In order to start something one has to choose to start it, and in order to continue doing something one has to choose to continue it. I know this sounds rather elemental, and so it is a fairly obvious observation. But I venture into these waters for a purpose. There is a fundamental stumbling block for many Christians as they attempt to walk out God’s purpose with their lives; they ‘choose’ to do it. I’d like to make the argument here that choice is not dependent upon, nor advantageous to the most important factor of man’s successful journey to God; willingness.
Choice can be made from humble reason, but choice need not entail humility. In fact, choice is at its very best when issued from a boundless source of pride. Willingness, on the other hand, cannot exist in conjunction with pride. Willingness is that recurring characteristic of many Saints we look to for God’s wisdom and teachings; though there were those who came to serve God without willingness in their hearts. Moses would be one good example. Isaiah, on the other hand, is all too ready to serve the Lord without considering choice. While choice appears to be our conscious nature at work, willingness appears to precede that of the conscious nature and lie somewhere in the spiritual relationship we have with God. I can think of no better scripture to illustrate this than in the Book of Luke.
Then Mary said, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
In a society where we are pressured to have an opinion on matters of the moment, and at an age far too young to be absolute of anything, pride intervenes and we quickly offer up our accomplishments, assessments and umbrages; all to fend off that shadowy feeling that we do not quite fit in, or measure up to the social order that we walk in. We weave ourselves through everyday discussions and activities with little reflection upon the solitary nature by which we identify ourselves. But did God create us to be singular; to be alone? Hardly. God created man to be with other men, in good communion, and to shepherd the world as one body. Willingness is the salt that enriches the journey and draws others to God’s light.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
Jesus, likewise, speaks to this matter and calls us to something much greater than ourselves.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
We, however, tend to first look to the self, and then look outward to others. In so doing we set a comparison that quickly converts fellowship to one-upmanship, as we hope to justify the self. It shows itself in all forms. Books have been written upon the subject of body language; clearly noting the unconscious nature of our self-concern. Debate classes stress the import of carefully-crafted argument that demoralizes the adversary, while strengthening one’s own proposition. Sports promote domination and intimidation on the field of play. Politics around the world has become a parry and lunge activity that seeks truth from the blood drawn. And just try to drive down the street without either viewing some pantomimed fisticuffs or being part of one yourself. We all wish to stand on the top of the rock we call foundation, but what if your rock is covered twenty feet deep with donkey dung? It’s not only a poor foundation, it’s very slippery.
It is the assumption of our self into the structure of our society. Our self enters not naked, but clothed with our entire wardrobe, and we cannot seem to resist sharing it with everyone there. Sounds good when using the word “sharing” and it is, but it can also be quite destructive when pride manipulates discourse and activity to please (‘protect’ as many would note) the self.
The image of Jesus, the Lamb, is a powerful representation of innocence, humility and willingness. The lamb is sheltered by its mother, but so exposed to the world and its judgment. The lamb is nurtured by its mother, but forsaken by the world and its greed. Luke quotes Jesus in chapter 10,
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”
It can be most difficult to be one of the laborers that Jesus talks about. We are called to so many responsibilities and pressures that seem to take precedence in our lives; converse to the advice that Jesus offers when He continues to speak in Luke, chapter 10,
“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
Jesus paints a simple picture that seems to elude the many among us. Perhaps it is because we seek an offense to the purpose that God has tasked us to, and a defense to what obstructs our way. We set a time table and a goal, with points of measure by which we assess our work. Perhaps we would find things easier if we set no offense, no defense, no time table, no goal, or points of measure. Perhaps if we simply disarmed; as a lamb. This is where willingness comes in.
The morning of the 13th of January, 2009, I would have had a simple choice before me. I could accept what had taken place a few hours earlier; God’s direct intervention into my life and move forward, or I could reject His calling and stay where I had been up to that moment. Now that ‘choice’ was on the worldly level of human action. I had the choice to do one or the other. But that choice was neither considered nor executed that morning. Instead, something else took over.
In willingness there is disarming of all things temporal and corporeal for the greater good of the spirit within and God’s transcendence through all that you are. In my case, it is as I said in my previous post, God’s Work and My Work, “I believe myself to have no free will.” Well I did, in fact have free well. I could be totally foolish. I could deny the facts. I could act as Scrooge and suggest that it was all but a bit of undigested sausage that brought me to such an encounter. But I did not.
Willingness is the simplest of actions. It’s basically inaction; let not one’s assumptive norms override the experience to be had. Send assessment and prejudice on holiday, and permit what takes place to work itself out without constraint.
And so that morning in question, I found myself willing to Kim’s suggestion that I attend church this coming Sunday. I found myself willing at the suggestion of the Holy Spirit that I go to receive Christ when Pastor Grant made his altar call. I found myself willing to attend a class on the Introduction of the Bible. I found myself willing to attend the New Hope School of Ministries for the next two years. And much to my own chagrin, I found myself willing to stand in my Church Government class and experience another student minister to my spirit with prayer for a good twenty minutes, along with the rest of the class doing the same to one another. I admit, I did wonder on that one.
Willingness is not choice. That’s another building stone for my thoughts on free will. It seems that Jesus calls us to put aside our free will for that of the Father’s will, and He suggests we do it through willingness. My wife, Kathryn found herself willing to the path she saw me begin to walk upon, and she began to walk it herself. Being willing is to heed and take comfort in God’s call upon us; it is to bathe in God’s grace and love, and to come away cleansed of desire.
1 John 1:6-7
If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
As I noted at the beginning of this post, willingness appears to precede choice and free will. I may venture further and say that willingness is our unity with Christ that God created when He created man; it is that God-given quality that propels our own redemption through God’s intervention and Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. Be willing. “Do not be afraid”, and all things will happen for the good.
My journey thus far, has been one driven by my willingness to what God has in store for me and to treasure the measure He has gifted me. I have adopted the concept of not filling in the blanks until God wishes me to do so; to not take on authority where He has not decreed. Knowledge is transitional; never complete, so I should not speak with authority, but rather with wisdom. If one’s wisdom is short, then don’t speak at all. Man’s word is seed for ravens. God’s Word is seed for fertile ground.
God Bless and Love