Sermon Series: Things that make a difference
Some years ago an energetic young man began as a clerk in a hardware store. Like many old-time hardware stores, the inventory included thousands of dollars’ worth of items that were obsolete or seldom called for by customers. The young man was smart enough to know that no thriving business could carry such an inventory and still show a healthy profit. He proposed a sale to get rid of the stuff. The owner was reluctant but finally agreed to let him set up a table in the middle of the store and try to sell off a few of the oldest items. Every product was priced at ten cents. The sale was a success and the young fellow got permission to run a second sale. It, too, went over just as well as the first. This gave the young clerk an idea. Why not open a store that would sell only nickel and dime items? He could run the store and his boss could supply the capital.
The young man’s boss was not enthusiastic. “The plan will never work,” he said, “because you can’t find enough items to sell at a nickel and a dime.” The young man was disappointed but eventually went ahead on his own and made a fortune out of the idea. His name was F.W. Woolworth.
Years later his old boss lamented, “As near as I can figure it, every word I used in turning Woolworth down has cost me about a million dollars!”
Opportunity is a wonderful thing. Of course one of the things about opportunity is that we never know when it is coming or where it will come from. In fact I am sure that blind Bartimaeus had no idea that the opportunity to see was going to present itself when it did.
As God’s divine will would have it, Bartimaeus was doing what he probably normally did sit out by the roadside begging and hoping that the kindness of strangers or passersby would prevail. However, on this particular day, Jesus happened to be passing by. He stopped and asked Bartimaeus directly, “What do you want me to do for you?” As we ponder on this question let us also think about Jesus’ words in John 14:14, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” I have often wondered about Jesus’ declaration in John. I was taught and the verse teaches that when we ask for things in the name of Jesus, Christ promises to fulfill our requests. How then do we reconcile the fact that there are things that we ask for and do not receive? I also wonder what makes Bartimaeus so special that Jesus would stop everything for him?
I would submit to you that Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus provides us with an example of how God processes our requests and the criteria that God uses in evaluating our requests. I would further submit that this text is a teaching tool and specifically it teaches us about opportunity and what we must do when opportunity presents itself.
Chapter 18 opens with Jesus approaching the city of Jericho. Apparently, Jesus has not entered the city but He is heading toward the city of Jericho. Bartimaeus is already in position and he hears the commotion of a crowd passing by. Let us make no mistake about it, being in position to take advantage of opportunity is extremely important and Bartimaeus was in position. I would have to believe that this is not the first time Bartimaeus has heard a crowd passing by, but there is something different this time. Whatever the difference is, Bartimaeus speaks up. He asks what is going on? He is informed that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. Now remember, Bartimaeus cannot see, but he can hear.
When opportunity approaches we must be prepared to speak up. Changes in our environment are an indication that something is happening. Like Bartimaeus, we will not always be able to see everything that is happening around us, but we can still inquire. We can find out what is happening, what is going on around us, what is taking place? One of the reasons some miss opportunities is because they do not have enough information. Imagine if Bartimaeus had just assumed that it was another caravan or another parade and ignored it? He would have missed his opportunity, but because he spoke up, he inquired, he investigated what was happening he was able to get the information he needed to help him determine that the potential for opportunity was looming. Bartimaeus depended on others taking notice of him to get through each day, but even though he could not see his opportunity he heard it was approaching.
As opportunity approaches us it will always come asking the question, “Is this something I really want?” There are things that we say we want, but then after we get them we tend to sour on them. After our curiosity has been satisfied or something has outlived its usefulness we put it to the side and move on to the next thing. Opportunity has to first weed out the fickle, those who want this today and that tomorrow. Opportunity has to separate the contenders from the pretenders. People who are serious about what they want demonstrate and possess at least two characteristics:
• They are persistent – they keep after it
• They are also consistent – there are no long intervals between requests, inquires, etc.
The mechanism that both opportunity and God use to see if we are really serious about the things we say we want is time. Only time will tell how serious a person really is about something or someone. Notice that Jesus did not respond immediately. He wanted to see how bad Bartimaeus really wanted this thing.
In Matthew chapter seven, Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, and knock and the door will be open.” People who really want an opportunity do these things. Every time you turn around they are asking, seeking, and knocking. What about us, are we persistent in the things we ask God for? Do we consistently ask each day for things we want God to do or do we sporadically ask only when we remember? Put a check next to the things we are persistent about and ask God for consistently.
Many ask how will I know what opportunity looks like? The truth is we will not know until it presents itself. Now that Bartimaeus had Jesus’ attention what was he going to do? When opportunity presents itself it usually asks two other questions:
• Are you ready for me?
• What are you going to do with me?
As Jill and I were preparing for our wedding, many people told me that a woman’s wedding day is all about her. It is a day that she has been dreaming about and preparing for from the time she was a young girl. When opportunity presents itself people who know what they want are never caught off guard. They do not need a heads-up. These are people who believed that someday their time was going to come and they have spent their days preparing for it to come.
Bartimaeus knew what he wanted. I suspect that he dreamed about the day when he would encounter Jesus and what he would say. While he did not know the exact day and time when he would meet Jesus, he still prepared for his opportunity.
One of the things that God looks at is how do we spend our time. In addition to using time to weed out the fickle, time also weeds out those who do not believe. There are some who do not ask for things because they do not believe they will get what they request. There are others who over time become dissuaded and discouraged that God cannot and will not do what they have asked. Consider that Jesus initially ignored Bartimaeus and a faction of the crowd told him to be quiet. Yet, in spite of these obstacles Bartimaeus dared to believe that Jesus would honor the request of a social outcast.
How much of what we want and ask God for do we believe we will get? God is not fooled by our words; remember God is always looking at our heart. If we do not believe that our requests will be honored we will not prepare to receive them. If we do not prepare we will be caught off guard when opportunity presents itself or worse we will not be able to handle it when we get what we say we want.
Bartimaeus’ response was swift he wanted to see. From his lightning quick response we can be sure he was prepared for opportunity presenting itself, but what was he going to do with it now that he got what he wanted? The Bible says he did two things after he got what he wanted, he followed Jesus and he praised God. Bartimaeus wanted to see Jesus and he was grateful for what God had done for him through Jesus.
What about you and I? When opportunity is in our hands and we have acquired the thing we have asked for and desired what are we going to do with it?
After we have seized our opportunity it then asks two more questions of us:
• Who gets the credit?
• How will we use our opportunity – for personal gain or to advance God’s kingdom?
One of the caveats to John 14:14 is found in verse 13 where Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” When God looks at our requests the big question God has moving forward is, who will get the credit? Why should God empower us to move mountains or move them out of our way if we are the ones who will take the credit for what God has done? No one likes to be used especially God.
Blind Bartimaeus represents all of humanity. We all want God to do something for us. Some say, if only Jesus would pass by my way I would tell Him what I want Him to do for me. Every time we call upon the name of Jesus He asks us the same question He asked Bartimaeus, what do you want me to do for you? He also asks us to consider:
a) Is what we are asking for something we really want? – Are we persistent in our asking or do we only ask when we remember?
b) Are we prepared to receive what we are asking for? – Do we really believe that God will grant our request or have we allowed time and naysayers to dissuade and discourage us? People who believe prepare for what they cannot see or hear because they know it is coming
c) How will we use what we receive from God? – Will we honor God with what we get or will we use it to advance our own agendas?
If the answer to the above is yes! Then by all means speak up and tell the Master what you want. The bottom line is that the Bible says, “We have not because we ask not.” The next verse in James chapter 4 says, “You do not receive because you ask with wrong motives. You plan to use what you get for your own pleasures.” The challenge then is to bring our motives in-line with God’s will and desire for us personally. The Psalmist says, “Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart.” When we can get to the place where Christ is at the center of everything we desire and want then we are where Blind Bartimaeus was. When we get here then we are living in John 14:14 and we can speak up because we have the assurance that Jesus will do what He said He will do for His people.