I’ve always tried to do well for God. There’s a constant conversation in my head in regard to my choices and behavior and what would honor God. Sometimes, it gets me into a pretty heated debate with myself: What’s right and what’s wrong? What should I do? What can I get away with not doing? Walking in righteousness gets so muddled when I have to rely on my own will, my own wisdom, my own assessment of what is right and wrong, good or bad…good or best, or what is God’s will versus my own.
Have you ever had those prayer times when you were sure you’d heard God speak, but then you get into that debate with yourself, “Was that really God, or was that just me?” You start weighing the options, counting the cost, and wrestling with your fears. It’s these times that we are walking in our will. To be fair, our will is to somehow please God by our choices and actions, but that sounds a lot like works-based theology doesn’t it? It’s still our natural will, and as long as we walk in it, God will lead us through struggle and failure until it, along with the rest of our natural selves, are crucified with Christ and we are raised a new creation in him.
Peter understood this process of dying to self. When Jesus shared the reality of the coming crucifixion, Peter resisted, “No Lord! We will never let this happen to you!” Jesus’ answer was telling. Though Peter’s intentions were good, he still had his heart and mind set on the things of man, not the will of God. The scriptures teach us that it was God’s will to crush his Son so that the world may be saved through him. Peter was determined to show Jesus his faith was strong enough to walk on water. Jesus bid him “come!” Peter did, until the moment was too powerful for him, the opposition too strong, and then he faltered. Again, Peter was so insistent that he was strong and would never fall away from Christ, yet he denied the Lord three times before morning.
Peter’s failures, like ours, serve a greater purpose: the death of the old man. We can be discouraged by our failure and blame God, or allow our failures to bring us nearer to him in child-like faith. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane “not my will but Yours be done.” We tack that on to the end of our prayers because we have no idea what the will of God is. Jesus knew exactly what the Father’s will was. For him, this was a statement of surrender and oneness with the Father. Our use of that phrase only highlights our separation. Peter was led into his failures by the Good Shepherd so that he could become the apostle we see in Acts, at the day of Pentecost, in Joppa, and in Galatia–not a perfect person, but a Spirit-filled follower of God, surrendered to him and united with him through the death of the old man and the resurrection of the new man in Christ.
As long as you and I are caught up in the building of our own kingdom, in doing what we want and trying to honor God in our efforts, we will only operate in our natural will. Rather than making disciples we will spend our time putting lipstick on pigs. Rather than walking in the courage and power of God, we will always wonder of we’re on the right track…if it was “me” or “God” and find ourselves frustrated with a lack of results. Jesus told a number of parables about people who found a great treasure, sold all they owned and then bought the land in which the treasure was hidden. Unlike those examples, we are most often unwilling to forfeit “all we own.” In other words, we want to invite Jesus into our lives rather than surrender our lives to him. We hold on to things and show him, “How can I use this for you?” but we never really lay all things at his feet.
My prayer for the coming year is that God will bring me into unity with himself. I honestly don’t know what that will mean. Peter was rebuked, sunk in a tumultuous sea, and shamed before God as his natural resolve failed in his preparation. I suspect that I’ll have my own lumps to take: I have my own dreams to let go of, my own loves to release, my own pride to be torn down. It’s rather frightening, but then, death is unsettling. Like a seed, we must fall to the ground and die, if we are to produce a harvest.
Not my will, but Yours be done.