In the previous article we began a discussion of the role of willpower in a Christ follower.Living a life that glorifies God is far less about willpower than most people have been conditioned to believe. Trading our will for the Well takes a lifetime of commitment to the process of transformation of our inner person. Therefore, a “deeper” look into the topic here in Part Two seems warranted (pun intended).
Understanding the difference between willfulness and willingness helps in understanding how it can be so difficult to drink from Christ’s well instead of trying to create our own. Psychiatrist and author Gerald May, MD in chapter one of a book called Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology writes,
“Willingness and willfulness cannot be explained in a few words, for they are very subtle qualities, often overlapping and very easily confused with each other. But we can begin by saying that willingness implies a surrendering of one’s self-separateness, an entering-into, an immersion in the deepest processes of life itself. It is a realization that one already is a part of some ultimate cosmic process and it is a commitment to participation in that process. In contrast, willfulness is the setting of oneself apart from the fundamental essence of life in an attempt to master, direct, control, or otherwise manipulate existence. More simply, willingness is saying yes to the mystery of being alive in each moment. Willfulness is saying no, or perhaps more commonly, “Yes, but ...”
It is obvious that we cannot say yes to everything we encounter; many specific things and situations in life are terribly destructive and must be resisted. But willingness and willfulness do not apply to specific things or situations. They reflect instead the underlying attitude one has toward the wonder of life itself. Willingness notices this wonder and bows in some kind of reverence to it. Willfulness forgets it, ignores it, or at its worst, actively tries to destroy it. Thus willingness can sometimes seem very active and assertive, even aggressive. And willfulness can appear in the guise of passivity.”
When we say “yes” to God (by believing in Jesus as our Savior), we take a first drink from the well of salvation. The sacrifice that Jesus made is enough. By spilling his blood on the cross, the provision for forgiveness of sin is completely taken care of. Our willingness to accept this provision is demonstrated by confessing, repenting, and accepting the free gift of forgiveness. Willingness to surrender delivers us from the slavery of willfulness.
We give up mastery for mystery. We begin a journey of self-surrender to relinquish self-will, self-determination, self-sufficiency, and any other part of “self” in opposition to the rule of God. Our journey is like traveling on a two rail train track. We root out and let go of willfulness as it comes to light, and we cling to willingness to be transformed into the image of Jesus for more useful service and meaning in life.
Peaking further into the psychological realm discussed in the previous article, we find two parts that seem to battle at times. The psycho-somatic is the part of our soul most connected to our physical body. It manifests with physical sensations, thoughts, and feelings centered around the body. The psycho-spiritual is the part of our soul most connected with our personal spirit. It is far less sensory and more intuitive as it is centered around the spirit. When we believe in Jesus, and begin drinking from the well of “living water” as Jesus called it, the source of our life becomes more psycho-spiritual (spirit oriented) and less psycho-somatic (body oriented). The spirit part of our being becomes more and more dominant. This is a key characteristic of the transformation of the inner man.
The Holy Spirit is the well we are tapping into. The Holy Spirit becomes a greater and greater influencer of our whole being. As our willingness to surrender our soul to the Holy Spirit increases, our soul becomes more and more infused by the Holy Spirit. As our soul is filled more by the Holy Spirit, there is less space for the body-centered activity to operate. It’s like clean water being continuously poured into a pitcher of contaminated water. Under a spigot (or fountain) of fresh clean water, the dirt (and dirty water) will eventually all spill out and be washed away as it is replaced by the clean. Willfulness is woefully inadequate to accomplish this transformation in our lives. We need the fresh fountain of the Holy Spirit rejuvenating our lives on a continual basis pouring the cleanness into our being.
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be disciple-makers. Staying connected to the well (fountain) gives empowerment for pouring out to others. The Bible says, “Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ (John 7:37-38). This is not only good news for our own soul, but every soul we come in contact with. God pours into us so we can pour into others. The truth is, we have nothing to give to others of redeeming value, that we have not first received from God. Our willful accomplishments have human limits, but willing surrender produces fruit beyond measure.
This is illustrated clearly by one of Christ’s disciples, Peter. On the last night before his crucifixion, while in his earthly body, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. As John 13 records, Peter willfully resisted this physical and spiritual interaction with Jesus (see John 13:5-8). After Peter said “never shall you wash my feet,” Jesus answered, ““If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter *said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head” (John 13:8-9). Peter’s willfulness changed to willingness and demonstrated true discipleship. Jesus said to the disciples, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:14-15). Jesus was about to leave the earth, and for his message to be carried on, he needed his disciples to teach and do as he taught and did.
In these intimate moments at the “last supper” (as it is called) Jesus revealed to his closest 12 disciples that one among them is a betrayer. It soon became apparent that Judas was the one whose willfulness won out over willingness. Even one of Christ’s closest disciples lost the battle within. Nevertheless, to the other eleven Jesus also used this opportunity to explain the foot washing ceremony in more detail. He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). As Jesus was surrendered to His Father’s will, he is so commanding his disciples to do likewise. The way surrender is expressed is through love. Love demonstrates a willing heart. Love keeps the cycle of disciple making going.
Forgiveness is one of the primary ways to express love. In other articles I discuss what Jesus means when he says “forgive from the heart” in Matthew 18 (see article Forgiveness http://authoredhersh.blogspot.com/2014/01/forgiveness.html).
Forgiveness is one of the most practical examples of the need for practicing well power over willpower. Surrendering to God the ultimate rights of judgment requires a spiritual transaction that willpower cannot produce. Forgiveness is more than a willful decision. It is a decision to cooperate with God’s means of justice and mercy. But the part of forgiving that requires surrender has to come through spiritual transformation and willingness to trust God to be the rightful Judge in any and every situation. Deciding to forgive is incomplete without following through to receive and carry out God’s direction on how to show his love to the offender. I can speak from hard learned lessons that showing love to an offender takes great well power.
We may think willpower is enough for a season, but sooner or later an offense becomes so big that we discover our need for a deeper well than we can ever will to dig on our own.
One caution is not to equate or confuse our spiritual condition with so-called spiritual disciplines. Engaging in activity that attaches the word “discipline” to Bible reading, meditation, or prayer does not automatically (willfully) translate to transformation of the heart. I don’t mean to minimize the importance of practicing self-discipline (especially in these practices), but the enormity of our need for divine intervention requires discipleship (following after Christ), not discipline (self-determined followership).
Relating to God as all three in One, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, requires more than exercising the parts of our being over which we have direct control. It is impossible for a human in one lifetime to experience everything about God there is to experience. But what gives purpose and meaning in each day he gives us to live on this earth, is to experience as much of God’s nature and character as we possibly can. The Bible further clarifies what it means to “drink from the well” of salvation when Jesus said, “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). God is not a concept to be understood. God is a person to be known and be known by.
To practice greater well power, here are some questions to ask ourselves. To what degree overall might I be relying on will over well? What specific areas of my life? What might I need to surrender to show willingness to engage the process to transform from willpower to well power? Do I need more well power to forgive (a person, group, or situation)? How might I be a more devoted worshiper in spirit and truth? Is there something(s) in my life I need to give up that is in the way of gaining access to God (the Well)? What is the next step I need to take in surrendering it to God?
May all who are thirsty have their thirst quenched at the Well of Christ Jesus the Lord.
by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry