The Power of Can’t, the Weakness of Won’t

Soul salvation begins with acknowledging before God that we can’t save ourselves.  That principle extends to everything else that is beyond human means.

Clearly, there are things we are required to do, as Christians, in our own strength.  Yet the very fact of prayer implies inability to do everything ourselves.

There are more things beyond our means than most of us care to acknowledge.  We try from day to day to fulfill our responsibilities and achieve our goals.  Many of us have dreams we are working toward and longing for.  We want to prosper, be happy and fulfilled.  Yet we can’t guarantee our own health, that of loved ones, the security of our income, the fidelity of our spouse, freedom from tragedy — you get the drift.  As Jesus said, “You can’t make one hair white or black” (Matthew 5:36).

Prayer not only implies that we can’t, but that God can.  We go to the Lord to ask for added strength, special provision, protection, guidance, healing, miracles, and a multitude of other things we want or need.  Typically, however, we make prayer our last resort:  or worse, our backup plan, hedging our bets, our ace in the hole.  We go to God when all else has failed, and we are needy, desperate, on the ropes.  We beseech God mightily to clean up the mess we have made, and set everything aright.  Often we blame God for the results of decisions we made without truly consulting him.

So what we should do is revise our inbred can-do policy to one of can’t-do.  We should lead with our best pitch, which is to call out the only one who is truly able.  In acknowledging our inability, not only to do, but to know what to do, we set ourselves on a path of blessing and provision.  As James wrote (4:15), “You ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.”  Only by asking God “according to his will” can we be assured our prayers are answered (1 John 5:14 f.).

Moreover, the power of God is unleashed when we fully surrender to the will of God and seek his guidance through Spirit-led prayer.  “When I am weak, then am I strong,” Paul writes (2 Corinthians 12:10), finding greater reliance on the Lord in the midst of suffering.  By laying on God’s altar our paltry human strength, along with our stubborn human will, God can work his will in us, and for us.

But by nature most of us won’t pray:  not in earnest, before trying to do things ourselves.  We want what we want, when we want it.  We might say a few token prayers, or ones designed to get the Lord on board our agenda.  Instinctively we know that asking God’s help obligates us to do his thing, his way.  We have in hand a typically long list of things we have decided we won’t do, no matter what God says — right next to our wish list.

In telling the Lord we won’t do his will, we remove ourselves from the path of blessing, and set ourselves up for ultimate failure.  Contrary to that cute little household plaque, God will not bless a mess.  How much better to submit our desires humbly before the one Being who truly can, and will.

© 2012 Paul A. Hughes

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