Willful, Will-less, or Willing

Sometimes when I speak I find myself sharing things I didn’t plan on sharing. Weird audio-visual mishaps take place, derailing my train of thought, and I’m left scrambling on the inside. But sometimes those unplanned things end up being exactly what someone needed to hear. I’d chalk that up to the Holy Spirit’s work and the prayers of our ministry partners and friends.

Just a week ago I stood in front of a room packed with over 400 college students representing 40 campuses across the country. Our annual West Coast Epic conference took place down in San Diego. I had spent the past two years speaking at the East Coast conference so it had been awhile since I experienced conference west coast style (you know, things like the emcee Olympics event in Sochi, a staff zombie flash mob, students sharing in the form of spoken word, creative art, string quartet, rap, the lip sync contest sing off, etc.). What an incredible weekend filled with incredible students learning about our incredible God.

Epic West Coast Conference

Darrin, wearing the conference director hat this year, led the 50 or so staff in a time before the students arrived of personal evaluation and surrender. Symbolically pouring out a vial of water representing our lives poured out to God, he asked the staff to pray and add their “lives” to a glass vase as an offering to God: willing to go, do, say and give whatever God asked. And from this place of surrender the staff welcomed students who arrived from everywhere. Some alone, without knowing a single person, some with their posses and school flag (Arizona! :-) ).

So with this as the backdrop I went up on stage to deliver the first talk. The cordless microphone gave us all sorts of trouble; weird feedback, popping, and the like. My staff friend, Duncan, came up to the stage halfway through the talk and unwound the long cord and handed me a handheld mic. I lost my place in my notes and ended up skipping an entire section of the talk. When I looked at Gilbert, the time-keeper, I realized I still had more time. So I summarized, and went on to share, but not from my notes, about a willful, will-less or willing heart.

Turns out, based on questions and feedback, most people wanted to hear more about what I hadn’t planned on sharing.

I first learned about these three postures of the heart in a class I took at Talbot Seminary. (One day soon I plan to return to resume the Master’s degree I will eventually earn–at the age of 86).

Okay, so here goes:

A willful heart: says “I’m going to do this.” It is characterized by striving and depending on my own strength.

A willful heart may come from a place of wanting to live a life pleasing to God, but this life is spent trying to muster up willpower to charge ahead. Willful hearts can feed into pride and legalism. If convicted of sin the response of a willful heart is “I will do better. I will try harder.” When my heart is willful, I’m trying to live life in my own effort, and trying to be obedient in my own effort. Willful hearts can lead to burn out. Sometimes after all the striving and the inevitable disappointment, it leads to

A will-less heart: “God’s going to do it all. It doesn’t matter what I do.”

Will-less hearts are the “whatevah” (hold up the “w” with thumbs and pointer fingers). It’s a passive place of who cares, “God’s going to do what God’s going to do so what I do is inconsequential.” When my heart is will-less, I stop being engaged, I give up and my thinking is “why try.” I become cynical. When I sin my attitude is “Oh well. At least it’s forgiven.”

The heart is not changed or transformed when we are willful or will-less.

Rather than a willful or will-less heart, God asks for

A willing heart: “God I am desiring to grow. I will do whatever it is, but on my own I can’t.”

The willing heart recognizes our inability to live the Christian life on our own and expresses our dependence on God’s power. The key to the willing heart is really the issue of being yielded. It’s not about signing up and being a missionary in a foreign land and eating bugs. It’s the willingness to go if God asks. It’s the willingness to stay even if you want to go. It’s about a life surrendered, laid open. This is the key to the Christian life. This is how God’s Spirit is unleashed to empower believers to live the Christian life.

Our lives, a poured out offering to the Lord

God, I am willing to go where You want me to go, do what You want me to do, say what You want me to say, give what You want me to give.

The last morning of the conference students were invited to sign a card and symbolically pour out their lives to God.

Willing hearts.

One hundred and eighty-three students expressed willing hearts.

This new generation of leaders, through the power of the Holy Sprit, will change the world.

Do you have additional thoughts to add to this conversation?

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4 thoughts on “Willful, Will-less, or Willing

  1. May I quote (to our ministry Partners) the last half of your Willful, Will-less, Willing article (starting after the Here goes….)? Giving proper credit, of course.
    Thank you
    Jeani McKeever King

    • Yes, Jeani, feel free to quote the last half of the article. I’m curious. How did you find out about this post? Blessings, vivian

  2. Honestly, I don’t usually comment on blogs or articles but I felt compelled to thank you and to let you know that I applied to Hawaii summer project and had been asking God to give me confirmation that it was in line with His purpose and calling on my life and in reading this post, I feel like He did just that. Your description of a willful heart describes me so perfectly in ways that I didn’t even know. I know that you will be one of the staff members on that project and the way that I am able to resonate and identify with your blog post has me excited at the prospect of being able to resonate with you and learn from you this summer. Thank you for your words! :)

    • Thanks so much for taking time to share your thoughts, Ellim. I look forward to meeting you and hopefully spending the summer with you on project! God’s doing amazing things and it is a privilege to run the race with our incredible Epic family! Blessings, viv :)

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