Heart pounding, the woman tentatively stepped into the small house knowing she was about to do something completely unheard of, something everyone else in the room, except Jesus, wouldn’t understand. Perhaps they would even throw her out of the house, or at the very least, ridicule her. But she didn’t care, not really; it wasn’t about them, anyway—it was all about him.
Jesus had come to occupy a place in her heart that no one else could access; it was reserved for him alone. His unconditional love, his forgiveness, his mercy and grace—they reached the depths of her heart in a way that forever seared his name there. And she was undone by his very presence. Others would come to say she was foolish, even wasteful. But in time many more would come to say she was wastefully in love.
With a humility and gratefulness few ever experience, Mary rushed to Jesus, collapsing at his feet. As the liquid love began falling from her eyes, she bowed her head and pulled the alabaster flask of valuable perfume from the pouch tied to her garments.
Pouring the perfume over Jesus’ feet, Mary simultaneously let loose the restraints in her hair. Tears flowing and flask emptied, Mary took her long hair and lovingly washed the feet of Jesus.
Mary knew the heart of the Lord. She knew how much she had been forgiven. And because Mary was aware of just how much she had been forgiven, she loved much in return (Luke 7:47). Deep down, Mary knew that whatever her faults, she had come with a pure heart for him alone. And her act of worship would be remembered through all the ages.
Just as in Mary, it is God who works in us “to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). God will never force us against our will, but he does lead us. Our adopted son from Haiti, home for nearly a year, still struggles most days to willingly do his schoolwork (we homeschool). If he doesn’t want to do it, he writes ridiculous answers or none at all. At this point, he doesn’t have a love for us that would position his heart “to will and to act.” Without a deep relationship, true love and honor are absent.
As his mother (and teacher), I cannot force him or change his will. I can make him sit, take away privileges or any number of things, but his will remains free. I cannot control his will or change his mindset. What I can do, as God does with us, is influence him. I can love unconditionally, teach him God’s Word, and speak truth into his life. I can also intercede for him, as Christ does for us. Ultimately, my son has a daily choice: Will he follow his own will or God’s will? It’s the same daily choice we all must make.
When I was a youngster and would ask my mom, “Why?” I often heard, “Because I said so.” That wasn’t reason enough for my little girl mind. She wanted obedience; I wanted answers. Our Father doesn’t always answer our “why” questions, but in this case he does.
The reason he leads us “to will and to act” is to “fulfill his good purpose.” In other words, God works in our hearts to lead us to will and to do that which is in accordance with his own will.
Simple enough. The problem is that we don’t always know what his will is. Just because something is a goodthing doesn’t mean it’s a Godthing. In order to will and to act according to God’s purposes, we may need to forgo the good for the God. Good will never be greater than God.
Psalm 37:4 tells us to “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Since this means desires that are in alignment with God, it’s critical that we regularly examine our desires.
Godly desires will bring peace. (You may be nervous, but you’ll still have peace about the decision.) Godly desires will be backed up by his Word and consist of wisdom that comes from above instead of worldly wisdom. Godly desires will bring unity and oneness. Godly desires will be kingdom focused. Godly desires point to him and not to self.
So, to will and to act is a call to align our hearts with the heart of God, to burn with passion for the things God longs to see on the earth. Nehemiah is a good example. Burdened by the news of Jerusalem’s walls being torn down and the gates being burned, Nehemiah fasted and prayed, pleading with God for intervention. Because Nehemiah’s heart was in alignment with the Lord’s, doors opened for Nehemiah to initiate the rebuilding of the walls.
It’s interesting to note that God’s first and last description (not mention, but description) of David is that he was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts13:22). Despite David’s weaknesses and sin, God still said of him, “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.”
David’s fire of love for the Lord burned bright and when ridiculed by his own wife David replied, “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes” (2 Samuel 6:21b-22a). David’s heart passionately responded to the Lord’s own passion. David knew the heart of God and responded in accordance to that deep knowledge. This heart knowledge of the Lord enabled David “to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” more than a thousand years before this verse in Philippians was ever penned.
David so positioned himself in a way that his heart for the Lord intensified as the years went by. We can do the same. Instead of allowing our passion to wane, we can live with intentionality, purposefully and diligently seeking to truly know the heart of God. And as we do, our heart’s desire will be “to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
Tammy Darling is the author of 1,400 published articles and two books, And She Dancedand While We Wait: Devotions for the Adopting Parent. She writes from her home in rural Pennsylvania.