On this journey out of religion and into Christ, Father has often challenged the words I use and either redefined, or dispensed with them altogether. In this instance, He challenged my understanding of His “will”. I realised that “God’s will” and “the will of God” were religious phrases that I needed to examine. I find that most religious terms are used without understanding what they mean in real life. That is the nature of religion: the mouth speaks what the head is full of, but truth and reality are not heard or experienced in the heart.
Christians often refer to the will of God and God’s will, and yet the word “will” is not used in this way with anybody else! For instance, you wouldn’t say, “It was Lynette’s will that I go with her” or “It was the will of Lynette for me to go”. We just don’t use the English word “will” like that, but the Bible does, because that was how the word was used 500 years ago when the Scriptures were first translated into English. But interestingly, 500 years ago the word “will” did not mean what it means now!
When you look at the Greek root of this word translated as “will”, you find that it means to want, wish, or desire. The meaning in Hebrew is similar: “to delight in, take pleasure in, desire, be pleased with”. This challenges our understanding of what God’s “will” means, because when we think of doing what He wants, that requires a close relationship and knowing His heart. The English translators of the day used the old English word “will” (from “willan”) because this word “will” used to mean: “to wish, desire, or want”. However, today the word “will” no longer means that at all. The word “will” today is defined as:
The capability of conscious choice and decision and intention, a fixed and persistent intent or purpose.
The mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action.
Diligent purposefulness; determination.
Resolution, compulsion, ability and even inevitability.
And so, when we think of “God’s will”, we tend to think of resolution, inevitability and a deliberate course of action – but that is not what the word meant in the original language that the Scripture was written in. Although the Greek word meant “what God wants or desires”, when the Bible was first translated into English the word “want” wasn’t used as we use it today (“want” meant to be lacking something), so the word “want” as we know it today is not found in old versions of the Bible; they used this word “will” instead which meant (to them back then): to wish or desire.
Obviously there are correct uses of the word and every time you see “will” in the Bible it doesn’t mean “want”; I’m referring to two specific Greek words: thelo and thelema (the prolonged form of thelo). It seems that these two words were intended to mean “want” or “wish”, and many modern translations recognise this and now read quite differently as a result. Out of 207 occurrences in the NASB, thelo is translated 78 times as want, wants, etc, 51 times as wish, wished etc, 24 times as desire, desiring etc, and 25 times as will, willing etc. They are not “watering down the Word”, they are clarifying the meaning so that we understand what was originally intended. For instance, here is just a very small sampling from various versions, and I have highlighted in italics where the word “will” used to be:
“My delight is to do Your pleasure, O my God” (Psalm 40:8 BBE).
“Let Your pleasure be done, as in heaven, so on earth” (Matt. 6:10 GWT).
“Whoever does what My Father in heaven wants is My brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:50 GWT).
“Father, if it is your pleasure, take this cup from Me: but still, let Your pleasure, not Mine, be done” (Luke 22:42 BBE).
“My judgments are right because I don’t try to do what I want but what the One who sent Me wants” (John 5:30 GWT).
“Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me where I am” (John 17:24 NASB).
“I have found David son of Jesse a man after My own heart; he will do everything I want him to do” (Acts 13:22 NIV).
“It is God who is producing in you both the desire and the ability to do what pleases Him” (Phil. 2:13 ISV).
“What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.'” (James 4:15 NLT).
“The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do…” (1 Pet. 4:3 ESV).
There is another Greek word that is only occasionally translated as “willing” and that is the word “boulamai”. This Greek word means to intend, to be willing, to wish, desire, have a purpose – but is stronger than thelo. It’s use in Greek shows that it means to really intend – it is something that you strongly desire and intend or want to do. It is not an imperative “this shall be done”, however. This word “boulamai” is used in 2 Peter 3:9: “He is long-suffering (extraordinarily patient) toward you, not desiring that any should perish, but that all should turn to repentance”. That was from the Amplified Version, the KJV in old English reads that He “is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” And so it is not surprising that there is some confusion related to this word “will” today.
Often the old English use of “will” confuses and veils the original meaning: “I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?” In the NIV this now reads: “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” That we can understand, He was wanting the fire of the Holy Spirit to be released on the earth, but saying “what will I” doesn’t even make sense to us now! Another example is 1 Tim. 2:4 “[God] Who will have all men to be saved”. That is again old English, as most modern versions now make clear: “Who desires all people to be saved” (ESV); “Who wishes all men to be saved” (Amplified Bible). God wants all to be saved, and there were at least three other words in the Greek which meant an imperative, inevitable “shall be” that Paul could have used instead, if that was what he had meant.
This begs the question: does it matter, does God get what He wants anyway? There is no doubt that His plan and purpose in Christ will be fulfilled no matter what, and nothing can stand in the way of that. The Bible reveals to us that God can do anything He wants and have anything He wants, and yet we also see that He doesn’t always exercise that power over mankind. He can have what He wants and yet He doesn’t always get what He wants on this earth; and that reveals an awful lot about His heart, character, and love… He doesn’t force Himself or what He wants on mankind. God is not limited by anyone or anything except Himself.
From the garden of Eden to today, He has always wanted a close relationship with us; He wants us to want Him, love Him and choose Him. And that elevates Him far above us humans, we cannot comprehend that because if that was any one of us, we would ensure that we got exactly what we wanted; if we were God we would just “make it so”. We’re that selfish and self-centered.
As humans we try to get what we want by controlling and manipulating people; whether through our words, our silence, or our actions. Our enemy tries to control and manipulate us through fear.
BUT GOD… even though He is God and could control us, instead He loves and hopes… hopes for a response… waits for a response… longs for a response… and loves us regardless of our response. He is always after the heart and choosing is a matter for each individual’s heart.
When I finally submit to Him and His love has conquered me, then what He wants becomes what I also want. It brings my heart and my actions into line with what He desires; so much so that I no longer even want what I want, instead I want what He wants. You always want to know and do what your Loved One wants, simply because you love them. When we understand God’s “will” to be what God desires, it encourages us to spend time with Him learning to know His heart, so that we can give Him His deepest heart’s desire.
When Father first showed me this, it changed my heart and my praying. It is difficult to describe, but I think He created an even deeper union of heart and purpose within me. Instead of saying “Your will be done,” I began to say, “I want what You want done”; we both want it, we both desire it, we are one in heart and that is something very precious. We are not only one in our desire, but one in working together toward the fulfillment of that desire.
God’s “will” is often thought of in terms of His “will” for your life, or what your “calling” is. Another word for calling is vocation, which is from “vocal”; meaning what you are “called” to. That is significant when you consider that in the Bible we are those who are called out! Our “calling” is to hear the Voice and be called out; out of this world, out of religion, out of Self, out of all substitutes for Christ… and called into Christ (for more on this read Being Called). And we’re not called out of the world and into Christ for a vacation, but for a vocation. In reaction to the ‘doing good works’ and busyness that religion endorses, we may come to the conclusion that we’re here for a vacation instead of finding our vocation. When we have seen the error of a religion of works, it is natural to go to the opposite extreme and conclude that we shouldn’t do a single thing.
A vacation may be absolutely necessary after all the busyness of religious works (ie we need to “vacate” it all), but no vacation is ever meant to be permanent. Many seem to stay on vacation and don’t go on to discover Christ as their Vocation and Life.
We’ve seen the church, religion and ‘good works’ for what they really are, and we’ve been called out of all that and called into Christ; but then the question becomes: so where do we go from here? Is “coming out” all there is to it? What do we do with this Treasure we have received? Does Christ and His Purpose become our vocation and occupation or are we still camped out somewhere on vacation?
Even though Christ is our Rest, this Rest is never passive and vacant, but is occupied and active! With God it seems that there is no such thing as ‘vacancy’ or emptiness; He is always about filling – filling us, filling the earth, filling all things, going forth, movement – fulfilling His Purpose. As His children we are no different! Life is activity; death is inactivity. We ARE to be dead and passive to our Self, but alive and active to Christ!
I’m not for one minute endorsing busying ourselves with doing things for God again; I thank God that we have been delivered from that bondage and we now know the freedom of Christ as our Rest (as I have written about in “Observing the Sabbath, but not as we’ve known it“). We cannot experience either the Rest or the Work of Christ unless we are first living by the Life of Christ. We all know how to work from our own life and do what we want to do; that comes naturally to us. What isn’t so easy is learning to rest from THAT work, and instead be activated in the Work of Christ.
My husband’s career is in education and even when he is not at work his vocation is still part of who he is. And it is exactly the same with us when God Himself is our “vocation”. It is not so much about what we do or don’t do, but about who we are by simply being one with Him and being united in vision and purpose. He is our Career in the sense of being our occupation, pursuit, motivation, profession, and life’s work; not what we do FOR Him, but who we are and what we do BECAUSE of Him, by His Life in us.
Everything in creation that is living, is active and producing something. Everybody, whether they think they are working or not, has a primary identity, occupation and resulting production. Our work is linked very strongly with our identification and occupation. So what do we identify with, what are we occupied with, and what do we produce as a consequence? Is Christ being produced in my life? Have I found identity in Him? Is He my occupation? Is He increasing and producing Life through me, not by me trying to make that happen, but simply by His Life in me growing and reproducing Himself? It is not about what we do, but about what God is doing; often in spite of us! Our identity is not in what we do, or in our work; even our work done with Christ; our identity is simply: Him.
So what is “God’s will”, what is God’s desire? He wants to see His Son filling us, and to that end, to see us deny ourselves by taking up our cross daily (Luke 9:23), being united with Christ (John 17), being His representatives on this earth (Acts 1:8), and knowing Him in the fullest sense of the word (1 John 5:20). And the more we know Him, the more we intuitively know and are governed and directed by what He wants, because we know His heart.
God searches for those who are after His own heart; and just think about God’s heart and how totally committed He is to us. To the extent of giving up His Son. To the extent of death. When He sees these characteristics in His own children’s hearts: totally committed, giving up what they love (themselves and their own life), willing to do whatever it takes, happy to endure whatever is necessary, then He commits Himself to that person in a way in which He wouldn’t otherwise do. And that commitment results in Him revealing Himself to that person in a deeper way, revealing His heart and what He wants….
Every person I know who has gone further and deeper with God, has this intensity, determination, devotion and passion about them; what some would call an “utterness” for God. They are passionate because their heart is God’s, and His heart is theirs. It is a sold-out wholehearted willingness to do whatever their Loved One wants, no matter what the cost. Even if God kills them, they will still trust and hope in Him (Job 13:15), they do not cling to their lives even in the face of death (Rev. 12:11).
Paul is one whose life and words were characterised by this intensity: “We tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me. I want you to know how much I have agonized for you…” (Col. 1:28-2:1). Relationships that are important to us we will work at and even agonize over; our commitment and devotion to the person means that we are prepared to overlook what we don’t understand, spend time with them, and work together; and our relationship with God is no exception.
Most of us, when presented with a choice, will take the option that is the easiest and requires the least amount of our effort, energy, and time. We want things to just happen without us having to do too much, but when it comes to the things of God, there has to be activity and not passivity. There has to be total devotion, and there is a price to be paid: giving up yourself, denying what you want, and doing what God wants.
Many seem to think that everything God gives is unconditional. I challenge you to do a search in the Bible for the number of times where the word “if” is used in a conditional way! Christ has done all that is necessary, and we cannot earn anything; He is our Rest, we have died with Him and also been raised with Him; but this new Life, Christ’s Life in us, is always active and at work and we need to learn to co-operate with Him. Fellowship means partnership, and this partnership is His Life working in and through me. It is not a case of me working FOR Him, but working in/with Him. That is a very big difference. The source and motivation of each are worlds apart. And only what is done by Him and through Him is of any spiritual value.
Ministry is not about what we do for God, true ministry is what HE does through us.
There are many “ministries” that are not the work of God at all because they are neither ministering to Christ, nor ministering from Christ. It must be all about Him, not us. Our only ministry is to minister to Him – serving Him by waiting on Him to fulfill His desires. All other true ministry is not really ours at all, but His: it is Him administering His Life through us to others and therefore it is His ministry and we can claim no ownership of it. He alone is the Minister and the Ministry.
I don’t think any of us would deny that the physical life of Jesus on this earth was exemplary. He was in constant communication as to where, when and what His Father wanted done or said. He made it very clear that in Himself He could do nothing, and yet through God, He could do anything! He gave up everything He was, He didn’t care whether people accepted or rejected Him. He said and did what His Father wanted Him to regardless of the consequences and misunderstandings, because His heart and His life belonged to His Father. “While Jesus was here on earth, He offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the One who could rescue Him from death. And God heard His prayers because of His deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, He learned obedience from the things He suffered” (Heb. 5:7,8) and His brothers and sisters still learn obedience (doing what God wants) in the same way.
Are we learning obedience through suffering? Are we not only willing to pay the price, but wanting to? Jesus goes on to say, “To the one who conquers I will give a place to sit with Me on My throne, just as I have conquered and have sat down with My Father on His throne”. You normally conquer and overcome your enemy through a fight, and this battle is against the apathy and self-satisfaction that we are so easily lulled into. The biggest enemy we have to conquer is Self. We may think we are in a very good place spiritually, when in reality we are poor, blind and naked.
Even to those who are saved (because salvation is a gift and cannot be earned through works) Jesus says, “I advise you: Buy gold purified in fire from Me so that you may be rich. Buy white clothes from Me. Wear them so that you may keep your shameful, naked body from showing. Buy ointment to put on your eyes so that you may see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. Take this seriously, and change the way you think and act” (Rev. 3:18,19).
He tells us to buy from Him… that means there is a PRICE to be paid. Most want someone else to pay the price and freely give them the gold. But the clothes and the ointment are personal; no one else can wear clothes for you, or see for you. Only YOU can repent, changing the way you think and act; nobody else can do that for you. Only YOU can be earnest and really mean business with God. But it all seems to begin with “BUY… from Me”. And we all know that in order to have money to buy anything, work is necessary; we have to give up something that is precious to us: our time, energy and effort, and sometimes even what we thought was right.
It is so easy for us to settle down where we are comfortable and camp out with the last thing that God showed us instead of going outside the camp and continuing to journey on, even if it means being alone, without the camp (Heb. 13:13). Sometimes that is the price that must be paid. Whatever the cost, knowing Him, knowing what He wants, and knowing His heart is the ultimate reward! May He create in us a heart that is so united with His own that we say from the heart, “Father, I want what You want done on earth, just as it is in heaven.”
God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him. Phil. 2:13