A Willing Spirit

by Rosemary Schaumburg

“Cramped is the dwelling of my soul; do Thou expand it, that Thou mayest enter in. It is in ruins, restore Thou it.” –Confessions of St. Augustine

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” Psalm 51:10-13

David was in trouble and he knew it. His adultery with Bathsheba, his causing her husband Uriah’s death in battle had been found out. Confronted by the prophet Nathan, he acknowledged his sin, and Psalm 51 records his cry of contrition.

What was it that allowed David, a man after God’s own heart, to get to such a wretched state that he would commit adultery and murder? The answer is clear: his heart was unclean, his spirit was not right, he had lost the joy of salvation, and his spirit was unwilling to be obedient to God.

It seems to me that that could be a description of many of us. Often we find ourselves bewildered at the state of our lives. We say we love God, and we truly mean it. We may even try to have meaningful devotional times with Him. But life feels chaotic; out of control. Dullness sets in, then discontentment. Sin. The turmoil sends us to find something that will salve the soul. We read the Bible, pray, read books, get counseling, try to forgive, seek restoration. When that doesn’t immediately give us what we want, we give up. There may be some relief for a while, but again and again the struggle emerges. All the effort, talking and praying seem pointless, and we come to the conclusion that we have to do something to resolve the chaos of our lives because God certainly isn’t! Anger gnaws at us, and “heartache crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:13).

Why is it that God stands still when we repeatedly ask Him to change our lives, even our hearts? A clue comes when we examine our response to His perceived ‘negligence.’ Do we clench our teeth and determine to take matters into our own hands? Do we get depressed and pull away from our spouse and God? When God fails to act in a way that seems right to us, our response comes either from a heart of trust or a heart that fearfully refuses to find its rest absolutely in God. Too often our determination is to call the shots. If our spouse fails us, we know exactly what should happen. When it should happen. How it should happen. We are unwilling to open ourselves to God’s will without any dictates or control. The acid test again? Anger. If anger arises within me and I swing into high-control gear, it’s an indication that I’m insisting on my own way, not God’s way. “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” means asking God to help me find joy in His salvation, not in changing my circumstances. Asking Him to uphold me with a willing spirit means I have laid down my ‘rights.’ I am no longer stubbornly insisting on what I think is right. Having a willing spirit is essential to a sustained trust in God that allows Him to work his purposes in and through us. A stubborn “I know what’s right, but I just don’t want to do it” or a quiet insistence that holds out for our own way equally blind us from seeing God’s gracious faithfulness and sovereignty.

In 2 Chronicles 28:9, David charges Solomon: “And you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever. Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it.”

Wholehearted devotion and a willing mind and spirit go hand in hand. When we can’t find God, when discontentment and anxiety fill our hearts because we can’t see His activity in our lives, an honest look at our willingness to trust Him is in order. A willing, open spirit is one that cherishes redemption—“the joy of your salvation”—and is awed by God’s goodness. A willing spirit continually seeks after God Himself, and no other. A willing spirit allows us to embrace all the joys and difficulties of daily life knowing that God is involved in each detail. He gives us all we need not only to survive, but to find rest and peace because we are absolutely convinced that His sovereignty is good.

If we are willing, God will expand our meager bits of trust into a life of faith that cannot be dissuaded by circumstances, and we will be “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” 1 Peter 1:8. As we seek and are willing, God will continually make Himself known to us, and our lives will become a reflection of Him to others. David said, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” And to Solomon he said, “Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it.”

God’s work to restore our joy of salvation and to uphold us with a willing spirit goes far beyond our personal good. It is ultimately for the purpose of His glory. Through us, sinners are to return to Him; His Church is to be built! Just as He had work for David and Solomon, He has work for each of us. Let’s be strong—in Him—and do it!