Exercising Willpower to Follow Jesus When I’d Rather…

When I am tired after a long day of work, I would really like to curl up in front of the TV with some chips and salsa. At the same time, I know I should take a walk, fold some laundry, and fix a healthy dinner. I want to sit back and relax. That is my will. I also want to be healthy, but at the moment I would like to wait until tomorrow.


Decisions, Decisions

I cannot always do everything I want to do in a day, so I have to decide which things are most important to me. I exercise my decision muscle (my will) to prioritize the things I choose to do.

I have a long list of things I should do: exercising, reading my Bible, washing dishes.

I also have a lot of things I want to do: playing a game online, hanging out with friends, baking something yummy.

Some of the things on my “should do” list are also things I want to do. I do enjoy walking for exercise. I do enjoy reading my Bible to foster my relationship with God.


But I’d Rather…

If I really do not want to do something I know I should (e.g., washing dishes), it can be nearly impossible to force myself to do it against my own will.

I enjoy walking for exercise, but sometimes I would rather sit around and read. I want to read the Bible to know how God wants me to live, but sometimes I would rather sleep in a little late.

My willpower is what determines which desire is going to win — to sit back and relax or to be healthy. Even though my will to relax is strong, I can still choose the better option because I have power over my will.

Willpower is the power to control your will. Ironically, it takes an act of the will to control your will.


Who’s in Control Here Anyway?

The human will is a powerful force. Making someone do something against their will can be extremely difficult.

Remember the story of Ruth. Even though she was not Jewish, Ruth was determined to follow Naomi and her God. Naomi tried to send Ruth back to her people where she would surely find safety and provision but Ruth was adamant. “When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her” (Ruth 1:18 NIV).

When we follow Jesus, sometimes He has plans for us that are not the same as our plans. Like Ruth, we may not have any idea how God’s plan is going to work out. We have to exercise our willpower to do what Jesus wants instead of what we want. I can choose to give Jesus power over my will.

Sometimes you may want to do what God wants but you have exercised your decision muscle so many times in a different way that it is hard to break the habit. Perhaps you want to read your Bible for a few minutes after you come home from work or school but your habit of turning on the TV gets in the way. It takes willpower to break habits and create new ones.


Exercising Willpower to Follow Jesus

The biblical version of willpower is self-control. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). Biblical self-control is willpower filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. It is both a gift from God and hard work.

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11–12). God’s grace teaches us what to say to the things the world wants. We have to choose to do what God wants. That is self-control.

As you exercise your willpower to follow Jesus, He is working in you to help you “to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). As you grow closer to God, the fruit of self-control will be more and more evident in your life. It will become easier to make decisions that honor and please God.


Amanda-Grace Schultz writes in Shelbyville, Kentucky. Her passion is providing discipleship to young women.

A version of this article first appeared in March/April 2015 The Mag.


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