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I Wanna Be First
October 20, 1991

MARK 10:35-45

Don't you find it difficult to answer when someone asks, "Will you do something for me?" Almost as uncomfortable as when someone says, "Bet you don't know my name!" How are you supposed to answer, "Will you do something for me?" Usually I say, "Depends..." Or, I refuse to play their game and ask, "What is it you want?" James and John made a request of Jesus that was even more presumptuous, "We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." But, Jesus, like most of us would be, was cautious. Jesus didn't respond, "Of course, James and John," or did he call them Jim and Jack, or perhaps Jimmy and Johnny, "I'll give you whatever you ask!" Jesus responded, "What is it you want me to do for you?"

What Jimmy and Johnny wanted was to be first. "When you come in your glory, when you come as king, we want to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left." Note that Jesus did not discredit them, nor did he discount their request. Jesus first tried to determine how serious they were. "Have you counted the cost?" Jesus asked. Jimmy and Johnny affirmed they were able to drink the cup and be baptized with Jesus, but they didn't know what awaited them in Jerusalem. Jimmy and Johnny thought the trip to Jerusalem would result in a triumphant acclamation of Jesus as the Messiah, with James and John as his prime ministers. Little did they know the trip to Jerusalem would result in Jesus' agonizing death on the cross.

Jesus took their request seriously. When the other disciples heard what Jimmy and Johnny had tried to pull behind their backs, they were indignant. So Jesus told all of them how they could be first. Mark 10:44, "Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all." Jesus then pointed to his own example, v. 45, "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve." Jesus did not discount the desire to be first. Rather, Jesus told them how to achieve the goal. Jesus presented a plan of action, which actually is an exercise in reverse. Jesus' way is to turn our action plans upside down! You wanna be first, Jesus says, then be last. The way to be first is to be last.

On this Commitment Sunday, let's apply the principle to prosperity. Most of us, I imagine, want to be prosperous. We approach Jesus, like Jimmy and Johnny, and ask, "Will you do for me whatever I ask?" Jesus asks, "What is it you want?" We answer, "I wanna be prosperous." Then, Jesus will go into reverse, turn it upside down and say, "Whoever wishes to be prosperous must become poor."

Burt Hotchkiss in his little book, Have Miracles Will Travel, defines prosperity, not as accumulation of wealth, but a feeling of abundance of that which we want in life, including health, harmonious relationships, creativity, and material things. And, he says, what we really want is what we can give without a sense of loss. The test of prosperity is if you can give without feeling you're losing something. If giving means giving up something, you do not have prosperity. For example, friendship is something we can give away and not lose. People who have friends will undoubtedly feel prosperous. Friendship, kindness, joy, peace, and love are what most really want in life, and they are experienced through sharing. Try to hold on to joy or love and you end up with nothing. When you give joy to someone else you are, in one sense, giving joy to yourself. Haven't you heard people say they visited someone who is ill, and in the giving, received more than they gave? A Sunday School teacher will often say she learns more than the students.

Another way of stating this principle is: We don't give to get, we give because we have and want to keep. We can keep what we really want, only by giving.

This principle also, and many of us don't believe it, applies to money. You want to be prosperous? Then give. What you have is what you give away. When you hold your breath, you lose it! When you hold your money, you lose prosperity. What you can't give, you don't have. Does this sound like double talk? It's upside down. Jesus' way is reversed from our way of doing things. Apply the principle again to joy. When you try to hold on to joy, you lose it. Joy is what you have when you give joy to someone else. When you make someone else happy, you have joy. If you can't give joy, you don't have any. You keep joy only by giving it.

It's the same with money. Hold it and you lose the prosperity, which, you remember, is the feeling of abundance. Some people earn a tremendous amount of money and have nothing. Others live on a very meager income and feel quite comfortable and prosperous. Prosperity is not dependent on the amount of money you have; prosperity is dependent on the use of your money. When you give generously, you feel good because your self-esteem is raised to the level of love. Love, the greatest goal of all, means self-giving, sharing, serving; in Jesus' words, "slave of all."

Look at this another way. What you value in life is what you spend your money on. What you value, what is really important to you, what you really want, is what you spend your money on. If your child were starving, what would you pay for a loaf of bread? What is the value? Similarly, how important to you is God? How important to you is your faith, your church? If you want your church and your religious faith to be of value in your life, and to be of value in your family, there is a direct correlation to the percentage of your income and assets you give to your church. Based on my vast years of experience, those who are loyal to their church, happy in their faith, and positive in their outlook are those who give substantially of their time, energy and money. Those who complain, jump from church to church, are unhappy in their faith, and negative in their outlook are usually meager givers. Satisfaction with your faith and church is directly related to the degree of your investment. Jesus said it simply, "Where your treasure is, there is your heart." What you want to value is where you need to invest your money.

A final observation. There was a great deal of "I wanna" in Jimmy and John's request of Jesus, "I wanna be first." They didn't ask Jesus, "What do you want of us?" They asked Jesus to do for them. He told them to be servants, to serve, to share, to give. Our culture today is very self-centered, and we teach our children to be me-first. On Sesame Street, the lovable Cookie Monster cries, "Me want cookie; me take cookie," and Big Bird sings: I can do whatever I want to do I can be whatever I want to be I like me.Sesame Street is trying to build up self-esteem in our children, but self-esteem is hard to achieve with only your own efforts. We lay a great deal of pressure and stress on our children when we tell them, "I can be whatever I want to be; I can do whatever I want to do." Our children, as do you and I, need God in order to do and be. We need God's love, God's power, and God's call. No one can succeed entirely on his/her own resources, and isn't it tragic to teach our children they can succeed on their own resources. When they fail, what is their recourse?

Much healthier, and biblical, is the attitude: Lord, what would you have me be and do? I still sing to myself the gospel song I learned in my youth. Rather than "I can do whatever I want to do, and be whatever I want to be," we sang: I'll go where you want me to go, dear Lord, O'er land and o'er the sea. I'll do what you want me to do, dear Lord. I'll be what you want me to be.

If you want to be prosperous, with a feeling of abundance of joy, peace, friends, love, and material resources, give. What you have is what you give away. Can you add, will you add, to the song: I'll give what you want me to give, dear Lord!

© 1991 Douglas I. Norris