As your alarm clock goes off, do you ever lean over, turn it off and continue to lie there, even though you purposed to get up at a certain time? When you finally do get up, you ask yourself, “Why don’t I have more willpower?”
Or have you ever passed a candy machine or ice cream shop, purchased and eaten the sweets, and then asked yourself, “Why did I do that? I’m already overweight, and it’s 500 more calories that I don’t need. I sure wish I had more willpower!”
Everybody is interested in willpower, whether Christian or not. The approach Weight-Watchers take to losing weight is to stimulate your willpower to eat the right things so that you don’t gain weight, or you lose what you’ve already gained. Those who jog need a lot of willpower to go out jogging. Getting up 6 or 7 a.m. to run 3 miles is hard.
In this article, I’d like to narrow our focus to that which has spiritual overtones because our basic objective in life is to glorify God through loving obedience and trust. Whatever we do, the Bible says we should do to the glory of God – 1 Corinthians 10:31.
In 1 Corinthians 9:25, Paul states that athletes discipline themselves so that they might receive a temporal reward, but that we do it so we might receive an eternal reward – we discipline ourselves to the glory of God.
Basically, the will is the faculty of choice or determination – it’s the immediate cause of all our actions. It’s an important element in our makeup. But the choice we make – the choice the will makes – is affected by influences that are brought to bear upon it. The choice is determined by the strongest motive power that is brought to bear upon our will in each particular situation.
What the motive power is varies in different situations. It might be the logic of reason in some situations. For example, you have thought something out and you think, “Well, I should do this” – and so you do it. On the other hand, it might be the voice of conscience that keeps prying away until it forces you to make something right that you’ve done wrong in the past. Or, it might be the impulse of emotion. (Stores play on this when they use displays and ads that appeal to our feelings.) However, it might be the desires of our sinful nature – or it may be the Holy Spirit’s promptings – or it could be the temptation of Satan. Any number of things/people can influence our wills. Whichever of these presents the strongest motive power (and thus exerts the greatest influence) impels the will and causes it to make a particular selection/choice.
So, asking the question, “How can I get more willpower?” is really asking the wrong question. If the will is merely the faculty of choice that responds to influences, the right question is, “How can I bring the right influences to bear upon my will, so that it will be impelled to make the right choices?”
Very little is said about the will in the Bible. But a lot is said about the heart. The heart is the innermost core of our beings – the real us – that consists of our intellects, emotions, and wills. When Eve took and ate of the forbidden fruit, it was because her will responded to her emotions and to Satan’s influence – Genesis 3:4-6.
The heart is both our conscious and subconscious mind – Ephesians 1:18; Colossians 3:2; Psalms 40:8; Deuteronomy 6:6; Psalms 119:11; Proverbs 4:23. So our heart consists of our intellect, will, and emotions.
Every motivating influence that comes to our wills comes through our minds, whether it comes from within us (our conscience) or through some external influence.
The non-Christian/natural person’s heart is corrupt/deceitful (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9) and blind. A child’s will is totally dominated by self-gratification (Genesis 8:21). At conversions, God gives us a new heart (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:24) and the Holy Spirit. So a Christian has 2 natures, the old sinful one and the new righteous one. The old sinful nature, however, has been reinforced by years of the wrong value system.
The person who becomes a Christian after a life given over to immorality may stop his immoral actions immediately, but the immoral thoughts will probably persist for a long time because of all the past years of immoral programming. Or, the person with a hot temper, after conversion, may still struggle with anger because of all the years of feeding the sin nature in that area. And the person who had a problem with lying as a non-Christian will wrestle with that tendency after conversion because of building a habit pattern over a period of time. These things can change but it takes time because the old mind/nature has had years of the wrong value system influencing it and is still present.
This creates the conflict Christians experience within themselves. We have the new nature, and we begin to realize what our lives should be like as Christians. So, the battle rages as to which nature controls your life – Galatians 5:16-17. And which ever nature controls your life then influences your will and your will then makes the choice according to the nature dominating your will – either evil or good. So on the bad side, our will can be influenced by our sin nature that we’re born with, the world’s evil values, or demonic forces. On the good side, our will can be influenced by our new righteous nature acquired at conversion, the Holy Spirit, or biblical values.
With this as a background, I’d like to suggest some ways that our will can be influenced in the right direction. First, we must live/walk by the Spirit (so that we won’t gratify the desires of the sinful nature – Galatians 5:16) by asking/choosing the Holy Spirit to be in control of your life (Ephesians 5:18; 1 John 5:14-15). Second, we need to set our minds on the things of the Spirit – Romans 8:5-6 – by renewing our minds through adopting the Bible’s perspectives, values, attitudes, and feelings (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23-24) as yours.
If the Holy Spirit is to influence our minds, and the Bible is the way the Spirit speaks to us, then we need to saturate our minds with God’s Word (reading, rereading, and meditating upon it daily over and over again and again until we see things from God’s perspective, and think the way God would think, and feel the way God would feel). That’s why God tells the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6:6-9, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
The Word of God is to be constantly in our minds regardless of what we’re doing. Joshua 1:8 and Psalms 1:2 reinforce this idea, as does Colossians 3:2, 16.
If you’ve been asking, “How can I get more willpower?”, then this is how. There is no shortcut to a stronger will because there is no such thing as a stronger will. It’s just a matter of bringing to bear the right influences on your will. It’s getting to the place where the Bible is a stronger motivating factor influencing your will than the other bad influences. It’s also an important motivating factor to understand the value of influencing your will with the right factors.
To be controlled by the Holy Spirit and have our minds set on the desires of the Spirit brings life and peace (Romans 8:6), freedom from guilt and the discipline of God, and the gaining of rewards from God. Once controlled by the Holy Spirit, we then need to choose as an act of our will to do what’s right. By continuing to choose right, we build new habit patterns.
A habit can be defined as “the prevailing disposition or character of a person’s thoughts and feelings; his mental makeup.” Habits are nothing more than thoughts or emotional patterns which have been engraved on our minds, that can be recorded over. 1 Timothy 4:7 says to “train yourself to be godly.” Establish godly habit patterns.
For example, a successful businessman accidentally hits a child while driving home. Since the child had darted out from behind a car, it wasn’t the man’s fault. Instead of stopping and calling an ambulance (which would have ended the man’s responsibility), the man drove from the scene of the accident and ultimately ended up in jail. The reason the businessman left the scene went way back into his childhood where he had done something wrong and had lied his way out of it. Lying his way out of problems had been a pattern all his life, so in time of crisis, this habit came into focus and influenced his will. Though he knew that he shouldn’t drive away, he was a prisoner of his habit. Because the will responds to the strongest influence brought to bear upon it at that particular time – in this case the habit of lying – he was unable to overcome it.
Solution: Sit down and ask yourself, “What are the habits that I want to break? Which ones do God want eliminated? And what good habits do I want to acquire?” Maybe it’s to meditate on the Word of God. One missionary, instead of listening to his car radio, meditated on Bible verses. Set attainable goals when trying to acquire a new habit. Habits are acquired by repetition, so do often whatever new habit you are trying to establish. For example, if it’s memorizing verses from the Bible, then meditate on them daily for best retention over a long period of time. Or, if you decide to have a daily Quiet Time (Bible reading and meditation and prayer) it’s best to have it at the same time everyday. Repetition reinforces the establishment of a new habit. And do not make exceptions, as exceptions only reinforce your old habit patterns. Your old value system of laziness, procrastination, rationalization, or indulgence is just strengthened. When you let the exception occur, it reinforces that old value system and digs that groove in your mind a little bit deeper. And do not reward yourself with the same thing you’re trying to break. Don’t say, “I’ll sleep in tomorrow because I’ve successfully gotten up everyday for a week now.” Or, “I’ll pig out because I’ve lost 10 lbs on my diet.” Or, “I can drink one beer because I’ve completely stopped drinking.” Or, “I can smoke one cigarette because I’ve quit smoking.” Or, “I can pass by a porn store, or an ‘X’ – rated movie because I’ve quit looking at pornography.”
Recognize that one choice affects another. If there are 2 things you’re working on and you’ve given in on one, you’ll be weakened toward the other because you are trying to acquire a basic overall habit of saying “no” to the indulgences of the flesh/sin nature. This is the basic habit we’re seeking to acquire, that of saying “no” to self, not just some specific thing that is a bad habit.
For example, if I’m a slave to eating ice cream (though ice cream is amoral), and I give in to eating it when I already decided to stop eating, then I’ll have difficulty with my will in some other areas of my life, such as my thought life. If I open the gate to indulge myself with ice cream, it’ll open the attitude-of-indulgence gate to other bad habits, like impure thoughts. (So, don’t give in at all!)
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