In ministry and outreach, it can be discouraging to share God’s love with someone only to have them reject it completely. We comfort ourselves by saying, “The Holy Spirit changes hearts. It’s not my job to force them to believe.” And this is true. We cannot make anyone believe. We give them the truth about God’s amazing love and sacrifice for them. It isn’t our job to convince them or change their hearts. The Holy Spirit does that. We simply give them the truth. We sow the seed.
It’s interesting to me that we have this trusting attitude when others are concerned, but when we desire personal growth or change, we try to do it ourselves. We try to make ourselves more patient, more selfless, more joyful, etc. These are all good desires. In fact, a desire to be more like Christ is one of the foundations of our Christian lives. However, the way we go about pursuing those desires can be misleading.
Look at Hagar and Sarah (Genesis 16-17, 21). God promised Abraham a son when Sarah was barren. She was physically unable to have children. So Abraham took matters into his own hands. Instead of trusting God to fulfill his promise, he went and had a child by Hagar – Ishmael. This caused a lot of problems. Even though it was Sarah’s idea, she became jealous and angry that Hagar could conceive and she could not. She treated Hagar poorly and so the slave girl fled.
Even though Abraham had made a mess of things, God still worked through his actions. He made a promise that Ishmael would also be the father of a nation. But Ishmael was not the intended son of promise. Isaac was. God gave Isaac to Abraham and Sarah and he was a miracle child. Isaac was the one through whom God would establish “an everlasting covenant” (Genesis 17:19).
God fulfilled his promise to Abraham in his own time. God was at work, even though Abraham couldn’t see that. In the same way, God is at work in our lives. He promises us the Holy Spirit, and with the Holy Spirit comes fruit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
It is the fruit of the Spirit. It is not our fruit. It is the Spirit of God who grows and cultivates a Christ-like spirit. We cannot change ourselves to be more like Christ by sheer willpower. “Trying harder” doesn’t get us anywhere. In fact, we usually mess things up when we try to change ourselves on our own, just like Abraham made a mess when he tried to bring about God’s promise on his own terms.
God is at work in you. He promises that. He is changing you, altering your desires so that they align with his. He writes His commandments on our hearts, so that we may delight in His will. And as a result, a change of behavior follows. He produces fruit in us so that He may be glorified and others may know who God is.
Instead of trying to be in control of our lives, we need to let God work in us. God gives us wonderful blessings through which we can know Him more deeply – His Word, fellowship with other Christians, prayer, worship, and others besides. This world is full of blessings given from God to us to bring us closer to Him. When we know Him more, His desires become our desires, and we begin to change to be more like Him.
So don’t try harder. Instead, trust more. God is at work in you.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.