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Do You Know What You’re Asking for Your Kids?

Photo of Debbra StephensDebbra Stephens | Bio

Debbra Stephens

Transplanted in the South from her home state of Michigan, this suburban mom-of-two loves her Lord Jesus and His wonderful Word. A dedicated student of the Word, she loves to share what she learns in the classroom, at events, and on the page—dependent upon the ever-faithful Holy Spirit to turn thoughts to text. Debbra has authored four Bible studies, all published by 21st Century Christian Publishers in Nashville, Tennessee. She launched the series Advent Living Books for her seasonal daily devotionals in 2018. Debbra blogs at her website and has been published in Christian Woman Magazine.

Mothers can be bold. Unabashedly so.

When it comes to our kids, it’s easy to assume the sky is the limit—and we don’t flinch in asking for it.

Unfortunately, that sometimes carries over into our prayer life, as we make our requests known before the Lord.

But do we always know what we are asking?

Case in point: The favor requested of Jesus by the mother of the sons of Zebedee found in Matthew 20:20-28.

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” (Mt 20:20-21).

What mother wouldn’t be tempted when a prestigious position of power presents itself for our children? It’s a very real area of vulnerability.

We can become easily enticed by the trappings of this world in our desires for our children to be successful and secure.

What was Jesus’ response, however? “You don’t know what you are asking” (Mt 20:22). And often we don’t. We want the blessings of the kingdom . . . without weighing the cost. Because we don’t fully realize what is required.

In true Jesus form, He answered, not with a “No,” but with a question—a strong indicator that disciples are to be thinkers who reason things out. Jesus does explain His answer (v. 23) (which He doesn’t always).

The encounter became an impetus for teaching on the matter of true kingdom leadership (v. 26-28), contrary to preconceived notions. So, let’s look briefly at four points from the account in order to see how His teaching might renew thinking in His disciples today and counter any of our own misperceptions.

Teaching #1

When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them” (Mt 20:24-25).

The gospel writer makes a point to convey the attitude among the other disciples. Matthew writes that “they were indignant.” Strong’s defines the Greek word, aganakteó, as being “greatly displeased, incensed.” Clamoring for power has a way of causing grievous anger in the competitive. And the discord it creates hinders the standard of unity expected among disciples of the Christ.

Throughout history mankind and the world have set the precedent regarding authority as something used to suppress and oppress. The disciples knew that experientially. And so do we.

Teaching #2

“Not so with you” (Mt 20:26a).

Jesus not only counters with the truth about power, He establishes the difference between the kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God. Leaders in positions of power in this world may abuse their authority, but not so with His disciples. The difference is a significant paradigm shift—which likely requires frequent reminders.

I said something similar to my children when I wanted to teach them that a Christ-follower is supposed to be different. As did God to His people. He continually reminded them they were set apart, to live righteous, holy lives. Might this statement by Jesus be His equivalent?

Teaching #3

“Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:26b-28).

Jesus then defined the difference. Rather than inflated egos, disciples are to humbly lead in love as servants. For therein lies true greatness.

While the words He spoke were powerful, the way He faithfully lived the words out made an even more indelible impact.

Teaching #4

“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 (Mt 20:22).

Let’s go back to Mother Zebedee’s request. She didn’t fully understand what it was she was asking of the Lord. Or what it would require of her sons. But that’s not entirely implausible, now is it? I count myself among the guilty in that regard. We can know this, however: If He answers with a “No,” we can be confident it is what’s best for the kingdom. We may not understand now, but there will come a day when “we will fully know.”

What are you asking the Lord for your children?

Jesus wants us to bring our children to Him. And we can trust His love for them is perfect. But we also know that at times our requests are selfish and our foresight is just as nonexistent as hers. A confidence we can have in prayer is to adopt the prayers of that great cloud of witnesses recorded for us in the Bible, as the Spirit works in us to will according to the will of God.

Using the prayers in Scripture helps align our prayers with the will of God and the teachings of Jesus.

I’ve included a prayer adapted from Scripture to help get you started:

Heavenly Father; Please fill our children with the knowledge of Your will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that they may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to Your glorious might so that they may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father. May they stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured (Col 2:9-12; 4:12 adapted).

The mother of James and John went asking. And Jesus’ answer contained a teaching for His disciples . . . then and now. It’s a teaching relevant to mothers in prayer and leaders alike. When in vain conceit we ask to be exalted by the King, it’s prudent to be aware of how it can impact harmony among fellow disciples. If you do have a leadership position, it is to be held as a servant, rather than a superior. All the while we should be mindful about what it is we’re asking when we approach the Lord.

Sometimes we may not know what to ask, but we do know this: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (Jms 1:5).

(For more from Debbra, visit her blog at