Willing or willful?

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“I’m willing,” I say to God. “I’m willing to write it. But I don’t have words.” I sit with my laptop waiting for the words to come.

A question comes instead. “Are you willing not to write it?”

Huh.

Am I?

The faces of the people I don’t want to disappoint crowd into my mind. The sense of responsibility pulls tighter, tighter, threatening to strangle if I dare try to walk away. I sit with it and ask God about it.

There’s a lot to be said for hard work, perseverance, dependability.

It also has a dark side. “Discipline, spiritual or otherwise,” notes David Benner, “is a good servant but a bad master. It is not the summum bonum—the supreme good. When it is valued in and of itself, the disciplined life easily leads to rigidity and pride.” (Desiring God’s Will, p. 25)

Unless I’m willing to listen to God and either do something or not do it, my actions are willful rather than willing.

David Benner pictures the difference:

“Looked at carefully, willfulness is more against something than for something. My willful self refuses to quit as I seek to push through my writing block or finish lecture preparation even when my spirit is dry and my body is telling me to take a break. A spirit of willingness invites me to pause and turn to God, simply opening to God for a moment, letting God bring perspective and clarity about my need to stop writing for the night or throw out what I’ve started and wait for the gift of a fresh idea. Willfulness, in either circumstance, is my fight against quitting, against attending to my body, against attending to God’s Spirit. The act of willing surrender is a choice of openness, a choice of abandonment of self-determination, a choice of cooperation with God.” (Ibid, p. 23-24)

The summum bonum is God. God’s glory. God’s will—which, as He says over and over through His word, is a lot about bringing us close to live deep in His love.

Willingness calls me to trust that God’s way works—that if I pay attention to the nudges of His Spirit and learn to live in His love, I will bear much fruit (John 15:5). The nature of the fruit and the timing of harvest will be different than my driven attempts to force productivity, but the harvest will come. And it will be good.

And willingness calls me to trust that God loves His people and cares about our well-being. It calls me to trust that, scandalous as it may seem, Jesus really means it when He calls us to come and learn to live gently.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

8 thoughts on “Willing or willful?

  1. momfan says:

    A very helpful distinction. Thanks!

  2. Ay yay yay! This is hard!!!!! Appealing too, but hard, at least for me! Thanks!

  3. Esther Hizsa says:

    So true. Thanks Carolyn. I love how you listen deeply and let God connect the dots. And thanks for passing it on to us.

    • Thanks Esther. It is such a challenge for me to live this! But I’m grateful that God keeps gently showing me the issue in different lights and turning me back to look at Him. And I’m so grateful that Jesus can be trusted, as Karen always prays, to “continue to do [in me] what only Jesus can do.”

  4. Julie Flemming says:

    How timely a topic for us today.

  5. Klara van der Molen says:

    Very wonderful, insightful words that say a lot to me as I become weary in trying to do for the sake of doing. Perhaps this is the season of willingness for me, to see and taste His creativeness rather than to create or do myself what I am unable to do. Impressed by this timely piece of writing for my heart!

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