Welcome back to our summer Bible Study called The Simple Questions of Jesus.  I think we already understand that just because the questions sound simple, it doesn’t make them easy to answer, but wow, it can be life-changing when we do.  This study is one I have been looking forward to because it allows us to step into an exercise where we are slowing down and focusing on the very intentional questions Jesus asked and answering them for ourselves.  This is a big deal for a couple of reasons.  First, it allows us to personalize and apply scripture to our lives, which we must do as followers of Christ.  Secondly, Jesus was very intentional; everything He did was for a reason, and he asked many questions.  He asked many more questions than He answered, and we know by now that something repeating itself often in God’s Word is important!  So, if Jesus continues to do something repeatedly, it really matters.  But, to see it and apply it, we have to slow down and focus to catch on to it.  When you do, it can truly lead to life change.  In the introduction to this study, I told you why Jesus took up this communication style with us.  He asked so many questions because Jesus truly knows us people and human nature.  Scripture tells us that Jesus knows us better than we know us.

John 2:24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people. ESV 25 There was no need for anyone to tell him about them, because he himself knew what was in their hearts. GNT

Jesus knew all people.  He knows what is in our hearts and all about our nature as people.  Which would mean, He may have a good idea of how to communicate with us in a way that could make a difference in our lives. So far, we have looked at two essential questions to personalize.  The series opened with the question I told you must be first because it will really determine our faith and the direction of our lives; that question was, “Do you want to Get Well?”  Last week in our combined service we hit a massive question that determines the life you are experiencing, “Why Are You Thinking These Things In Your Hearts.”  Now, today, we are going to ask and begin the exercise of personalizing and answering another essential question from Jesus, one that can help us a great deal because whether we realize it or not, we all have an image or picture of how this question would or should be answered in our lives.  Today’s question is one Jesus asks more than once to people.  He asks this of those wanting to follow Him and will also ask this of those who need help or healing from Him.  First, we see this in John, as some of John The Baptist’s followers begin to follow Jesus.  This question sounds so simple, but wow, it is an important one to answer on a personal level.  Jesus asked them, “What do you want?”

John 1:35 The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. 36 As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” 37 When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them. They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”39 “Come and see,” he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day. NLT

This is an important question that they don’t truly seem to answer clearly, do they?  One of these two guys is Peter’s brother Andrew, and it’s an interesting moment where Jesus turns to them and says to those wanting to follow Him.  “What do you want?”  Their answer?  Where are you staying?  Jesus replies, come and see.  This is important for those of us who follow Jesus to process and personalize.  Jesus is asking something that we must frame and answer: what do we want from Jesus?  And I will say this with complete confidence.  Whether you can put into words what you want for Him or not, we all want something from Him!   We have an idea of what it all should look like.  But this isn’t the only time he asks this…not only does He ask this of his followers, but he asks this of those in need of healing…

Luke 18:35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. 42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”  43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God. NIV

So, this is interesting and reminds me a little of the obvious question that Jesus asked the guy at the pool in Bethesda.  Do you want to get well?  Here, looking at someone in deep need of Him, deep need of healing, and asking a man begging for help this question.  “What do you want me to do for you?”  Interestingly, this man knew exactly what He wanted from Jesus and said, “Jesus, I want to see,” and immediately, he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God.  

Let’s turn this moment to ourselves now and step into this exercise of personalizing these questions of Jesus.  If Jesus stood here today and asked you this question, how would you answer it?  What do you want from Him?  What do you want from your Faith?  Interestingly, many of us probably never intentionally thought this through, but if you think about it, we all have expectations of what our lives should look like now that Jesus is in them.  We all have an image in our hearts and minds of what we want from God.

We often talk of the amazing life in Christ that Christianity seems to advertise. We see it all through Scripture. For example, last week, we looked at Jesus, saying that He came to give us life and life to the full.  We hear statements like that and think, ‘Hey, sign me up for that!”  We read Scripture and read of the life we can have, and it is exciting and something we all would love to experience.  We grab these awesome one-liners from Paul, and they shape our expectations!

Romans 8:7 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. NIV

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. NIV

1 Corinthians 15:57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. NIV

We read of the victorious life, the strength we can have, and it is something we all want and need, while we tend to ignore the context of Paul’s life or the fact that he is writing from brutal circumstances about this incredible strength and victory!  In our minds, there is a picture of what we want or expect from God from inspiring scriptures like this.  We have an idea of what we want or expect from God; the issue is God sees and defines it all very differently, which is why we must be so aligned with God!  I will give you another example.  I don’t know if you remember this, but there was a time when a prayer in the Old Testament really caught on as a discipleship.  It is The Prayer of Jabez…remember that?

1 Chronicles 4:9 There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful. 10 He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request. NLT

Well, this is a wonderful and faithful prayer, Lord, expand my territory…we read that and think again, yes, Lord, expand my territory, and we may pray this way sincerely.  The issue may be this.  We have an idea of what expanding our territory looks like; ironically, our definition will make us popular and important, impacting the world and maybe just giving us more and more of what we desire in life; the issue is how differently and more importantly, how much wiser God is than you and I, and because of that He may answer your sincere prayer in ways that you can’t see, or won’t see because His idea of expanding your territory looks very differently than yours!  We may not realize it, but we do have expectations of what we expect from Jesus in our lives.  We have a timetable and an idea of what it looks like, and I’m just going to say this: God isn’t going to get on your page in life; you need to get on His…which makes today’s conversation very important.

So, let’s sit in this exercise for a moment and begin to personalize this question from Jesus.  It’s just you and Jesus, he turns and asks.  What do you want from me?  Not sure?  Maybe thinking, no, Sam, I don’t have expectations of Jesus.  Well, let’s talk about that.  Have you ever gotten angry at God when something painful happens in your life?  Why do you think that is?  Have you ever questioned God when adversity hits or life throws a curveball at you and thought to yourself, I’m doing so well; why is this happening to me? I’m so faithful to you, God, and I love you!  Have you ever seen someone getting more than you in life, looking at their life and how they live it, compared to how much better of a person you are, and asking God why they get more than you?  God, I’m this; they are not, and they are getting things that I want to see in my life; they got the promotion, the house, the wealth, etc.  Ever done any of that?  Do you know why you do that?  It’s because you have expectations of God in your life.  You know what you want from God; you have an idea or image in your mind, and when it doesn’t play out, it’s painful, confusing, and even deflating.

It’s hard when our expectations are not met, isn’t it?  Let’s move from the spiritual and look at life in general.  Ever expect something to go a certain way, and it just falls way short of what you envisioned?  I do this with about every family get-together or vacation that I plan.  I see Christmas coming and can’t wait to have the whole family together.  I picture the perfect Chevy Chase family Christmas, then the kids fight, they tear open the gifts in 2 minutes, everything is a mess, and I’m devastated because the situation didn’t even get near my expectations.

We do this with our church life right here in the Spiritual Family.  We may not realize it, and we probably aren’t praying through it, but we know what successful churches should look like.  We see them on TV, we watch the bigger churches or star Pastors on YouTube and social media, and we measure all success off of what we humans see and value as successful.  So, if a church doesn’t look how we think it should, there must be something wrong; why?  It’s not meeting the expectations I have…which is dangerous because it may be exactly what God wants it to be.  In the moment, for that time.  We miss out on all that could be because we already know what should be!  We have to really be intentional here and ask ourselves this question from Jesus.  What do we want from Him?

Last week, all the Pastors from our conference got together for a training session at our MRC Dillsburg location.  The presenter was working through a training on “Multiplication” reaching people for Christ.  A few things impacted me as I took this all in.  He told us that new studies show that 60% of Americans are considered unreachable to local churches today.  He said there are 180 million people in the United States who do not know God and have zero connection to a local church.  I was stuck on that all day, praying repeatedly for ways to reach those 180 million people who desperately need God, even if they don’t know it.  But the day’s biggest challenge to me was he gave us time to draw out a “Life Map” of how our ministry would go.  We were given around 10 minutes to map out how we would reach people and what our ministry was going to look like.  This is not a bad idea; it’s hopeful, and it’s always good to have a plan.  But for me, 23 years into a church planting, it’s not really been that simple.  I watched everyone draw their maps, and it was hopeful and exciting for them to do so, but I stared at the paper for about 10 minutes and just wrote on the blank sheet with the title “Life Map” at the top…two words and then prayed.  “The Lost.”  I just sat and again prayed for those around me who don’t know Christ and the 180 million people in the United States who aren’t experiencing God’s love, and that God could use us to reach them however He thinks is best.  As I sat and listened to that conversation and a few people shared their life maps in the next session, I realized those drawings, and so much of what we do and want to see done, is more about our wants and expectations than it is with God’s.  Now, I don’t think you can see that if you haven’t watched your life map or ministry map absolutely get destroyed over and over again the way I have in the last few decades!  Nothing has gone the way I wanted, but it has always gone the way it should!  I will say that has been a struggle for me to come to grips with, but in the end, I have things I wanted to see and expected would happen in my ministry and time planting churches, and to this day, God continues to draw a different map for me, and I’m learning the peace, contentment, and joy of letting go of my expectations, my wants, and allowing Him to lead.  The event was at our church, so I was hosting the day, and the presenter came back and saw my paper when he asked about the timing for the next session to begin, giving us a great chance to talk.  I told him I think even 10 years ago, I would have happily drawn out what would happen next.  In fact, I think Ken and I have a map and could have shown you what things would look like by now from 10 or 15 years ago, and today, I just kind of smile at that.  I think of how I envisioned how people would respond to me and what it all would look like.  It was so painful for so long because I didn’t see that I was struggling to let go of my own wants and expectations and follow God’s reality as it unfolded.  This only gets harder because everyone around you is telling you what should or shouldn’t be happening while maybe keeping a lot of what they want to see from happening by their own choices in the process and while never praying through or slowing down to see that what was happening was what should happen.   Transparently, my plan looked different; I thought we would be three of four church plants by now.  I think of people and all they promised me, said they were excited to be part of, and how little of that came to be.  I think of all the dreams, prayers, and visions I had for what could be, and none of it has gone the way I wanted or thought it should…it makes me think of these wise words from Solomon often, and as I sat there listening to our life map conversation, I just kept thinking of it…

Proverbs 16:9 We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps. NLT

I mean, 23 years into this whole thing, after years of highs and lows and the reality of God’s plan over my own, all the hurts and pain that comes with watching things unfold while watching people come and go, people question and be disappointed, while never grasping what God is up to, whew, it was tough, and a great lesson that I wish I accepted many years ago, that in the end, it’s just all about letting go and letting God lead.

Let’s move away from ministry and think about your life. Could you have clearly drawn out the road that led you to where you are today?  Did it all go the way you wanted?  I will tell our lives have so many twists and turns, and our plans and visions just don’t seem to come together as planned.  I look over my own life and realize there are things I did truly want, and I have had to learn to let go of those expectations over time.  It’s funny, but the career path, the life trajectory, the dreams and hopes we have…none it goes perfectly as planned, does it?  Then, let’s add your people to the mix.  Marriage, our children’s lives, and those we care about it…I have had many lessons I could show you about how painful life can be and how hard it can be when you love and care for people who aren’t doing anything the way you would pray, hope, and dream for them.  I could talk to you about personal lessons learned with people, family, and friends and how hard and painful it can be to have deep prayerful desires for them, watching none of it come together the way I would want…it’s tough.  Why did I just tell you all of that?  Well to show you that you do want something from God.  We all do.  So many of us draw out our own life maps. We have a clear picture of what we want Jesus to do for us, and none of it comes together the way we’d like.  It is hard to see it, but letting go of these clear-spoken, or maybe just emotionally fuzzy expectations of what God should do for us is really important.  We look at our lives, our faith, our families, and our futures, and if we are honest with ourselves, we do have some expectations…the challenge is life and what happens when those expectations do not come together.

Have you ever noticed that when you expect something to happen and it doesn’t, or it falls short of what you want, it can be more disappointing than if you hadn’t had such high hopes for it?  In anything in life, have you ever picked up on that?  Have you ever heard someone say they are trying not to get their hopes up so they won’t be as disappointed in what will take place?  That is hard to do when it is things that matter deeply to you, isn’t it?  Well, today, I want to show you something that I believe leads us to a level of peace and contentment in life that I’m still working on in my own life, and it’s something that the last 23 years of beatings…I mean ministry and the 47 years of beatings, I mean life, are helping me truly understand and live out my life.  I have watched life maps and ministry maps never go the way I want but always happen the way The Lord wants, while watching people struggle and hurt over their own wants, never lining up with God’s true plan for their lives.

So, we are in our exercise now. It’s just you and Jesus. He turns and looks you right in the eyes and asks our question: What do you want?  Instead of grabbing hold tightly of your plans for your life, for your loved ones, and your churches, what if we could humble ourselves enough to understand that He knows better than we do…and we let go…and could truly and sincerely answer this way.  Lord, I want you to shape me.  I wonder how many of us will truly say shape me.  Lord, I am the clay. You are the potter, and I want you to do what you need to do in my life.  I believe if we did that, we would finally experience our best lives possible; we would find peace where pain and stress were because we would finally understand the lesson of life, which is letting go.  It’s not what I want, but what you want, God, that matters.  When I want what He wants, I can let go and be shaped and directed in a new way…God’s way.  I can stop fighting for control of what I don’t control.  I can stop trying to direct and shape things I can’t direct and shape, and I can finally enjoy life in a new way.  It’s interesting because we will pray the prayer of Jabez; we will pray for expanded territory. We will pray for health, wealth, happiness, and success; we will pray that our families will succeed.  We will pray that our churches will grow, but we never seem to see that we have wants and desires in that mix, and we don’t come to grips with God and what He is trying to do as we strive for what we want.  I wonder what would happen if our wants became doing what He wants.  I wonder how many of us pray to be the clay and allow God to shape us exactly how he knows we should be shaped so that we can be the best version of ourselves. That takes humility. That takes faith.  That takes slowing down enough to see and think through this incredibly important question in life that Jesus asks those in need and those who want to follow Him. What do you want? 

I would have answered that question so differently 20 years ago.  LOL, whew, I would have answered that question so differently 10 or even 5 years ago.  How about you?  It’s interesting because one of the things I believe about taking ownership of our lives is we have to be able to answer these questions for ourselves but for this one…I believe there is a way to answer his question that leads to the very life we all seek.  The correct answer is, Lord, I want what you want.  I know you know best for my life; I will be the clay; shape me, Lord.  Praying as Isaiah does here in Isaiah 64.

Isaiah 64:8-9 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand…Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people. NIV

At one time, God led the prophet Jeremiah to this same beautiful imagery and realization in Jeremiah 18; let this scripture really hit your heart today.  

Jeremiah 18:1 The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, 2 “Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.” 3 So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. 4 But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over. 5 Then the Lord gave me this message: 6 “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. NLT

So, as we close today, I want you to slow down with me now, truly process your life and your expectations of what life should be, and then align them with how your life has gone and is going.  I want you to think about your family, loved ones, and those you care deeply about in your life and get honest, you probably had or have a picture in your mind of how their lives and life with them should be going…and I want you to line that up with the reality of their lives and life with them and how it is unfolding.  I want you to think about your Spiritual Family, something you care about and want to see succeed, and I want you to think about your wants for it and then line them up with the reality of what is unfolding.  Now, get honest in this moment.  How much of it looks the way you want?  Next question: could it be that it is unfolding the way God knows it should lead you to everything you do want in your life, just not in the way you thought it would come together?  Answer this for me: who knows best, you or God?  There is nothing wrong with having wants and dreams.  There is nothing wrong with desiring more from life, but the issue we often face is whether we realize it or not, we do want something from God, and I’m telling you, when you can let go of your life map, your idea of what life should look like and truly center on the fact that God knows best…well, that is the secret to life.  The pain, the stress, the unrest we face as we try to shape and mold life to meet our desires…trying to control it all and jam it into what we believe is best, while having a LOVING, ALL KNOWING GOD laying out the life we truly need to experience to become the person He created us to be…it’s tough, but it’s time we face this question and get very honest with this question.  It’s time we let go and get so aligned with God that we want what He wants…that’s when life gets fun.  The content, the peaceful, the spiritually centered, answers this question with the understanding that they are the clay, and God is the potter shaping their lives, and that is when life gets fun because even when it doesn’t look the way they think it should, they stand confidently in the fact that God knows best.   Let’s take time this week to process our expectations of God and life and pray this way moving forward.

Isaiah 64:8-9 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand…Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people. NIV

Imagine how peaceful life would be if what we truly want from Jesus is what He wants for our lives.  Imagine if the heart and prayer were Lord, you are the potter, I am the clay, shape me, Lord.  This is what I want from you.