The verse shows up in a long passage where Paul encourages followers of Jesus to become like Jesus - to have the same humility, attitude, and mindset of our Savior.
Does anyone else struggle with that?
I think about last week's Scripture from Matthew - the call to serve others like Jesus, even laying down our lives for other people. I know I can't do that on my own. I can't even want that on my own. Everything in my natural self cringes against the idea of always putting others before myself. And I can't change my desires with sheer will power. The heart wants what the heart wants.
You know what? We need new hearts.
In Philippians 2:12, the verse right before this one, Paul calls on believers to continue "working out their salvation with fear and trembling" - and then he tells them, it's actually God changing your desires to line up with his and giving you the power to obey him.
In the end, it's not up to me. If my wants and attitudes change, it's not because I've overcome my personal weaknesses or learned a new strategy that enables me to be a kinder, more loving version of myself. It's because God is creating a new person and giving me the will and the ability to obey him. In this verse, God has promised to be at work in us and making it possible for us to want him, love him, and worship him with our lives like he deserves.
Knowing this keeps me humble and dependent on the Lord, in two ways. When I fail (as I often do) to follow him whole heartedly, it gives me the opportunity to recognize my complete weakness and to turn to him for strength. When I do succeed - whether it's responding patiently to difficult situations or forgiving someone who's hurt me - I know it's not because I'm a good person or superior in any way. I know God has been at work inside my heart, slowly changing my attitudes, my perspective, and my desires.
So if you're struggling with personal change or feeling like you will never overcome the difficulty you're facing, take heart. God is at work, even if you can't see the results yet. He is giving you the desire and power to do what pleases him.