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We’ve spent several blog posts talking about the way of the will and how to strengthen the will so it will be able to choose to do what is right, even when it’s hard. I’ve really enjoyed these weeks of addressing your questions and giving practical ideas about disciplining the will and developing willpower.
Today I’d like to focus on a question of a spiritual nature that was sent in by Mariana. Here’s the request:
“I’d love to hear how all this connects with God’s will. ‘Thy will be done.’ “Mariana
I’m so glad you brought that up, Mariana, because Charlotte Mason tied all of her teaching on the will back to God and developing what she called a “heroic” Christian character. Here’s what she said:
“Though a disciplined will is not a necessary condition of the Christian life, it is necessary to the development of the heroic Christian character.”(Home Education, p. 322)
We know that we are saved by grace through faith and not by the works that we do. Becoming a Christ-follower is not dependent on a disciplined will. But there is a distinction between becoming a Christian and becoming a Christian who has heroic character.
In my mind, the heroic Christian character is the one that chooses to do hard things when God calls her to do them. That kind of character makes the tough decision to do what he knows is right even when he may not feel like it. I think of Job (“though He slay me, yet will I praise Him”) and David (“I will set no wicked thing before my eyes”). Especially this time of year, I think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, when she submitted her future dreams to God’s calling on her life and chose to say, “May it be to me according to your word.” And of course, the ultimate picture of submission to God’s will is Jesus, praying in the Garden “not my will, but Yours, be done.”
Those are not easy choices. It’s not always easy to do God’s will, to obey what He has chosen as the way for us to go. Even though we know it is the best way, it can still seem hard. So we strengthen our wills in order that they may be ready to make those tough choices, in order that they will not be a hindrance to our obeying God’s will.
Doing God’s will requires a deliberate choice—actually, many deliberate choices—every day: to abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3), to give thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18), to do good even when you might suffer for it (1 Peter 2:15). Those are not easy decisions.
A weak-willed person is going to struggle when tough choices are required. We see some great examples in the Bible of people who did all they could to train themselves—to exercise their wills—so they would be in the best shape possible, so they would not sabotage the ministry to which God called them. I think of Timothy and how Paul challenged him to think like—and live like—a soldier who endures hardship. A soldier’s life is not an easy life of drifting along, going wherever your emotions takes you. You have to choose to do what’s difficult even when you don’t feel like it.
Paul said that he intentionally disciplined himself, he trained himself, so he would be able to control his fleshly desires and fulfill the ministry to which God had called him: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Keeping your body under control requires strong willpower.
But notice that, in all those instances, the motive of having strong willpower was in order to serve God. Charlotte wrote that we all have two options available when it comes to life: we can choose to serve God or we can choose to serve ourselves. Serving God requires a strong will. Serving ourselves doesn’t require any act of the will at all; we simply give in to the lust of flesh, the lust of eyes, and the boastful pride of life and are carried along by our passions and desires. Here’s how Charlotte put it:
“There are two services open to us all, the service of God, (including that of man) and the service of self. If our aim is just to get on, ‘to do ourselves well,’ to get all possible ease, luxury and pleasure out of our lives, we are serving self and for the service of self no act of will is required. Our appetites and desires are always at hand to spur us into the necessary exertions. But if we serve God and our neighbour, we have to be always on the watch to choose between the ideas that present themselves. ”(A Philosophy of Education, p. 135)
Those who are Christ-followers have the Holy Spirit to help them make those choices, along with reason and conscience. We’ve mentioned before that we can’t depend on conscience and reason alone, for conscience can be faulty and reason can be swayed by desires and emotions. But the Holy Spirit will never steer us wrong. He always aligns with God’s will; He will never endorse an idea that is contrary to the Word of God.
So when that right idea is highlighted, we have only to submit our wills and choose to obey. When we disregard those reminders, we quench the Spirit. When we reject God’s will and choose our own way instead, we grieve the Spirit. But when we recognize the right idea—and we know it is right because it aligns with God’s Word—then we give credit to the Spirit for being our counselor. We don’t take the glory for ourselves. And when we choose to act upon that idea, we acknowledge that the Spirit gives us the strength we need in that situation. So whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we glorify God in our hearts, in our minds, and in our lives.
But a person who has never thought about the will and about ideas presenting themselves and about making deliberate choices between those ideas will struggle. That person will be carried along by selfish appetites and desires and end up relinquishing control to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life.
Yes, God can wonderfully save souls and transform lives; but past choices cannot be undone and consequences from years of bad habits of thinking and behaving won’t just disappear. Years of giving in to earthly passions and desires will form encumbrances that the person will have to deal with as he starts down a new path, seeking to walk with God and to choose His will even when it’s hard.
Charlotte explained that encumbrance that can weigh down a weak-willed person who has by grace started to follow Christ, and she encouraged us to do all we can to help our children avoid that more difficult path.
“All this the divine grace may accomplish in weak unwilling souls, and then they will do what they can; but their power of service is limited by their past. Not so the child of the Christian mother, whose highest desire is to train him for the Christian life. When he wakes to the consciousness of whose he is and whom he serves, she would have him ready for that high service, with every faculty in training––a man of war from his youth; above all, with an effective will, to will and to do of His [God’s] good pleasure.”(Home Education, pp. 322, 323)
We strengthen our wills, and we help our children strengthen their wills, so they will be strong enough to choose God’s will even when it’s hard, even when their emotions and desires pull in a different direction. For a follower of Christ, that is our aim.
Charlotte Mason’s perspective on understanding and strengthening our will, as a Christian, is beautifully summed up in two lines of poetry. You will find them in A Philosophy of Education, page 138, where she quotes Tennyson. These two lines convey the mystery of this part of us that we call the will. We don’t understand everything about it, but what we do understand, we purpose to use in service to God, aligning every choice with His good and perfect will.
“Our wills are ours we know not how;
Our wills are ours to make them Thine.”