Willingness Will Result in Growth
Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the LORD and not men” (RSV). In Psalm 51:12, David writes, “Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (RSV) [Italics added.] There is the childlike part within all of us that wants to say, “I can do it on my own.” We typically prefer to do things our way. But true recovery begins when we are willing to do it God’s way. This isn’t easy, but without a willingness to be open to God’s plan, we will limit our growth. It all begins with a willing and open heart.
This is such an obvious law that you might be tempted to skip over it. Don’t! It’s important. A lot of marriages die, a lot of alcoholics and addicts die, and a lot of life missions fail simply because of a lack of willingness. The corollary to this law is equally clear: Without willingness, you either die or kill something. You can either imprison yourself in your futile, self-confident ways of existing, or you can step across the line to initiate healing and growth by being willing to do whatever it takes to change.
Willingness is a mental attitude that helps insure success in recovery from active addiction. This is not always an easy concept to grasp. I’ve often prayed, “God, grant me the willingness to be willing.” Step Three (of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous) says, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Practicing Step Three involves opening a door which is closed and locked. All you need is a key and the decision to swing the door open. There is only one key and that’s the key of willingness. The chapter Into Action in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says, “We have emphasized willingness as being indispensable.” Bill Wilson—co-founder of AA—said, “Belief in the power of God, plus enough willingness, honesty and humility to establish and maintain the new order of things, were the essential requirements.”
The dynamic of willingness applies to breaking every sort of obsession, addiction, or bad habit. It applies to every kind of weakness or addiction we face. Willingness opens the door to new paths that lead to growth. Resistance or stubbornness are signs of foolishness and self-delusion. If all we have is a stuck stance, it will stop all forward progress toward growth—with God and with others. In order to get unstuck we must have willingness.
Effective Christian living begins with willingness. God calls the willing, not the able. Moreover, He does not call the qualified; rather, He qualifies the called. We must remember that we’re talking about God’s will, not our own. The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 8:12, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (NIV). God wants willing, wholehearted service. He never forces us to do His will. Even Jesus said, “I seek not my will, but the will of Him that sent me” (John 5:30). Our spirit might be willing, but unfortunately our flesh is weak. Paul said, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:18, NIV). Typically, this is not because of any reluctance on our part. It is simply because weakness of the flesh hampers even our best intentions.
Sacrifice and willingness go together like ice cream and apple pie. Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service to worship” (NASB). Consider this precept against the backdrop that Jesus gave His body—that is Himself—out of love, as a gift and sacrifice for us. His willingness should serve as an exemplar to be emulated. Christ’s willingness was apparent even before His crucifixion. Philippians 2:6-8 tells us, “Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by being obedient to death—even the death of the cross” (NIV).
Ephesians 3:17 makes it quite clear how willingness is supposed to work: “Christ will make his home in your heart as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” Why do we dig our heels into the ground when God wants us to sink our roots down into his soil of marvelous, life-giving, strengthening love? There is a big difference between dug-in heels and healthy roots growing deep. But your roots won’t have a chance to grow deep if you’re not willing to trust God, enabling Christ to become more at home in your heart. The more access you give Him to your heart, the more growth you will experience. Paul says, “Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means” (2 Corinthians 8:11, NIV).
The Hebrew word for willingness is the verb-form abah, which means to consent or desire. Ordinary obedience in human behavior is a form of social influence in the face of perceived authority. Interestingly, obedience is different than compliance, which is behavior influenced or coerced by others. This is more like behavior that matches the majority. With this type of obedience, the result is compelled by circumstances. It is worth noting that personality plays an important role in how one responds to authority.
Our very life depends on our willingness to change. Certainly, our eternity hinges on what we do with God’s revealed truth, which leads to eternal life. But head knowledge is not enough. God wants us to act according to what we believe. And He wants us to do so willingly. Through the ages, every true servant of God has preached a message of change. We have always tended to go the way of human nature—the way of vanity, selfishness, hate, lust, and war. Repentance involves a turning away, which includes a willingness to change. Repentance is not merely being sorry for our disobedience. It includes being willing to stop doing what is wrong, do a 180, and go the other way. True repentance involves real change. Willingness ultimately means changing our way of life to conform to the will of God.