This past Sunday’s gospel (Mark 10:17-27) is a great lesson in prayer. It’s a what to do and what not to do all rolled up into one example.
Mark begins the account with the three actions the unnamed young man takes: he runs to Jesus, he kneels at His feet, and he asks Him how to gain eternal life. If we stop to think about it, how often do we run to Jesus? When we have questions, problems or joys, is Jesus the first person we think about telling? Do we exert all our efforts to be in relationship with Him? The man’s action of running to Jesus illustrates his passion for more; it’s not just a passing interest. And when he reaches Jesus, he shows humility and reverence for the person of Jesus by kneeling. This shows he believes Jesus is superior to him and he judges himself unworthy to stand before him. When we kneel in prayer, it helps us order our thoughts, and to submit our petitions with reverence; not like we’re placing an order at a fast food drive-thru. The young man poses this question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. What an awesome question! He doesn’t ask for eternal life, nor even if he will achieve it, but rather what ‘must I do’, indicating he knows his actions play a large part, not just in this life, but in preparing for the life to come. In pondering this question, I must admit that I don’t think I’ve ever prayed this way. Usually I am asking what God’s will for me is in the here and now or I am requesting the strength to carry it out.
Jesus’ initial response challenges the young man: Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” But then he continues with the plea to keep the commandments. Because the young man has kept these since his youth, it would seem to indicate that he is on the right track to a life in heaven, but that doesn’t satisfy the young man. He senses there is more he could do. And so he asks again, but it’s here that everything unravels and becomes what not to do. Jesus takes a deep look into the man and identifies what is keeping him from having a closer relationship with God: his riches. When you ask God to go deeper, you’re asking to be fully directed by Him. Not just to face your greatest weakness, but to take action against it. Jesus tells him to sell all he has. Why? Well, He gives him the answer: to ‘have treasure in heaven.’ He not only tells him what to do, but WHY to do it! How lucky the young man was to receive such direction and reasoning. I often wish I knew the whys of my life! Jesus then invites him to follow Him. Wow! Another amazing direction, clearly articulated directly by Jesus. And what does the young man do? He walks away sad. In essence, he says no to Jesus and no to a deeper relationship with God.
The spiritual life is not just times of milk and honey, there will be times of struggle and pain as well. Many times those challenges are battling our own weaknesses and our need for control. If we pray to go deeper with God, we have to expect that He will ask us at some point to change our lives. While we may not all be asked to give up everything we own to follow Him, we will be asked to give up what blocks us from going deeper in union with Him.
This account doesn’t just serve as an example of praying but reminds us that prayer is a conversation with God. We talk to Him and He speaks to us. While it may not be face-to-face as it was for the young man, God does respond and does call us to go deeper. The real question is: how will we respond?