I don’t like thinking of myself as a prideful person. I like to think that, especially in my relationship with God, I am humble and obedient. But, I was reflecting on my prayer life, and I realized that my prayer often sounds like this: “Hey God, I want to do this, and if you could help me with it, that would be great.” That may sound good. I want God to help me. I want God to come with me. And while wanting God to come with me is better than not wanting God to come with me, at the end of the day, I am still the one in control. I decide where I am going, and I want God to go there with me. I want God to make my plans come to fruition. All too often, my relationship with God is driven by my own ego. Rather than being humble and obedient, I am committed to doing my own will, and I use God simply as a means of accomplishing what I want. I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I’m going to guess that I am not the only one who does that. If we are honest, I would suspect that many of us often pray that way.
The Gospel today gives us a different model. Two disciples of John the Baptist start following Jesus. When Our Lord asks them what they are seeking, they answer, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” And at Christ’s bidding they go and stay with Him. Their question is, “Rabbi, Teacher, where are you staying? Where do you abide? We want to go where you are going.” Notice the difference between that and the kind of prayer I was talking about. The kind of prayer that I often do, the kind of prayer I think that a lot of people often do, is “Lord, come where I want to go.” These two disciples, on the other hand, say, “Lord, we want to go where you are going.”
In our relationship with God, we need to always remember that God is the one who is supposed to be in control. God is God, and I am not. I am not the one in charge. As we sang in the responsorial Psalm, “Here I am Lord; I come to do your will.” That’s what we say. But all too often, our actual approach is, “Here I am Lord; help me to do my will.” If that is my approach to prayer, then God isn’t really God for me. He is just an extension of my desires. He exists just to help me do what I want. And so rather than growing in humility and surrender, I am simply using God to further my pride. It is hard to let go of our will in order to truly seek God’s will. I want what I want, and I don’t want anyone to get in the way, even God. But if I truly want to be a follower of Christ, I have to be precisely that, a follower. That means that Christ is the one who leads, and I go where He wants to go and do what He wants to do. Being a follower means setting aside where I want to go in order to go where Christ wants to go. Being a follower requires humility; it requires surrender. “Here I am Lord; I come to do your will.”
One of the reasons it is easier to do my own will instead of doing God’s will is that it is easy to know what I want, but it is a lot harder to know what God wants. What I want to do is clear to me. I don’t have any trouble knowing what my will is. But knowing God’s will for me is more challenging. I don’t just automatically know it. There are times where God’s will is clear. If I’m trying to choose between sinning and not sinning, then God’s will is pretty clear. I don’t have to work too hard to know what God wants for me in that decision. But following God is about more than just not breaking the commandments. We are called to follow Christ in all things. If I want to do someone’s will, I have to know what their will is; I have to know what they want. And if I want to know their will, I have to listen to them. The same is true with God. If I want to do God’s will, I have to know God’s will. And if I want to know God’s will, I have to listen to Him.
Listening to God takes practice. We don’t automatically know how to hear God when He speaks to us. We see that in our first reading. In the reading, Samuel is assisting Eli in serving God in the Temple. Samuel knows about God. He is literally sleeping next to the Ark of the Covenant. And yet, when God speaks to him, he doesn’t recognize God’s voice. God usually doesn’t speak to us audibly like He did with Samuel, but He does speak to us. But also like Samuel, we have to learn to recognize God’s voice. That doesn’t happen just by showing up. Samuel is living and working in the Temple, but he doesn’t know God or His voice. Just because we show up to Church doesn’t mean that we will recognize God’s voice in our lives. We have to have a real relationship with God, a real, vibrant prayer life where we talk to Him and, most importantly, where we let Him talk to us, if we are going to be able to recognize His voice when He speaks to us. Only if we learn how to hear God’s voice will we be able to know His will and do it.
We have to ask ourselves, what kind of relationship do I want to have with God? Do I want a relationship where I basically do my will and expect God to help me do whatever I want? Or do I want a relationship where I truly follow Him, where I do His will? Am I the god of my life, or is Christ God in my life? If we want the latter, then it means we have to learn to hear His voice. We need to daily take time to pray, not just speaking to God but allowing Him to speak to us. And we need to ask God for the humility to choose His will instead of our own, to follow Him wherever He goes.