What do you want?

Our daughter thought that going to private school was going to be the greatest thing since sliced bread.

She painted a good picture of how hard life was at her junior high school. She begged and pleaded to make the switch, as soon as possible.

When the new school year came, she had not changed her mind, so we kept our promise to transfer her to the private school of her dreams. At mid-year in the private school, amid tears, she begged to go back to her old school. Life was not as ethereal as she had dreamed, and she hated the private school.

Ancient Israel told the prophet Samuel that they wanted a king like the nations all around them. Like a junior high girl, they thought they knew what they wanted.

So Samuel the prophet drew them a picture of what the future would look like. The new king would take their sons and daughters to wage war and to provide services for his new government. He would take 10% of the citizens’ produce to feed his household and staff. And much of the creative energy of the nation would be channeled into service for the king only.

Samuel’s warning was spot-on. The new king taxed the nation and took the youngest and brightest for his government. King Saul proved to be corrupt and self-centered in the manner of a Chicago politician or a Washington lobbyist. The nation hated it.

The gospel writer, Matthew, told about an occasion when, similarly, the mother of James and John went to Jesus and asked for her own special favor. “Let my two boys have the two highest ranks in your kingdom,” she asked.

Jesus’ reply was “You don’t have a clue about what you’re asking.” Theologian Skip Johnson says the request sounds like a Monty Python skit. Missing the point, irrelevant, silly, and juvenile.

Understanding what we want is an important piece of information. Why?  Understanding what we want focuses our thinking and forces us to ask if our desires are mature and can actually give us what we want in the truest part of our  being.

In the case of ancient Israel, a human king could not give them what they wanted. The king, in fact, took them farther away from their heartfelt desires. The king was like a cheesy souvenir purchased on a vacation trip which ends up in the back corner of a drawer.  After more careful thought you wish you hadn’t purchased it.

Asking, “What do you want?” can be helpful to avoid putting a king on the throne that will only enslave and take away precious resources.