Not My Will, But Thy Will: Letting Go and Surrendering to God's Will
“God, let your will be done in my life,” I pray for the 6789th time in my life, as a good Christian does. But right as I say these words, I catch my heart (not so) secretly wishing for my will to be done instead. I am so often tempted to kick, scream, and plea for God to fulfill MY plans for my life, not His.
I have recently been reading “It’s Not Supposed to be This Way,” by President of Proverbs 31 Ministries, Lysa Terkeurst. In this book, she shares her personal story of grappling with her husband’s marital infidelity, a life-threatening colon surgery, and a breast cancer diagnosis all at once. She admits to not having all the answers, but explains that she wrote the book in order to encourage others to see how their own unexpected tragedies are ultimately leading them to radically encounter God. Although Terkeurst repeatedly asked, “Why me?”, in the midst of her trials, she ultimately understood how God was teaching her and preparing her for His promises by allowing her to go through these disappointments.
Terkeurst’s book struck a personal cord with me, as I have time and time again been met with disappointments in my life that seem incredibly unfair and meaningless in the moment. In these times, I can’t help but question God’s goodness and His promises. It is so easy for lies to creep in when you are at your most vulnerable: that God is purposely withholding good from you, that He doesn’t have your best in mind. But in a strange way, it is by wrestling through these disappointments that I am beginning to understand more and more what true faith is. Faith is not a religious display of righteousness, or a transactional relationship wherein God gives us whatever we want in exchange for our belief in Him. Rather, faith is hope in things unseen—an unshakable belief that God is who He says He is, no matter what our circumstances may suggest. Faith is surrendering your will in favor of God’s will in your life.
An often repeated phrase I have heard throughout my life from well-meaning Christians is: “God never gives you more than you can handle.” It’s a comforting notion, and makes for a great motivational quote. But how true is it? I have been through my fair share of trials that have been more than I can handle. I have knelt down so many times before God telling Him that I just can’t anymore. There are so many instances in the Bible in which faithful followers of Christ have been given more than they can handle. God DOES gives us more than handle, wanting us to hand it right back to Him and rely on His strength to get through it.
In 1 Corinthians 8-11, Paul writes, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” Clearly, Paul WAS given more than he could handle, but only so that he would rely on God and not on himself for strength.
Like any good parent, God wants to protect us from harm and become men and women with strength of character. His discipline is meant for our good. He never punishes us by giving us suffering, but allows suffering in order that we may grow in our character and be prepared for the promises of glory to come. The harsh reality is that God is far more interested in our character, than in our comfort. He will not give us a painless, comfortable life because He knows that will only lead to our destructive and deadly self-reliance.
Romans 5:3-4 states, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Another way to reconcile with suffering is by recognizing that God knows things that we don’t—His perspective is far greater than ours.Tim Keller puts it this way: “If we knew what God knows, we would ask exactly for what he gives.” Another well-known way of saying this, “God loves us too much to answer our prayer at any other time than the right time.” What we think is good for us, what we think is “right,” may be the worst thing that God could give us. If we trust that God is who He says He is—that He loves us and wants the best for us—then we must surrender the plans that we had for our lives in favor of His. The fact is this: If God didn’t even spare His Son to die for us on the cross, then what good thing could he possibly withhold from us? I believe that God withholds certain things for us knowing that giving them to us would lead to our destruction and downfall. By allowing us to experience disappointment from lesser loves, he wants to lead our hearts to the only soul-satisfying love there is: His love.
The perfect example of surrender is given to us by the only sinless person to walk the face of this Earth: Jesus. The night before his betrayal at the hands of Judas, Jesus pleaded in the garden of Gethsemane,“And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will (Mark 14:36).” Jesus isn’t being cowardly by asking God to remove the cup of suffering—He’s being human. But in his sinless humanity, he surrenders to the Father’s will, knowing that God’s will is perfect and just. And because of His surrender, we are the recipients of radical forgiveness and grace that rests on His sacrifice.
To recap, here are some of my hopeful realizations in my current season that I want to share with all of you:
God does give me more than I can handle, but only so that I can learn to draw strength from Him.
If I knew what God knew, I would want the same thing.
God doesn’t willfully cause my suffering, but allows it only to draw me closer to Him.
God cares more about my character than my comfort.
I must follow Christ’s example of surrendering to God’s will, knowing that it is perfect and good.
Full disclosure: just because I have this all written down doesn’t make it any easier for me to remember these truths second-to-second, day-to-day, week-to-week. It takes intentional prayer, meditation, and journaling to remind myself of these truths and defend against the lies that so easily creep in when I least expect them to. So I hope and pray that when you hit rock bottom and are inevitably met with disappointment, repeat as often is necessary: “Not my will, but Your will be done.”