“The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win.” – Everyone from Vince Lombardi to Bear Bryant to Bobby Knight is cited as the source of this quote. The wisdom found in it has outlasted the origin.
Everyone wants to win. It doesn’t matter how you define winning – career success, relationship goals met, curling up everyday by a fire to read, being left alone, having friends, running marathons, sitting quietly, however you define it, everyone wants their goal to be met in the area most important to them.
I’ve thought about this a lot lately. Most people don’t Instagram the moment when they’re scrubbing the toilet bowl, or taking out the trash, or dusting the mantelpiece. Most people don’t live Tweet the truly difficult parts of a workout, or share a Facebook Live stream of a mundane, grinding dispute with a loved one. We like to edit our ongoing portrayal of our lives, and in part, that’s alright.
We pray, “thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” We ask God, we submit to God, that God’s will might unfurl across the universe, on earth, just as it is in the heavenly realms. Whether or not we see the connection between scrubbing a toilet and God’s will being done on earth, we do the first and pray the second.
Consider this passage from James 2:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works.
Any Christian who wants to appear pious knows that he or she should want God’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Few people want to scrub a toilet, wipe down its exterior, and clean the floor surrounding it. But you cannot separate faith from works.
In other words, the will to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven is not nearly as important as the will to ask God how we might help bring about God’s will to be done on earth today in our home and town and nation. If I ask God to take care of lonely shut-in’s, but I leave them off my Christmas card list, I am a, “resounding gong, a clanging cymbal.” And if I ask God to bring peace, but I harbor resentment in my heart, giving it room to settle and nest, then, “if I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” If I believe the right things, but I do not live sacrificially, I have missed the Kingdom of God. Even the demons can recite the Creed, say the Eucharistic liturgy, quote modern saints, recall Scripture passages. So what? They do not love their neighbor.
James demands, “can faith save you?”
Can praying, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” save you?
We read in the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 40,
A voice cries out:
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
The Gospel of John follows up on Isaiah, as we read in John 1:
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”
as the prophet Isaiah said.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
John the Baptist did not just pray for God’s will to be done: he obeyed God by preparing the way for the Lord. John the Baptist went ahead in the wilderness, crying out, clearing the path so that Jesus could be revealed to Israel. The will for the Messiah to appear was not nearly as important for the will to cry out in the wilderness, clear the path, and make straight the way of the Lord.
God has given us the Holy Spirit so that we, like John, can prepare the way for the Lord. Only instead of looking for the first coming of the Messiah, we look for the second. Advent is a season when we celebrate both: we read of the census and the wise men, the slaughter of the innocent and the shepherds, Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus and Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John, while also reading from Revelation, of the prayers of the saints and the blood of the martyrs, of the Lamb of God and the loud chorus of heaven.
Do we have the will to pray without the will to prepare the way of the Lord?
We must both pray for God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven, and prepare the way of the Lord, clearing his path, making God’s road straight and even. Otherwise, we’re a clanging gong, willing to Instagram our Sunday morning piety but not scrub our elderly neighbor’s toilet.
The will to see God’s Kingdom come is not nearly as important as the will to…what?
What is it you hope God doesn’t ask you to do, to prepare the way for his Kingdom?
Maybe that’s what we need to present to God this Christmas.
God, help us to be willing to prepare the way for you to arrive in people’s hearts and lives.