For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Sometimes when I pray there pops up in my mind’s eye the image of someone I need to forgive, or to ask for forgiveness. Then I realize that I really don’t want to forgive that person, or to seek forgiveness. That’s when it feels like all of the air goes out of my prayer. I feel stuck, unable to move forward. Then there are the times I pray and sense God calling me to do something, but I realize I don’t want to do it. What are we to do with those moments in prayer when we feel God’s will colliding head-on with ours? Do we even keep on praying? Do we think of something else to do?
I am learning that such times of resistance to God while praying is actually God calling us to yet deeper, more intimate and honest prayer. These moments can be like those in dark Gethsemane when Jesus also struggled with God’s will for Him. God does not leave us to our own resources when we do not want to forgive, or do not want to do what He calls us to do.
In today’s Scripture the apostle Paul says that the want, the desire, the eagerness to do God’s will comes from God. Paul reminds that it is God who is “at work” in us “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
This was the promise of God’s New Covenant to put His law within us and write it on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:26). It is because God works within us that Jesus could command us to do impossible things like loving our enemies and not worrying about tomorrow. We look to God to give us the “want” as He transforms us into new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
God works within us to want to desire His will and do it; He tenderly waits for our permission. There is a simple prayer I like to pray when God calls me to do something I don’t want to do: “Lord, I am willing that you make me willing.” I ask God to make me willing to forgive those who hurt me, to make me willing to follow Him in new places of faith and obedience. I can’t, but He can.
Corrie ten Boom survived the horrors of the Holocaust and afterwards traveled the world as God’s agent of good news and reconciliation. She talked about her need to pray often: “God, make me willing to be willing.” (Tramp for the Lord) She told God that He would have to make her willing to forgive the monstrous guards at the Ravensbrück concentration camp. And God did! She told God that He would have to make her willing to tell God’s good news of forgiveness and love. And God did!
Perhaps today as you pray, you find that you are not willing to do what God is asking you to do. God can work with that! Keep on praying. Keep on talking with Him. Keep on asking God to make you willing!
- Spend some time in prayerful reflection, probing places you might not be willing to do what you know God wants you to do. It might be forgiving someone. It might be a step of faith and obedience. Name first to yourself and then to God what you are not willing to do. (This is real, honest prayer!)
- Now dare to take the momentous step of saying to God: “I am willing that you make me willing.” Be prepared to have to pray this prayer again tomorrow.
- Conclude with The Lord’s Prayer.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.”
King David, Psalm 51:10