I am grateful to my family for giving me the gift of faith. After graduating from college, I served the Church full time for 11 years. But gradually, in the quiet intimacy of adoring Jesus in the most blessed sacrament, he revealed the difference between doing God’s work – and fulfilling his will.
The Lord was inviting me to be exclusively his own, he was inviting me to embrace a contemplative vocation at [the] monastery.
–Sister John-Mark Maria of the Poor Clares in Tonopah, AZ
This is a profound realization – one that many in ministry work should heed. There is a difference between doing the corporal and good works we are called to do (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, educating the ignorant, defending widows, orphans, and the outcast, etc) and doing God’s will.
I think almost all issues and divisions arise in our church and faith lives because we’re more interested in doing the good works we believe should be done, and not to truly abandoning ourselves to do God’s will. If we all truly believe we’re aligning ourselves to the same, one, true God – then there should not be division.
Often this is done from ignorance. We want to go good, but we do not know what ‘good’ is. The road to hell is often paved with good intentions. Even worse are the sins of vainglory and pride – when the person is doing the good works simply because they like being respected and seen as an upright/good person by others – not because of their love of God. My experience is that this is most pronounced in many self-styled advocate leaders and academics that are more focused on an intellectual/political agenda than the will of God. The surest way to know if a leader falls in this category is to see how they react to having their pride pricked, authority questioned or intellectually confronted. Do they refer to their credentials and authority, list of accolades – or do they respond as a humble servant simply following the will of God with compassion and love?
This is not easy – because it requires the abandonment of ourselves and our perception of way things should be done. It requires us to abandon the idea we know the best way. It requires humility under the ultimate authority of a divine master. Sound ridiculous in our modern era of valuing self promotion and self empowerment?
Consider Jesus during his last days. He had arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover feast. He was greeted by the crowds with palm branches and shouts of acclimation. The crowds were ready to crown him king and let him lead them to victory over the occupying Romans. With his own disciples, he had just instituted the Eucharist at the last supper. He knew well he was about to be betrayed and handed over. It would have been nothing at all for him to have avoided arrest, he could have performed miracles to astound the chief priests and Pontius Pilate and easily become a leader or king of Israel. Yet he did not.
36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” 39 He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”Matthew 26
40 When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.* The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!”
As sister Maria mentions, the only real way to learn God’s specific will for you is to spend time in quiet prayer. I’ve often found that the easiest way to tell if someone is really representing God is to observe how dedicated the person is to their prayer life. Daily prayer that consists of extended periods (30-60 min) prayer – preferably in front of the blessed sacrament. Prayer that is not just reading a book, full of distraction, but is a quiet opening of yourself to listening TO god instead of speaking AT him.
This is critical because I believe almost all divisions and arguments between believers are caused by people that are doing more of their own will vs abandoning and trusting in God to direct each person to their chosen path. This is critical for each of us, because Jesus himself told us:
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’Matthew 7:21-23