My decision to become a Christian did not come easily or quickly. I was self-willed, and by its very nature, self-will refuses to let go of what it wants. Of course, there were plenty of hypocrites in our community for me to justify my rejection of Jesus as my Lord and Savior. But at the root of it all was one simple truth: I longed for the benefits that Christianity had to offer, but I also wanted what I wanted.
Many years later, I had a friendly conversation about the Christian faith with an older woman from our community. She was thoroughly engaged in the discussion until I began to talk about the importance of surrendering our self-will to the Lord. Looking as though she had just discovered the price of an extravagant meal, that kind woman politely ended the conversation and went on her way.
Self-will in Disguise
Appearances can be deceiving. Beneath the surface of a a very “nice” exterior can reside a bastion of self-willed stubbornness. This powerful quest for self-sovereignty leaves us at odds with our Creator. For His part, the Lord will never climb off His throne to accommodate our wishes or demands—no matter how strongly they are expressed.
Perhaps an even greater danger than self-willed stubbornness is that we seek to fulfill our own agendas under the guise of doing His will. I am reminded of the Old Testament story of Nadab and Abihu—two priests who were also the sons of the first high priest, Aaron:
Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his own firepan, put fire in it, placed incense on it, and presented unauthorized fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them to do. Then fire came from the Lord and burned them to death before the Lord. Leviticus 10:1-2 (HCSB)
Wow! That that was a rather extreme judgment rendered upon Nadab and Abihu. What was their great transgression? They choose to ignore God’s direct commands and offer their own version of what we now call “Judaism.” The Lord’s displeasure was evident.
It is rare, in our age of grace, for God to immediately strike a person dead, but that does not mean that judgment will never come. And while we as Christians have been freed from the burdensome requirements of the Mosaic law, we do not have free reign to design our own version of religious faith without suffering the consequences of doing so.
Natural Thinking Is Our Problem
It is at this point that Christian thought diverges from our natural human mindsets. If I give up what I want, I think that I will lose out. As a result, so many of our species are angry little gods who go ballistic when the world refuses to bow to their whims.
Our limited perspective fails to account for God’s innate goodness. He does not call us to a full surrender to derive some kind of twisted pleasure from our pain; He calls us to full surrender so that we can align with His design and receive His blessings in fuller measure. In essence, we give up what we think we want to get what we really want.
Like a nurse preparing you for a shot, I wish that I could tell you that surrendering your self-will will be quick and painless. Unfortunately, the opposite is true:
Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. What is a man benefited if he gains the whole world, yet loses or forfeits himself? Luke 9:23-25 (HCSB)
What was Jesus saying? There are times when living a life surrendered to God can feel like an excruciating death. But a resurrection of true life cannot come without there being a crucifixion of the self-will. By its very nature, this is how the spiritual life functions.
If we want the blessings of joy and peace that are innate to God’s kingdom, we must align ourselves with His simple design: faith expressing itself through love.
Love, in God’s context, cannot be self-willed. Instead, it involves surrendering our desires, and even all that we are, to fulfill His good purposes. The rich blessings of His kingdom will then follow.
Do you truly want to live a blessed life, or do you just want what you want? Are you seeking divine wisdom to bring His kingdom to bear in your life, your family, your church, and your community? Or are you building your own self-willed kingdom under a Nadab-Abihu guise—adorning yourself with outward religious vestments but doing things your own way?
God’s River of Peace
I do not intend to be harsh, but if we truly want to experience God’s rest, we must live according to His design. One of the most painful rest-related statements in the Bible comes from the prophetic book of Isaiah: “There is no peace for the wicked.” Isaiah 48:22a (HCSB)
The context of this passage centers on choosing to do our own rather than His:
If only you had paid attention to My commands. Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea. Isaiah 48:18 (HCSB)
Do you know what I do not want? I do not want the Lord to ever say to me, “Have Your way and go do as you will, and I will go Mine.” I do not want to die holding onto my self-will, while having lost all that truly matters.
And trust me, independence from the Sustainer of Life is the very last thing that any of us truly wants. The river of heaven’s peace flows only as we surrender all that we have to His good will.
*Bob Santos has authored several books, and this post is drawn from an upcoming work titled The Search for Rest.