February 9, 2008

Exercising my will is not the same as making a choice . . .

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter—it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Writers are told to use precise words, to select exactly the best word for what we want to say. With that in mind, I’ve been wondering if there is a difference between exercising my will and making choices, so checked out my Oxford Dictionary. It appears there is a difference!

Oxford says the will is “the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action, or controls themselves, or deliberately exerts restraint.” This sounds much like a control thing, the part of me that exercises control over what I do or do not do. My will be done!

As for choosing, Oxford says that it is simply “picking out the best of two or more alternatives.” This is not so much about control as it is about examining the options and selecting one of them. God gives me a will so I can make choices, yet making choices is determined by a decision about what is the best option, not by whatever my will might want to control.

Today’s devotional reading from God is Enough begins with, “The will is king in our nature, and what the will decides, all else must submit to and follow. If we shall will to believe, turning resolutely away from every suggestion of doubt, we cannot fail to get the victory in the end.”

I agree that God calls people to decide who and what they obey, but choosing is not the same as my will be done.

For instance, Joshua said, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15).

Joshua presented the people with two options. He told them to decide which one they would serve. Would it be God, or the gods their forefathers worshiped? There were no other options.

The devotional book goes on to say that making the choice to serve God often comes before understanding that it is the best choice. She quotes John 7:17 where Jesus said, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.

However, Jesus is not talking about our doubts being erased by “willing” ourselves to believe. In this passage He is talking to the Jews who doubted the authority of His message. He tells them that if they do the will of God, they will recognize that what He is telling them comes from God, that it is not something He made up. In other words, their decision of my will be done was blinding them to the fact that God was speaking to them through His Son.

For this and other reasons, I’m troubled by the idea of my will being king. As I think about this, many verses come to mind that say otherwise. I have to conclude (again) that my will is not supposed to be pulling my train.

My will was king in my old nature, and certainly tries to rule even now, but Jesus, who I am supposed to follow, didn’t allow His will to rule His nature. He even said, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

Certainly the will of the Son of God is not like my will. In me, my will, emotions and intellect are all tainted with sinful impairment and Jesus had no sin to taint His nature. Yet He still refused to allow His will to be king. Instead, He subjected every part of Him, will included, to the will of His Father.

Jesus made a choice which was not about “my will.” Instead, His decision was based on His options; He could follow His own will (which, had it been me at Gethsemane, would give in to the pressure of reasoning and emotions about an impeding crucifixion), or He could follow the will of His Father and go to the Cross.

I believe that Jesus made His choice based on faith, not on His will. Faith is believing that God is, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). To Jesus, this option was more worthy than giving to His own will, no matter what that may have been. Again, had it been me, I would have called legions of angels to rescue me, but Jesus choose to obey God and He did it by yielding His will, not exercising it.

Perhaps this devotional book was written in an era when faith was considered a leap in the dark, a step into the unknown. She tries to counter this with, “This may seem like stepping off of a precipice into an apparently bottomless abyss. But it is safe to step because God is there and will receive us.”

She has got that right. I can drop my will and choose God because He has revealed to me that He is there for me and no matter how black things look, I can depend on Him. On the other hand, exerting my will always gets me into trouble. I cannot depend on me or it. When faced with that option, I can choose God because He has shown me that He is clearly the better choice, and that He is more than enough.

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