Will power does not change men. Time does not change men. Christ does. (Henry Drummond)
Will power is often thought of as a virtue, an asset, and therefore something to be commended and cultivated. It is usually equated with determination, tenacity and self-discipline. A person with will power can be single-minded in their pursuit of a goal, not stopping until it is reached, regardless of the personal cost to him or herself. Our culture applauds this kind of behavior.
I used to be proud of my ability to fasten onto a goal and accomplish it – often beating the deadline for completion, even when it meant finishing all the work myself. I thought such determination was serving me (and God) well until one day, about nine years ago, I woke up to the fact that I had lost a sense of the Lord’s presence in my life. The irony in this is that all my self-discipline and hard work, which I thought was of such use to God, had only served to push him out of my life.
Yet, for the faithful Christian, it would seem that will power has an important function in life. After all, isn’t will power needed when one is trying to resist the temptation to do something unlawful or unhealthy? Can’t will power be a useful resource to draw upon when difficult or tedious work must be completed – especially if it will benefit one’s family or church?
The answer to both of these questions is a resounding, “No!” The exercise of will power is not really something that is noble or sacrificial. Instead, it is a self-centered and prideful act. The apostle Paul refers to it as “will-worship.” (See Colossians 2:23 ASV) It is
designed (often unconsciously) to call attention to the one who displays it. Therefore, the focus is not so much on the work that is done or the cause for which the sacrifice is made but on the person who is making the sacrifice through their determined (and often intransigent) efforts. Such a person is hungry for praise and gratitude. He or she needs to feel like a “hero.” This is what I had to come to terms with in my life.
The problem with will power is that it is completely under our own direction, even though we may tell ourselves our effort is all for God’s benefit. Will power is something exercised apart from God. The “power” we use proceeds solely from our unaided judgment which, as I’ve described in the two previous posts, is corrupted by sin. As fallen creatures our point of view is always self-centered. Therefore our will, unless surrendered to Christ, is fallen. So the more will power we exert the greater our resistance to Christ.
This is why, in facing temptation, will power is of no use. While we may be able to find it within ourselves to resist something that is not good for us (unhealthy food, substances, or relationships, for example) we’ve relied on our own judgment and strength to do so. So we end up resisting one temptation by giving in to another – pride. Will power always comes down to pride – turning away from God and relying upon our own strength.
It is not a sign of weakness or laziness to rely solely upon the Lord when facing temptation or trials (or something we’d rather not do). Instead, it is an exercise in faithfulness. When we rely upon the Lord, instead of our own determination and tenacity, we are submitting our will, our perceptions, and our pride to him and allowing him to direct us as he know best. We are admitting we may not be able see and judge things clearly because of our sinfulness. Instead, we are rightly relying upon his grace to direct our thoughts and actions because our unassisted efforts will only feed our own unconscious and unhealthy needs. By surrendering our will to the Lord we avoid such traps. We call attention to him, as we should, and not pridefully to ourselves.
So many times in my life I’ve fallen for the line, “If you don’t do it, it won’t get done.” (Or, it won’t get done right.) More often than not that statement is generated from somewhere within me and doesn’t come from the mouth of someone else. And I’ve gone ahead and done the work, or accepted the assignment, or completed the project myself – responding out of guilt or pride. But I’ve learned the importance of allowing the Lord to assess my motives and now, more often than not, I wait for his answer as to whether I should proceed. If this means the work doesn’t get done – or done right – then so be it. It’s not my role to be the savior. I’m called, instead, to be the servant of the Lord.
All hard work, when prompted and directed by Jesus, is good and appropriate to do. We can safely put all of our effort and diligence into what he calls us to do as long as we continue to listen to him. When we surrender our will, instead of clamping down on it, we will gain strength from the Lord – and God’s strength will far surpass anything we could harness on our own. The apostle, Paul, affirms this in his letter to the Ephesians, where he writes that [God’s] power, at work within us, can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (3:20). Therefore, it is only in will-surrender that we administer power faithfully and effectively.
Why losing control always involves death and resurrection. The difference between will power and disciplined effort.