There’s a story about Jesus that gives me chills every time I read it: An imprisoned John the Baptist sends two disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” Jesus replies, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Luke 7:22-23)
We read this now and think, “Well, of course Jesus was the Messiah.” But at the time the understanding and expectation of the Messiah was that he would be a conquering king who would restore Israel. John the Baptist, imprisoned by the tetrarch Herod Antipas for speaking out against him, would have understood Jesus (not Herod) to be the true king of Israel and his inquiry was coming from a place of hope, despite his confusion in his present condition.
This story reminds me that when I look to Jesus I am always astounded by my meager expectations. For too long, my prayers have been of the hedging-my-bets variety, and admittedly when I ask I don’t always expect to receive. I don’t always expect God to do “exceedingly abundantly more than all I can ask or think.” This is true when it comes to my personal hopes, but also when it comes to the brokenness of the world around me. Like John, I’m asking Jesus if he’s the one I should put my trust in, even though I have a hoped-for outcome that, according to my limited understanding, will dovetail nicely with God’s plans and purposes in the world. This is surely why Jesus says “blessed is the one who is not offended by me” when he doesn’t take our plans into consideration.*
But this prayerlessness—because that’s what it is, even if the prayers are many they are still anemic—extends from the personal to the public. Earlier this summer, after a certain Republican candidate for president began to lead in the polls, a conservative friend and I exchanged some witty Facebook comments and emails about him. Neither one of us could understand his appeal and our commentary was rooted in a shared concern over his candidacy. I’m sad to say that it wasn’t until we were deep into our discussion that I suggested that perhaps we should pray.
Prayer is not only communication with God, it is a realignment of our relationship with God. Prayer reminds us who is King. We are far too easily distracted by circumstance to turn our gaze heavenward, but we are also far too enamored with our own understanding and ability. When it comes to the pressing issues of the day, we look to pundits, analysts, and political leaders. But how often do we first look to the One who as Christians we claim to follow?
This is why I love Jesus’ response to John, because he answers with a list of his accomplishments. Yes, Jesus is the long-expected King who will reign forever. But not only can he graciously rule the world, he can restore, heal, resurrect, transform! He can rule over the universe and still mend hearts with such perfect dexterity and precision. That’s what I want to see flood my newsfeeds–news of what God is up to, not fearful murmurs about how our political leaders fail time and again to hit the mark.
In light of all that’s going on in the world—inequality, volatile markets, terrorism and atrocities, ponderous social changes—we need a King who can exceed our expectations of what it means to set things right. In light of the political process being played out, as we consider who will lead our nation in the coming years, we need the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit. And in light of the seeming brokenness and hopelessness of our own hearts, we need a God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Romans 4:17).
This God, this King has invited us not to fear, but to pray and to see him exceed our expectations. Blessed are we who are not offended by him. Even so, come Lord Jesus.
*Note: John was right to hope in God for deliverance from prison. But God’s choice to answer or not answer that prayer should not be cause for offense on our part.