Lately I have been reading from Ps 86 and meditating on these words from v. 11:
Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk on your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
I would comment specifically on the evidently passive attitude of the psalmist: he needs to be taught the right way, rather than discovering it for himself or deciding for himself how he should live; he needs to be given an undivided heart, rather than cultivating one for himself. He adopts a posture of complete dependence on God.
Strictly speaking, such an approach simply recognizes the fact that everything whatsoever only exists because it is granted existence by God in every passing moment. This is the essential meaning of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. If God creates out of nothing, then it follows that nothing apart from God has existence of itself; existence is not the “default” state of anything except God; nothing but God can take existence “for granted,” so to speak. And if our very existence is a gift, then everything else — our good qualities, our strength, our talents, etc. — which presupposes our existence also ought to be understood as gifts, ultimately received from God rather than won through personal effort. “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7).
At the same time, it is also true in our own experience that if we do not put forth an effort, if we do not try by ourselves to advance in the spiritual life, whether by praying or reading Scripture or doing good works, then we will never make progress — on the contrary, we become worse. And this effort plainly comes “from us” in most cases, rather than being akin to a wave that sweeps us along. Though there are times in which we find ourselves taken by a wave, they are not all that common, at least not in my own experience.
How to reconcile the two realities? Is everything a gift or do some things come from us, being won by our own effort? If an undivided heart of reverence before God can only come from God, what room is there for human freedom and struggle?
I think there is always a synergistic dynamic in the spiritual life: God gives and the human being responds. The first gift, of course, is existence, but there are also other gifts of God as well: health, strength, talents, ideas, insights, etc. It is up to us, however, to make use of these gifts well and in a way that is pleasing to God. Yet, there are times in the spiritual life when, because of laziness or sin or other factors, we find ourselves lacking the necessary “fuel” to keep going forward. This is especially true after a person commits a mortal sin: her spiritual “energy” and vitality is quenched, she runs out of juice, and can no longer bring herself gladly to read or pray or sing or do good. When we find ourselves in such situations, we realize how much we depend on God, and we ask Him to renew our hearts and newly strengthen us and revive us to perform His work.