To Will and To Work — What It Really Means

God recently gave me a revelation about a particular verse that I have read countless times over the years.

It is significant because understanding this verse in a different way sheds light on the way God works in our lives.

The key to this whole revelation was reading the verse in a translation that I don’t normally use. The real meaning of the verse hit home with laser accuracy.

Here’s the verse, Philippians 2:13, as it appears in the English Standard Version (ESV), the translation I normally read:

For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

For me, the meaning had always been clear enough—God is fulfilling His will through His work. And that made sense to me, as God is, of course, going to do the things that line up with His will and what He wants.

But here is the same verse in the New Living Translation (NLT), the translation used in an email I recently read from a ministry I routinely receive messages from:

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

Many people may read these two translations and immediately see that they’re saying the same thing. 

However, when I read this verse in the NLT, it had a completely different meaning to me than I had previously interpreted it from the ESV and other similar translations.

All these years, I had read the verse as meaning that God is the one doing the willing and the working for His good pleasure. 

After reading this passage in the NLT, however, I now realized that God is actively moving in my life to create the desire to serve Him and the power to do so. 

I’m the one with the “will” and who will do the “work.” It’s not God. I had always interpreted the second part of the verse (after the comma) as just an extension of the first. I had read the second part as basically repeating the first part.

But that was wrong. God is actually helping me by giving me the desire to do His will and serve Him.

He hasn’t left me alone to live in a quagmire of weak faith and uncertainty. 

He is working daily in my life, increasing my faith and developing in me a deeper desire to live my life for him and perform the works that He has planned for me to do (Eph. 2:10).

To confirm what I was seeing, I checked a few other modern translations and found that they were translated similarly to the NLT. 

Of course, I could see how the verse could be interpreted incorrectly—as I had done for years— but, more importantly, I also now saw how it could be interpreted in this other way.

I couldn’t believe that I had held the wrong interpretation of this verse for decades. I found it strange that I had never read it like this before. 

Perhaps most other people have always interpreted the verse correctly. Or maybe there are others like me who have held the wrong view of this verse.

This revelation changes how I think about my relationship with God. He longs for me to serve Him with my actions and attitudes. That’s why He’s working in me to create the desire to live my life for Him. 

It’s not up to me and my feeble efforts to become the person God wants me to be. I’m getting a big helping hand from God Himself. He’s working on my behalf to help me become what I should be and to serve Him better.

To me, that makes all the difference. Hopefully, it makes a difference to you as well.

Mama’s Hands

Her hands tell her story. Over the decades they baked countless cakes, changed untold thousands of diapers, prepared meal after meal after meal, and washed enough laundry to clothe an army for a year.

They washed innumerable dishes and had been washed clean themselves. Each day, she wrung them in ever-present worry, as there is no purpose without worry. They only stopped when the rest of her body came to a halt. 

As the decades wore on, arthritis took its toll, adding twists and turns to her slender fingers. Graceful hands became tough, gnarled knots. 

These hands had sorted, fixed, cleaned, and soothed in their long lives, seeing both noble and not-so-noble purposes. 

Although, for me her hands represented mostly love, in my early childhood they were also fearful objects, capable of causing instant pain and humiliation. More than once they had left a hot red impression on my arm or leg, a perfect outline of her fingers molded into the white of my flesh. 

In these moments, it’s hard to say which one I felt more of—physical pain or humiliation. The loud smack on my skin would intensify the experience, drawing hot tears from my eyes and turning my selfish day in a new and awful direction. 

In her later years, the hands themselves endured blinding pain each day from the arthritis that wove itself through them.

For her, her hands’ movement meant she was accomplishing her duty. Hand work kept her sense of guilt at bay. After all, idle hands are the devil’s plaything. Busy hands showed her dedication to her duties as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, and employee.

Never once do I remember her having painted nails.That just wasn’t her style. Too flashy, she’d say. Too impractical. People might get the wrong idea. After all, these hands were born in the depression and we must never forget the lessons we learned during that time. Practicality and sensibility come before anything else. 

Her hands often worked even in her downtime. A bushel of fresh-picked green beans from our garden meant she’d watch “Barnaby Jones” or “Mary Tyler Moore” that night while mindlessly breaking one bean after another into pleasing, edible pieces. 

At the end of the day, she put her eyes and her mind to bed and patiently waited for her hands to finish their work. Their final tasks might include massaging sore joints, rubbing overworked calves, or trying without success to ease a fidgety leg. When her hands finally rested, she could at last rest her body. 

Her hands have at last found their final rest. They are peacefully still, her left one casually draped over her right. They and she lie free from guilt and worry.