February 14, 2008

Will Power or Won’t Power?

A young woman I know has a theory. She says that people who want to lose weight and cannot do it, are simply not motivated. They may genuinely want a svelte shape, but they also like eating, and that desire is stronger than the one to get thin so they will never be what they say they want to be.

As a child of God, I struggle with how much my will power (or won’t power) has to do with controlling my behavior. I’m very aware of having a fleshy old nature that wants to control everything and a spiritual nature that yields to the will and control of the Holy Spirit. On the outside, it might appear that I am making the choices and carrying out the decisions, but when the Spirit is in control, it isn’t the same as when the flesh has taken charge.

My devotional reading today is about doubt. The author says that there is only one way to put an end to a wavering faith. She says to simply “give it up,” that wavering is caused by doubting and if you give up doubting, your wavering will stop. She adds, “The whole matter is as simple as day and night; and the choice is in your own hands” then says, “You must treat the temptation to doubt exactly as an alcoholic must treat the temptation to drink: you must take a pledge against it.”

I’m thinking this author has not personally experienced alcoholism or been close to those who do. Simply deciding to quit does not work. An alcoholic cannot keep such a pledge, just as a person who overeats cannot simply decide to stop. There is more to it than a decision of the will. Behind this indulgence are lifetime experiences and attitudes that contribute to the problem. These do not change simply by changing the outward behavior, and for that reason, the problem recurs.

The reasons for over indulging in food and drink are far too complex for my mind to unravel. However, the Bible offers a bit of a surprise in overcoming these or any other out-workings in a life controlled by the fleshy nature. The first one, whatever the indulgence might be, is recognizing that it is selfish, sinful and against the will of God—and saying so. God considers my body a “temple of the Holy Spirit” and I am responsible for taking good care of it. So quit making excuses, like I overeat because I am very tired or I need that big gob of chocolate because it makes me feel good when I’m so discouraged.

Second, go deeper. Ask myself why I’m avoiding God’s solution to these things. He says if I give my life to Him, He will work in me “both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). He gives me the resources to live above my sinful desires. Why am I not using them? (Note: I realize that those without Christ do not have the same resources, and can rely only on their own will / won’t power, so may or may not be able to stop indulging.)

Resisting the resources of God is a form of wavering and doubt. When I don’t rely on Him, it is sometimes habit, or sometimes me thinking that I know better, but mostly me evaluating my situation without His input and coming up with a solution that is also without His input, like the overeating / chocolate thing.

As I read this devotional about wavering, I think of James 1:2-8, which makes an interesting connection between the wavering of doubt and a general perspective on the issues of life:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”
Here the problem of doubt and wavering is clear; such unstable faith is connected to a failure to recognize the sovereign purposes of God. He says all my trials are faith-builders. When seen that way, I will meet them head-on, looking to God to get me through. But if I see trials as random interruptions to the comfort I thought God was going to give me, my faith will waver.

How about applying this to the problems of self-indulgence? Is not overeating or, in the case of the alcoholic, drinking too much, a human attempt to solve a perceived problem? Are not all addictions or compulsions a way of coping with seems to be a bad thing, a trial?

I’m thinking of a lady who shared that she has problems with indulgence because she was abused in her youth. She does realize God is sovereign for she struggles to understand why He allowed the abuse to happen. She may never be able to “count it all joy” (I know, in some cases that seems like a cruel command), yet she is beginning to see that she would not rely on God at all if it were not for the abuse she has experienced. She hasn’t yet made that connection to the indulgences, but I’m sure she will.

I’m like that too. In my pride and sinful desire to ‘do it my way’ I will live in the power of the flesh—until something comes along that is too much for me and my will / won’t power cannot overcome it. Instead of trusting God up front, I wait until I’m at the end of my rope before I pray and admit my helplessness.

This too is a form of wavering and doubt. It is not overcome by the will (my apologies to the devotional writer; I do not agree with her), but by confession and faith. God put these problems in my life to test and stretch my faith, not to destroy me or make me grit my teeth and be determined.

He wants me to see that He is in all that happens, and He will carry me through all trials, big and small. He wants me to realize that I can safely say, “Not my will but Thine be done” because I agree that my will is insufficient. When I waver in trials, I can live in the power of the Holy Spirit rather than in the power of my wilful flesh because God is more than enough.

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