God has given man a free will, much like His own. Our free will is the most important element of our make-up, because within that will lies the power to choose: to choose to follow what God desires us to do or follow what our own thoughts and emotions are telling us.
This is the subject at hand and what we have begun to explore over the past couple of months. It's a critical topic because our will is the master of all of our faculties and upon it everything else depends. Our will controls our reason, our intellect, our emotions and all our abilities. In other words, our will is the "gateway" through which all things must pass and the bridge over which our faith must travel.
Now, the reason our will is so very important to God is that our will - our choice - is what allows Him to accomplish His will through us. Now, of course, God can do as He pleases; however, in order for Him to use us as He desires, we must cooperate with Him. God has not set Himself up as our Divine Dictator, but rather as our loving Discipler, and thus He has given us the free choice to either follow Him and do as He asks or deny Him and do as we please. This is a choice we must make not once a day, but constantly all day long. In other words, the Lord wants us to render back to Him that which we have so long claimed as our own - namely, our own will.
Life, therefore, is really just a series of ongoing choices. For the non-believer, it's a daily choice between good and evil; for the believer, it's a moment-by-moment choice to either follow the Lord and say, like Jesus, "Not my will, but Thine" (Matthew 26:39), or to follow what we want, think and feel.
An Example: It's Worth a Million Dollars
We all have many examples in our own lives of the consequences of these two kinds of choices. Here's a classic situation I was faced with many years ago:
I had been praying that God would make me a more supportive wife for Chuck in his business. Now, that's an easy commitment to make in the prayer closet, but quite another thing to trust God to do it in my actions. God, therefore, gave me a perfect opportunity to see what I would choose.
At this particular time, I was teaching The Way of Agape. Tammy, a friend of mine, volunteered to watch 10-year-old Michelle for me on my teaching days. One day Tammy decided to take all the kids to the beach. My Michelle is very fair, and on that particular day Tammy forgot to bring sun screen. When I picked Michelle up that night, she was "burnt to a crisp."
The following afternoon she seemed better, so I decided to take a chance and go grocery shopping. Michelle acted fine until my cart was completely filled, and then she began to lean over the front of the grocery cart, moaning and groaning about her sunburn. I needed the groceries desperately, so I decided to gamble and see if I could check out quickly! Well, as you know, whenever you're in a hurry, it always ends up taking forever.
We got up to the check-out stands and there were at least five people in every line. Michelle, by this time, was leaning over the front of the cart, crying softly. People began to stare at us. I'm sure some of them thought I must be beating her because they couldn't actually see her sunburn. Terribly flustered and embarrassed, I felt like leaving the groceries and running out of the store, but I really needed the milk and butter that were at the bottom of the cart so I stayed.
Finally getting through the line and out of the store, we flew home. As I was driving, I was thinking to myself, "I can't wait to get home, put Michelle to bed, wash my filthy hair, get comfortable, put my feet up, and read all evening." It was nearly 4:30 P.M. and I was totally bushed!
When we got to our street, a detour sign had been posted because the road had been dug up for repairs while we were gone. Now, that detour was two miles out of my way and poor Michelle was still whining in the back seat. By the time I finally got home, I was absolutely frazzled.
As I was carrying the first grocery bags down the steps with Michelle on my arm, I could hear the phone ringing. I dropped the bags, fumbled for my keys, and finally reached the phone on the ninth ring. It was Chuck's secretary, and she seemed frantic. "Nancy, where have you been? We almost sent the police after you!"
With that, Chuck got on the phone and said, "Honey, don't say a word, just quickly get dressed in your fanciest outfit. We are being driven by a chauffeur up to Scandia, a fancy restaurant in Los Angeles, and it could be worth a million dollars to the company. But you need to be here by 5 PM sharp!" With that, he hung up! I looked at the clock. It was now twenty minutes to five!
CHOICE POINT: Emotional choice or faith choice? Which way am I going to choose? Emotional choice would have me scream, stamp my feet, call him back and declare, "I'm sorry, but there's just no way in the entire world that I can do it! I'm a mess; Michelle's a mess; groceries are still in the car; dinner's not made, etc., etc.!" Or, am I going to make a faith choice and choose what I know to be God's Will by simply trusting Him to get me ready, to take care of the kids and get there on time?
Lisa had come home by that time and had heard all the commotion. I took Michelle and Lisa by the hands and said, "We really need to pray for Mommie." In that prayer, I told God it was totally impossible to do what Chuck had just asked. It was now a quarter to five. His office was at least 10 minutes away, even without the rush hour traffic. Nevertheless, I told God I was willing to do whatever He wanted me to.
With that, little Michelle said, "Mommie, don't worry about me, I'll just go lie down and rest." Michelle had never before offered to lay down on her own! Lisa then chimed in, "Mom, don't worry about the food. I'll bring in the groceries and fix dinner for the two of us." Up until this time, Lisa had never offered to bring in groceries or to make dinner. This was a first! It was an absolute miracle!
That left me free to concentrate on me. I flew upstairs, called Grandma to baby-sit, took a one-minute shower, did what I could with my wild hair, got dressed, and would you believe I made it to Chuck's office by five past five, rush-hour traffic and all.
We didn't get the contract, but I'll tell you, Chuck sure noticed and appreciated my supportiveness. And I experienced God's faithfulness to perform His Life through me, regardless of my own emotions.
Our Free Choice
The Christian life is not determined by our circumstances, our church attendance, our social standing, our finances or even our belief systems, but by the daily choices we make.
Sin isn't birthed in our mind or in our body; it's begun within our will! God has given us a fearful and awesome responsibility with our "free will," because what we choose determines the degree of our sanctification. Faith choices allow God's Life from our hearts to flow out into our lives and bring us closer to reflecting Christ's image; whereas, emotional choices quench God's Life, block it from coming forth and prolong the sanctification process.
Scripture tells us that when we are "born again" we not only receive a new spirit and a new heart, but we also receive a new supernatural willpower. This new willpower is not only God's authority enabling us to choose His will over our own, but also His power to carry out and perform that will in our lives, just like the example above. As Philippians 2:13 says, "For it is God Which worketh in you both to will and to do, of His good pleasure." In other words, our new willpower gives us the authority and power of God to "go against the tide"- to choose to set ourselves aside and follow Him, regardless of how we feel, what we want or what we think. Thus, our free choice is really the critical crossroads of our lives.
The Greek word for this "free choice" decision is exousia which means "it is permitted." Exousia means we are permitted to choose something we don't feel. It means we have the authority or the word of the person in charge (which, of course, is God), and we also have His power and His ability to make that choice happen in our lives. What this is saying is that as Christians, we have the delegated authority and power of God to choose to "relinquish ourselves" and do what He wants (exousia), or, to choose to "hold on to ourselves" and do what we please (what we feel and want).
Jesus states in John 10:17-18, "Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power [exousia] to lay it down, and I have power [exousia] to take it again."
So God is the one who gives us the supernatural power to override our own negative thoughts and feelings [i.e., to "forbid self"], and to say, like Jesus, "Not my will [my own emotional desires], but Thine." (Matthew 26:39) In other words, God enables us to "go against the tide."
I call these kind of choices faith choices, non-feeling choices or contrary choices. They are contrary choices because they are contrary to how we naturally feel, what we think and what we want, but nevertheless, they are valid because God has given us the authority and the power to make them. 1 Corinthians 7:37 validates that in Christ we have "...power [authority] over [our] own will...."
Thus, we can be honest with the Lord and say: "I really don't like this person. I don't want to forgive him. I don't want to love him. He's not my friend!" But, "Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine." In other words, "I choose to do what You want me to, regardless of how I feel, what I think or what I want." I also am confident that You will change my feelings to align with that choice in Your timing and perform Your will in my life.
[One important thing to keep in mind: the deeper the wound (i.e., the longer that arrow - that hurt - has been in us), the longer it seems to take for our feelings to align with our choices. For further study and more Scriptural references of this material, please see the book Way of Agape, Chapter 12.]
What's so incredible about making these kinds of contrary choices is that God does, in His timing and in His Way, not only change our negative thoughts and emotions to align with what we have chosen, but He also restores our joy. In other words, if we are willing to make the right choices, He will give us the Love, the wisdom and the power we need to go on as if nothing has ever happened.
An Example: Mother-in-Law Troubles
A perfect example: Many years ago, I received a letter from a dear friend of mine, explaining a very difficult situation she'd had with her mother-in-law. Carol explained that if she hadn't known how to make "contrary choices," she could have easily "ended up devastated." This is what she wrote:
"My mother-in-law had come for a two-and-a-half week visit at Christmas time. During this time, the Lord had allowed a number of pressure points to surface in our relationship, pressures that can so easily occur, especially during the busy holiday season. The enemy continually sought to divide us.
"I had been planning to give my husband a special surprise gift for his 50th birthday coming up shortly after the holidays. In order to give him this gift, I needed to trust the Lord for two things: child care for one week for my seven-year-old daughter; and $700, which I did not have. Within one day, the Lord provided the child care.
"The day before Christmas, my mother-in-law asked what I was going to do for my husband's birthday. When I told her about the surprise, she volunteered to pay for half of it. My first response was to decline her generous offer, knowing that she was on a limited income, but since she was insistent, I believed it was the Lord's way of answering my prayer. I was still a bit uneasy about it, however.
"Later that same day, my mother-in-law came to me and said, "Well, when are you going to tell him about his birthday gift?" Now, I had it all planned in my mind how I was going to surprise my husband on his actual birthday. When I told her this, she became very hurt, letting me know that since she was the one who was going to pay for half of it, she should be able to tell her son now, since she would not be here on his birthday.
"Self" screamed inside, "It's not fair! I planned this surprise! I didn't want her money anyway!" But, I knew deep within my spirit, however, that I was to do as she wished. I relinquished my desires to God and asked Him to give me the grace I needed to genuinely give her permission to do as she wanted. It was so exciting - God not only gave me His Words to tell her this, but He also changed my feelings, softened my voice, and filled me with His Love for her.
"I knew God was in this because it was no longer important to me to have "my way." What became preeminent was, "Will I choose to be and do what God wants?"
"Well, she did tell my husband, and she did spoil my surprise, but God did deliver me. He took away my hurt and disappointment, and replaced them with His Love in my heart. We ended up having a great birthday week."
Therefore, the choice to relinquish the negative feelings to God is ours; but the responsibility to change those feelings is God's. The fact is, there's no way we can ever change our feelings by ourselves. God is the One who will be faithful to make us genuine by the time we need to do whatever it is He has asked. In other words, God promises to produce His Love and all the fruit of the Spirit needed in our lives if we simply will make the right choice.
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