You and I have human will, the divine-ish ability to originate, plan, choose, and act. We inherit this from our heavenly Father, just as we inherit eye color or other characteristics from earthly fathers.
Now, no one takes the phrase, “You have your father’s eyes” to mean that Dad lost his eyeballs when you were born. Everyone understands that your eyes are your own. Similarly, your will (also called heart) is always your own.
Of all God’s gifts to mere mortals, this is the one that most makes us in His image. While we don’t always use our will for good the way God uses His, it’s nevertheless precious to Him and He won’t override it.
For example, I can maim and murder if I choose. I can harbor ill will in my heart and God will give me over to a depraved mind if I insist. When God “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart, He didn’t strip Pharaoh of his will and thus prevent him from cooperating with Moses. Rather, God augmented Pharaoh’s will and Pharaoh dug his own grave.
Why would God allow such a thing?
The answer, I believe, is God’s own heart of love and good will. Love is the steady wish for the loved one’s good, but it lets the loved one choose or reject it. Love doesn’t insist, doesn’t manipulate, doesn’t threaten. It does, however, present options and warn of consequences.
God’s heart chooses to love us. He reveals that will to us, gives plenty of information about it, and wants us to use our own wills to choose the same thing. Whenever options are presented and even painful mistakes allowed, a selfless kind of love is at work.
I suppose this is what makes love so long-suffering—bible-speak for patient. God’s love is rich enough to afford risking His own pain and ours to get the fullest, purest human development possible in the long run. That’s gutsy. And talk about strength!
Human will doesn’t have that strength on its own.
A Teachable Spirit
Left to itself apart from God, human will is torn, fearful, prideful, and confused. We fight not only with one another, but within ourselves because chaotic thoughts and feelings run amok. We can be overwhelmed by a spirit of shame and self-rejection on the one hand, arrogance and self-worship on the other.
Both conditions manipulate us into manipulating others. Like small tyrants trying to act big, I think we impose our ways on them because, for many reasons, we can’t always afford good will. We’re simply too random and rattled to love them. This is the lost, divided heart and the ruin of sin and double-mindedness.
Repressing or “compartmentalizing” feelings is a good way to maintain this divided heart. By definition, it’s un-whole and conflicted. So transformation isn’t about relying on willpower to ignore destructive emotional habits like anger, fear, or lust. Nor is it a good idea to dwell on them and conclude you’re worthless. Yet you do need to think about them to identify and address them.
Your best assets for transformation into Christ-likeness are an inquiring mind and teachable spirit. Jesus’ strategy is to fill with noble, excellent thoughts that settle into the heart as noble character. Whatever you dwell on dwells in you, and a good heart is full of good will that can’t help spill over to others. There’s nowhere else for it to go.
Practice: Treasuring the Precious
Reflect on Jesus’ heart. What is it about his character that lets him happily live among sinners, even now? Is there anything more intelligent, classy, and relaxed than that? How does his kind of Spirit get into, then flow from, ordinary people who end up doing extraordinary things in the course of ordinary life?
Intense curiosity and fascination with divine qualities energizes inspiration. Jesus, the Great Psychologist, calls this treasuring, for “where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.” (Mat. 6:21, Luk. 12:32)
Another boost is to cherish your purpose: to safely rule and serve creation in partnership with God, under His direction and grace. A robust vision of what He designed you to do brings everyday action right into the kingdom of heaven “at hand.”
So anything from raising a Godly family, to helping a classmate with studies, to running a business qualifies as ruling and serving. The most common circumstances feel special once you know you can use them to practice and uniquely contribute to God’s beauty and good.
From there, you can move toward surrender to God’s ways, not as something you must do or ought to do, but as an option you want to do for your own well-being. That’s the turning point because it’s internalized rather than an external imposition. Once it’s of your own free will, it’s straight from the heart. And God will augment it.
Consider that the epic battle between good and evil is really the battle between good will and ill will. Success comes not by draining yourself, but by filling, like gushing streams of living water (Jhn. 7:38). This is the start of an undivided heart and single-minded devotion to God’s cause, which has become your cause.
Exercising your will doesn’t have to trigger some awful dread that your very existence is wrong. Sure, you’ll make mistakes. But now you can quietly smile at the insistent accusation that your will always opposes God and somehow robs Him of His eyeballs.