We can stumble, however, if we commit the common error of convincing ourselves that our will is God’s will
By Bob Hunt
“The chief effect of love is to unite the hearts of those who love each other so that they have the same will. Hence the more we submit to God’s designs for us, the more we advance toward perfection. When we resist, we go backwards.”
The above comes from the spiritual classic, Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence by Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure.
Love unites hearts, and hearts united unite wills. It is the goal of the Christian heart to love God entirely and, as such, to unite one’s will to the will of God. That’s why St. Augustine of Hippo could confidently advise, “Love, then do what you will.” God is love, and if one truly loves, then one’s heart is entirely united with God’s own heart. United entirely with God’s heart, one’s will is entirely united to God’s will. Those who truly love will only act according to God’s will.
Here is the temptation: to mistake our own will for God’s will. Rather than submitting to God’s will out of love, we submit to our own will and convince ourselves that our will is God’s will. This is a common error in a pseudo-spiritual environment where people believe that the truth about God is assumed to emerge from within themselves. As a result, even many Christians are in the habit of reflecting on the Scriptures or of praying, not for the purpose of considering what God might be demanding of them, but to justify or erroneously confirm the decisions and lifestyles they’ve already chosen.
Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert on the matter, but one way I think we can expect to know God’s will for us is if we are regularly surprised and made uncomfortable. God often calls us outside of ourselves, to stretch us and to expect more of ourselves than we are commonly wont to do. We like to be comfortable. We like to find our groove. Too often, however, a groove becomes a rut. God likes to knock us out of our ruts. In fact, I believe He finds great joy in doing so!
Another way of discerning God’s will for us is to consider the circumstances of our lives, especially those aspects or events of our lives over which we have little control. All that happens to us, the good and the bad, is according to His will and for the sake of our salvation. By responding to the circumstances of our lives with holy submission to God and even gratitude to God, we more and more shape ourselves according to God’s designs. But, are we too eager to believe that what God should want for us is all good, or all pleasure, or all wellness, happiness, and comfort, even in this temporal realm, and turn to anger at God when our circumstances are difficult or even dreadful? How can we believe this when we see so often that those most dedicated to Him are suffering at the hands of a godless world?
Consider the martyrs and the persecuted Church. Surely, their hardships and sacrifices are not the result of God having abandoned them. Quite the opposite! Their trial by fire is testimony to God’s great love and grace forging them to perfection.
God does not try us beyond our ability to persevere. It takes little effort and less faith to hold firm to the Rock when we’re standing on the top, basking under the sun, far from the waves that regularly strike the base. The holy and mighty ones are those enduring the torrent, gripping with everything they have to the One they know is their sure foundation, while the storm rages about them, posing a constant threat. Even still, it is the struggle that strengthens them. Their submission to God’s will even in their suffering confirms their love for Him. Christ was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Are we not united to Him more in our sorrows? Do we not resemble Him more in our sufferings?
The more we love God, the more we will desire to do His will and the more our lives will reflect His will. The more we submit to God’s designs, especially when those designs mean hardship, the more we advance toward perfection. Be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Thy will be done, on earth—and in me—as it is in heaven.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.
Bob Hunt is a husband, father, and parishioner at All Saints Church in Knoxville and is a candidate for the permanent diaconate.