means? We often use certain terms and common words, I fear, without a corresponding thought in our minds. Be aware then, that you have broken God’s law, both by omitting to do what you should have done, and by doing that which you should not have done. Those ten commandants which you will find in the twentieth chapter of Exodus are like many mirrors, in which you can see what you have done, and what you have not done; which crimes cry out against you before the judgment throne of God, which will certainly drag you down to hell unless you are delivered from the fearful penalty.
Consider, too, the heavy weight, as well as the grievous guilt, of sin.
Have you felt the load and burden of sin? “Stone is heavy and sand a burden,” said Solomon; but, oh! what is the weight of a stone or sand as compared to the weight of sin! David said it well, as he groaned beneath the load, “My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.”
All the burdens that may come your way in life, the calamities of the world, or the visitations of Providence, cannot equal the load of sin, for this is a burden that oppresses the conscience, crushes the heart, and paralyses every faculty of the soul. “A man's spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” A conscience stricken with a sense of sin will readily understand that crushed spirit which is not bearable for a man. Were that terrible nightmare to stay with him for a long time, and then his spirit would utterly fail before the Lord. If mercy did not quickly come to their rescue, men and women might soon lose their minds, and become frantic, despondency leading to despair, and despair to insanity. Oh! how lethal is the poison of sin, when it enters our lives and festers! Have you known what sin is? If not, I am afraid your prayer will be meaningless as that of James and John, to whom it was said, “You do not know what you are asking.” Have you any idea, when asking for the forgiveness of sin, what sin really deserves? What kind of payment it justly demands? Let us always remember by us that every sin we have committed exposes us to the wrath of God - a wrath that is represented by terrible pictures in God’s Word, as a flame that is never extinguished, a fire that never ceases to burn. In order to deliver us from this penalty, it was absolutely necessary that someone else should bear this punishment on our behalf. I do not think that we intelligently ask for the pardon of sin unless we have some view of the crucified Savior, the slaughtered Lamb, who stood in our place, and paid for our sins by the sacrifice of himself. Oh! seeking soul, if you know the weight of sin, and if you know that Christ carried it, then you can say, “Lord, I want to have my sins forgiven,” in answer to the question, “What do you want me to do for you?”
And yet salvation includes more than deliverance from hell and a free pardon; for it liberates the soul from the dominant power of sin.
Those among us who are saved from the guilt of sin are abundantly conscious that we are not fully released from the power of sin in our own hearts. Loved ones who have died and gone to heaven, and now see God’s unveiled face, are saved, completely saved, from indwelling sin, but none of us here enjoy that blessed liberation, though there are some who boast a perfection that is hard to prove; but, sadly! they slightly prejudice their profession by their pride. Still, salvation, from the dictatorial power of sin, must be achieved, and all believers must experience it or they will never see God’s face of approval. Brethren, we must have our controlling sins subdued. “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. We must turn away from these sins; they must be eliminated and overcome. And so far as any other sins are concerned, they must be no longer be residents of the heart. You must look on them as intruders and aliens that are to be driven out, like the Canaanites out of the land of promise. Discipline you body; subdue your lusts, overcome your wickedness. “But,” a man replies, “how can I do this?” A most fitting question! You can’t do it, but Christ says, “What do you want me to do for you?” His power is equal to every urgent situation. There is no sin too strong for Christ. During his life on earth, there was no devil that he could not cast out, so there is no sin which he cannot eject and eradicate. A legion of devils fled at the command of our Lord. Do not doubt that, legions of raging lusts and fiery tempers can be overcome by the faith that pleads the pure and precious name of Christ. Brethren, let us never be content with small degrees of sanctification. Do not reason with yourselves that you can never grow beyond your present dwarfed spiritual state. Others have outgrown it. There have been men and women far more distinguished for holiness, and humility, and every grace, than we are. The attainments to which Jesus has led them are accessible to all saints under the same guidance, through the same divine power. Let us seek holiness. Let us follow after it with fresh passion. Do not be satisfied merely to live, but seek to grow; do not be content to remain babes, taking your portion of milk, but seek to be strong men and women who will enjoy the strong meat of the Word of God.
Now I believe there are hundreds of persons who have no desire to be saved, and would rather not be saved, if this is what salvation means.
Why, dear man and dear woman, if you are saved, you will be saved from those pleasurable sins in which you now love to experience. Some of which, when you have free time, following the inclinations of a corrupt heart, lead you off to places where birds of your own feather congregate. Should you be saved, you will seek far different company. The company you now love you will then hate, and the pleasures you enjoy so much now will become as detestable as they were delightful to you. When you say, “Lord, save me,” do you mean, “Lord, save me from being what I am; Lord, I have been a drunkard, make me sober; I have been immoral, make me pure; I have been dishonest, make me upright; I have been deceitful, make me to speak the truth to my neighbor; I have been violating your commands, make me mindful of your Word; I have been your enemy, Lord, make me your friend; I have made my stomach my god, now please, you be my God; I desire to be reconciled to you, so that your will, will be my will, your service my delight, and your way the path which I will choose”? Do you mean that? If any man or woman honestly says, “I desire to be saved from sin,” I don’t think you will have to wait long to have such a desire gratified; for the Lord Jesus will say, “Your faith has made you whole.” he can and he will save you, if that is what you mean.
As for you good Christian people who are seeking the conversion of sinners, try to go about it in Christ’s own way. It is right for you to exhort them to believe in Christ. But just remember that a man or woman must have some understanding, both of what sin is, and who the Savior is, before they can believe, for “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Endeavor, therefore, to instruct persons in the gospel. Merely to exhort them to believe; simply to cry, “Believe, believe, believe!” is of little worth, for no matter how serious and intense you be in commanding the unbeliever to believe, the sinner will naturally ask the question, “What is it that I have to believe? On whom am I to believe? Why do I need to believe?” So, go about your work of soul-winning in the power of the Holy Spirit. Go about it intelligently, understanding that, just as Jesus Christ would not open the blind man’s eyes until he had first made him state, not for Christ’s benefit, but for the man’s own recognition, what it was that he wanted, and made him say, “Rabbi, I want to see,” in the same way, you also must endeavor, when you share the gospel, to let men and women know what the gospel commands of them, that is: What they have to believe; who they have to believe in; and why they have to believe. Do not merely give them the warnings and the urgings of the gospel, but tell them what it means and exactly what they are to do. Therefore, understand clearly that it is your responsibility to instruct sinners in the way of the Lord. As David says, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.” We will now leave that first point, and proceed to our second. Our text clearly indicates to us all: -
II. THE GREAT NECESSITY OF PRAYING SPECIFICALLY.
This poor man was not allowed to pray in general. “Son of David, have mercy on me”; a very proper prayer, and a very blessed prayer, but certainly it was a very broad prayer. So he was encouraged to be more specific in his request. “What do you want me to do for you? You ask for mercy; what form of mercy do you need? In what particular shape will the bountiful hand dispense the mercy to you?” The blind man immediately replies, “Rabbi, I want to see.” He hits the mark with precision. It is sight he wants, and so for sight he asks. This is the right way for believers to pray. I wish we had more of it in our prayer meetings; I do not find fault, for we have had blessed times of prayer here; but rest assured that the best prayers in all respects, are those which are intense, sincere and directly to the point.
You know there is a way of praying in the closet, and praying with the family, in which you do not ask for anything. You say a great many good things; introduce much of your own experience, review the doctrines of grace very thoughtfully, but you do not ask for anything in particular. Such prayer is always uninteresting to listen to, and I think it must be rather tedious to those who offer it. A black man, who was noted for his great earnestness in prayer, was once asked how it was that, whenever he prayed, he seemed to be so earnest, and he said, “Because I always have a specific purpose when I go to the King; I always have a specific purpose; I go to him knowing that I want something, and I ask him for it, and I don’t stop until he gives it to me; and if he does not give it to me, I ask him again and again, for I know what I need.”
What use would it be to keep going in and out of a door at the bank all day if you have no business to transact, and nothing to get? But it is quite different when you go to the teller with your withdrawal request and receive in return the cash. It would be very uninteresting to have an audience with a king every morning and evening, only to state, “Your Majesty’s most loyal subject,” if you never asked for anything. Yet how much prayer of that kind is addressed to heaven; a bright flash of diffused light - not the distinct lightening bolt that does the work. We need to imitate David, when he said, “In the morning I will direct my prayer to you.” He looked at the target, marked the bull’s-eye, then drew the bow; and after he had shot the arrow he adds, “And will look up” - as if to see whether the arrow really went to the mark, whether the prayer had sped its way to God so that a gracious answer would be given.
Shouldn’t we sometimes, when alone, and about to pray, sit down for a little while to consider what we are about to ask? Wouldn’t we often pray better if we remembered that the preparation of the heart in man, as well as the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord, and that the preparation of the heart precedes the answer of the tongue? In offering our petitions to God, a helter-skelter approach does not become us. We must never rush into His presence without thinking about what we are going to say to Him. The decorum which is due to a king’s court should cautiously remind us of the reverence due to the King of kings. Although we enjoy the privileged familiarity which permits us to say “Our Father,” as dear children of the Lord of heaven and earth, let us never forget to be humble and in honor to bow as subjects of the great King. Tenderly he asks; devoutly may we answer, “What do you want me to do for you??”
Now, dear friends, let me dare to give a plain answer to a plain question. As you are sitting here in this church, what is your desire before the Lord? Let your conscience make such a reply that, when you get home, you may intelligently, in the closing prayer of the day, approach the Lord for what you want. What is the uppermost desire of your soul? Perhaps with some of you it is that you may overcome the sin that so easily entangles you. “Oh!” you say, “what I would give if I could get rid of that bad temper of mine! It is my daily cross, and I do not want to have it in my life any longer.” “Oh!” says another, “I am so unbelieving, a little trouble soon casts me down; oh! that I could get rid of my unbelief!” Well now, very likely, dear friends, the sin you ought to pray against is one you are not striving against. Were I to come to you in the aisle, and look directly at you, and tell you what your principal sin is, you would feel very annoyed with me, for we are apt to resent the faithfulness of those who tell us of our faults. To touch the tender place makes the nerves tingle, and it seems like deliberate torture. When somebody complains of something which our conscience does not support, we take it kindly, and accept their good intentions, thinking that if they had known us better they would have esteemed us more highly; but if they really touch the most tender sores, then we do not appreciate their treatment. We feel the embarrassment and seek to hide blush on our face. Yet don’t hide the evil which an Omniscient God discerns. Let this be a time of heart-searching. Say, “Lord, is my sin greed or materialism?” These are sins which I have never yet heard a man or woman confess. People will confess dreadful iniquities of every kind, even murder and adultery, but almost never will a man or woman confess the sin of greed or materialism. These are crimes they christen and call by another name. A greedy man thinks he is prudent; he is just laying aside a little money for a rainy day. His greed, he tells you, is not to gratify himself, but a generous impulse to provide for his family. They would have us believe, that they waste their strength and wither their souls only for the good of their wives and their children. Nevertheless, their fortune is their god. To grab and to gain, to have and to hold, is their desire so long as they live, and very often they manage to lose it all before they pass it on to their loved ones. Sadly! We are often wicked enough to try to make our love for our family an excuse for our greediness.
Let us honestly come to the point. When we are dealing with our sin let us confess it with all its iniquity and its evilness. Do not evade the truth of it by accepting only a small part of the guilt. David, when he wanted complete forgiveness, said, “Save me from bloodguilt.” He acknowledged the atrocity when he sought the atonement - ” Save me from bloodguilt” - as one who saw his crime in the light of its consequence, not as one who attempted to “gloss over it” with vain excuses.
“What do you want me to do for you?”
If you have no particular sin to confess - if that is not your uppermost concern at this time - what, then, is your petition? What need do you have to have met? Is it some great need? Have you numerous little needs? They may all be told to God. Get a clear idea of what it is that you really do need; what you want him to do for you, knowing that, whatever your needs may be, there is the promise, “My God will meet all your needs” - not some of it, but “all your needs”; not that he may do it, but that he will do it; not that you will have to meet it yourselves, but that he will meet it; “My God will meet all your needs.” Think, therefore, what your needs are, and then go to God. Is there any special blessing that you desire? Get a clear idea of the blessing before you pray for it. What form of blessing do you wish to have? Oh! if I could have my choice, it would be heavenly-mindedness. Oh! if a man could only get that, he need not be too concerned about where he lived, nor what he had to eat, nor how much he slept, nor how much he suffered, for a heavenly mind is heaven. The mind makes its own heaven here below, and up above. Though, doubtless, heaven has a locality - yet it is much more a state than a place. Oh! for more heavenly-mindedness!
What is it you would have? Communion with Christ? Love for souls? A broken heart? True humility? I may say of all these things, “The whole country lies before you; go wherever you please; ask whatever you will, and it will be done for you.”
What promise is there that you would wish to have fulfilled to you today? It is a good exercise to sit down before your time of private prayer, and look up the promise that seems most suitable, or to ask the Lord to look it up for you, and apply it to your soul. If there is a plague or severe disease in your neighborhood, even right next door, then take this promise “Lord, you have said, ‘Thousands will fall at your side, and tens of thousands at your right hand, but it will not come near you.’ Lord, fulfill that promise now.” Are you startled by a noise in the middle of the night, then quote this promise, “You will not fear the terror of night.” Perhaps it is your dwindling food supply that troubles you. Then here is another promise, “Your bread will be supplied, and water will not fail you.” When you lost a key the other day, and could not open the drawer, what did you do? You sent out for a locksmith, and in he came with a whole bundle of old rusty keys. What for? Why, he looked for the one that fit the lock of your drawer, and opened it for you at once. Now many people’s Bibles are just like that bundle of rusty keys. There is always a key in the Bible that will fit the lock of your necessities, if you would but seek till you find it. But sometimes we are in distress, as Christian and Hopeful were in Doubting Castle, and we have to say, as Christian did,
“What a fool I am to lie rotting in this stinking dungeon, when I have a key in my pocket that I am persuaded would open every lock in Doubting Castle!” Search out the promises, then, and go before God with a distinct answer to the question, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to have that promise fulfilled, or that grace bestowed, or that need supplied, or that sin forgiven.”
So, dear friends, when praying for others, I think it is very necessary, in order to keep up our own interest in it, that we should have distinct things to pray about. I don’t find that I can pray fervently for all of mankind, but I can pray fervently for my own children. I don’t find that I can pray for the nation as well as I can for London. When I pray for London, I seek to do it earnestly. It behooves us to pray for all men and women, according to Scripture. All sorts of men and women are to be included in our supplications. I must, however, confess that I am most fervent in prayer when I pray for this congregation, and that is because I have the most vivid thought of this people, and the clearest idea of their present requirements. If you want to pray for any particular person, or any special matter, the better you understand the case you have in hand, the warmer and livelier your pleading will be. There are people in this church who have asked me to pray for them. Well, I have tried to do so, and I hope the Lord heard my prayer. But since I have known more of them, and found out where they live, and who they were, I can pray for them with more freedom than I could before. Once they were a sort of abstraction to me, but now I have a definite acquaintance with them. How easily you remember anything that is tied to something else, or linked by association with a place.
For example, you remember an event that occurred to you in the City of London. Every time that you go by the Bank, just at one particular spot, you say, “I met so-and-so here just the day before he died.” You will never forget it, and you think of it every time you go by that spot. Or perhaps at an intersection of two roads in the country, such and such a thing happened to you, and the very sight of that place brings back the circumstances. In the same way we remember our friends in prayer when we get to know them, when we can bring them to mind, and know, as it were, the private matters of their lives as we have seen them and when we have talked with them and been interested in their trials. Some good people have prayed for others by name. Well, you cannot do that if you have a long list, and happen to be a busy man; still, it is good to pray for others by name, if you can. I like those prayers, even in public, in which we pray for others with some distinctness. Oh! What time we waste when we go beating round the bush! We know individuals who pray for their minister with roundabout expressions that distracts the listener. They travel round and round a circle, instead of going directly to the point. A man often avoids saying, “Lord, save my wife.” Rather, he prefers to say “please save those who are dear to us in our families, and she who is the partner of our being.” Yes, that sounds pretty, very pretty indeed, but wouldn’t it be better if you just said, “Lord, convert my, wife”? There is one brother here who does pray in that manner at the prayer-meetings, and who uses those very words. When pleading with God, do let us come straight to the point, stating our case clearly in answer to the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” May the Lord teach us to pray in this distinct manner! Time fails us; therefore, we will only briefly mention a third point. Our Lord Jesus Christ, in asking this question of the blind man, makes: -
III. NO RESERVATION. BUT THROWS OPEN THE ABUNDANCE OF HIS HEART, AND THE INFINITENESS OF HIS POWER.
“What do you want me to do for you?” is the same as saying, “Whatever it is that you want I will do it; I can do it. Only tell me what you want.” There is no limit to the Savior’s ability. Nor does he put a limit on the petitioner’s freedom to command the favor he desires. It would not have been appropriate for the blind man to say, “Lord, if you can.” He has the opportunity of procuring any help he seeks. Note, brethren, it is not a question of “can” with regard to Christ; the question is, what do you desire? Now, sinner, observe the Lord Jesus Christ did not stop to ask about this man’s blindness, whether he had been blind from his birth, or whether he had been affected with a cataract or by a disease of the optic nerve or retina or brain. He just said, “What do you want me to do for you?” No type of eye problem could baffle him. In any form, or at any stage, it was possible for him to cure it.
The Lord Jesus Christ speaks to you. He says to you today, “Whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” He does not say anything as to whether you have been moral or immoral, whether you have been wicked or religious, but simply, “What do you want me to do for you?” Your blackest sins will disappear the moment the scarlet of the blood touches them. Your foulest crimes will melt like snow as soon as the thaw begins. You cannot have sinned yourself beyond the reach of the long arm of Christ, nor can the weight of your sin be too heavy for the back of Christ, the great Sin-bearer, to bear. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
Some of us would have no hope if we did not know that Christ will save the chief of sinners. We would have long ago sunk into remorse and despair if we had not seen it written in letters of gold, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” You know John Bunyan’s thoughts about that text. He says, “Who is this man? Who is this ‘whoever comes’? Why, ‘whoever comes’ in all the world, no matter who he or she is, they will never, under no circumstances, for no reason, and in no way, ever be driven away from Christ.” If you come to Christ, he will keep his word. He cannot be a liar. He must be as good as his own declaration. If you come to him, he will not drive you away. What do you want him to do for you?
Oh! believer, do you have a desire in your soul, do you
have a longing in your heart, then Christ does not say that he will give you
this mercy, if it is possible, but that he is able to do immeasurably more than
all we ask or imagine. I hear that text still quoted by some of my brethren, “More
than all that we can ask or imagine.” I beg their pardon; that is not a
faithful quotation of Scripture. It says, “More than all we ask or imagine”
- more than all we ask. God can open a person’s mouth as wide as his mercies,
and he can make us ask for anything, but he generally does for us more than all
we ask or imagine. Never keep your mouth closed because you think the mercy you
want would be too great. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up
for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all
things?” Do not restrict yourself. Enlarge your desire. Open your mouth wide,
and he will fill it. He gives you carte blanche; ask for what you want. He puts
it before you, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires
of your heart.” So may it be to us, according to our faith, and his will be
the glory. Amen.
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