The prayer of Christlikeness is not a prayer that can be answered by fiat, with a magic wand.
How does God answer it?
He answers through our willingness - our willingness to become sons and daughters of self-denying obedience. God cannot effect the transformation without the bowed head, bent knees, and empty hands of our own obedience.
When we pray, "Father, make me like Jesus," be clear that it is not a prayer God can answer without our taking an equal share in the process.
We are not made like Jesus, we must become like Jesus.
How does the change take place? Who is responsible for it?
It comes as we yield our human nature to the Father, exactly as Jesus did. It comes as, one by one, little bits of the self-nature are snipped off so that the Christ-nature can emerge in their place. The more of self that is cut away and removed as a source of motive, attitude, thought, and action, the more room grows within us for the Spirit of Christ to determine motive, attitude, thought, and action.
Again we ask, "But how is self-centeredness thus snipped from that innermost part of us where the source of rule is determined?"
God has provided a divine instrument to carry out this job of cutting away self so that Christ can shine out. It is not, however, a one-man instrument of sanctification, as many suppose, which God wields by himself to carry out the operation. It is no single-handled scalpel that he alone uses to conduct the needful surgery. We can pray the prayer of Christlikeness all our lives and nothing will happen if we simply lay on the operating table and expect God to do all the cutting. Indeed, this is a very different kind of surgery. In this operation, the patient has to help the Physician because the surgical instrument requires two people. It is a double-handled pair of spiritual scissors.
They are the scissors of COMMAND and OBEDIENCE.
How these scissors function - gradually putting self to death, steadily cutting its influence out of motive, attitude, thought, and action - is one of the least-apprehended aspects of the walk of faith. We must wield one handle while God holds the other.
This is growth indeed - a growth toward LESS rather than MORE!
To cut away motives of self, to cut away unkindness, to cut away wrong attitude, to cut away unforgiveness...we must work together with God. He cannot remove them by himself. He has determined that Christlikeness requires an active, not passive, commitment on our part.
To ask which of the two blades is most important, or which actually carries out the "cutting" self-crucifying work is as pointless as asking which blade of an ordinary pair of scissors actually cuts the cloth. They work together or they don't work at all.
Perhaps this obedience I speak of, these painful snipping scissors of sanctification, do not sound to you like much fun. If your perspective is that "the kingdom of God is a party" as many believe today...then you are reading the wrong book. You will not find that perspective in the Gospels or find me pampering your soulish nature with promises of the very things your flesh desires. Dying for one's faith, crucifying the flesh, and even the martyrdom of the centuries no longer seem to fit into the agenda of the modern evangelical church.
If spiritual maturity is one's goal, it seems to me that praying for blessings for oneself is something of a backward approach. Jesus did not pray that blessing would come to him. He prayed, rather, to do his Father's will. Jesus said we must deny the flesh, not indulge it with prayers that continue to feed it...
...I suppose none of us wants to walk the Calvary road as much as we think we do. I am surely no exception. It has always been easier to talk about dying to self than to actually die to self, to talk of obedience than to obey, to talk of crucifying the flesh than to crucify the flesh. So perhaps there will always be the few and the many, and even among the few there will always be the few and the many, and none of us is as committed in our discipleship as we will someday wish we had been. How painful it will be to realize how short we came of living among the true "few," among the likes of Peter and Stephen and Paul and so many of that early generation, as well as those of successive generations who gave their all and took discipleship to the very limits of earthly obedience.
This is an excerpt from the book Make Me Like Jesus by Michael Phillips.