A Willful Walk

Excerpted and adapted from Ravi Zacharias’s book The Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us Through the Events of Our Lives (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007). Used by permission.

In September 1985, Readers Digest ran a story titled “Letter in the Wallet,” written by Arnold Fine. Fine tells how one bitterly cold day he stumbled upon a wallet on the street. It had just three dollars in it and a crumpled-up letter that obviously had been carried around for many years. The letter was dated sixty years earlier and began, “Dear Michael.” The beautifully written, sadly worded letter ended a romance because of a parent’s demands. The last line promised, “I will always love you, Michael,” and was signed, “Yours, Hannah.”

Fine decided to try to track down the owner of the wallet. Using Hannah’s address, still legible on the letter, he finally retrieved a telephone number. But when he called it, he was disappointed (though not surprised) to learn that Hannah and her family had long ago moved out of the house. The person on the other end of the line, however, knew the name of the nursing home to which Hannah’s mother had gone. So Fine called the nursing home and learned that Hannah’s mother was no longer living. When he told them what he was trying to do, however, they gave him the address and telephone number they had on file for Hannah. He called the number and found out that Hannah herself now lived in a nursing home. Fine asked for the name of the home and found the phone number. Soon he was able to confirm that, yes, Hannah was a resident there. As soon as he could, Fine decided to visit the nursing home and try to talk with Hannah.

The director met him at the door and told him that Hannah was watching television on the third floor. An escort quickly took Fine there and then left. Fine introduced himself to Hannah and explained how he had found a letter in a wallet. He showed her the letter and asked if she was the one who had written it. “Yes,” Hannah replied, “I sent this letter to Michael because I was only sixteen and my mother wouldn’t let us see each other anymore. He was very handsome, you know, like Sean Connery.” Fine could see both the twinkle in her eye and the joy on her face that spoke of her love for Michael. “Yes, Michael Goldstein was his name. If you find him, tell him that I think of him often and never did marry anyone. No one ever matched up to him,” she declared, discreetly brushing tears from her eyes. Fine thanked her for her time and left.

As Mr. Fine was leaving the home, the security guard at the door asked him about his visit. He told the story and said, “At least I was able to get the last name from her. His name is Michael Goldstein.”

“Goldstein?” repeated the guard. “There’s a Mike Goldstein who lives here on the eighth floor.” Fine turned around and went back inside, this time to the eighth floor, where he asked for Michael Goldstein. When directed to an elderly gentleman, he asked the man, “Have you lost your wallet?”

“Oh, yes, I lost it when I was out for a walk the other day,” Michael answered.

Fine handed him the wallet and asked if it was his. Michael was delighted to see it again and, full of gratitude to the finder, proceeded to thank him for returning it when Fine interrupted him.

“I have something to tell you,” Fine admitted. “I read the letter in your wallet.”

Caught off guard, Michael paused for a moment and then asked, “You read the letter?”

“Yes, sir, and I have further news for you,” Fine continued. “I think I know where Hannah is.”

Michael grew pale. “You know where she is? How is she?”

“She’s fine, and just as pretty as when you knew her.”

“Could you tell me where she is? I’d love to call her. You know, when that letter came to me, my life ended. I’ve never gotten married. I never stopped loving her.”

“Come with me,” said Fine. He took Michael by the elbow and led him to the elevator and down to the third floor. By this time, the director of the building had rejoined them. They came to Hannah’s room.

“Hannah,” the director whispered, gesturing toward Michael, “Do you know this man?”

She adjusted her glasses and looked at the man as she searched her memory bank. Then with a choked voice, Michael spoke up. “Hannah, it’s Michael.” She stood, as he walked over to her. They embraced and held on to each other for as long as they could stay steady on their feet. They sat down, holding hands, and between their tears they filled in the story of the long years that had passed. Feeling as though they had intruded on a sacred moment, Mr. Fine and the director slowly slipped away to leave the two alone to enjoy their reunion.

Three weeks later, Arnold Fine received an invitation to attend the wedding of Hannah, seventy-six years of age, and Michael, seventy-eight. Fine closes his story by saying, “How good the work of the Lord is.”

Such a touching story can make one believe that it had to have been made in heaven. But think about it. Made in heaven it could be; the work of a sovereign God leaves all of us overwhelmed at the way God weaves the threads. At the same time, three determined wills all played a role here. A man loved his girl so much that he stayed faithful to her and remained single his whole life because he could not love another woman in this same way. A woman remained true to her first love, though she had been just a teenager, and she committed to honoring her parents’ wishes. A man had resolved to return a wallet because he thought a poignant little letter kept for six decades merited a determined search for the owner.

The will is a strong but fragile part of every human life, and it matters in the rich weaving of your tapestry that is in the making.

The Exercise of Our Wills

This is both a theologically complex and an experientially difficult point to understand. Stories of the determination of those who persevere through bitter struggles thrill us, and our hearts feel disappointment when we read other stories that tell of the fickleness of those who flee at the slightest challenge. I will not venture here onto the mysterious terrain where God’s sovereignty and human responsibility meet in the grand scheme of salvation. But I do want to focus on how we pursue our discipleship before God and on the threads in our tapestry that are pulled together by the exercise of our wills.

When God brings us to salvation, the most remarkable thing we see is that he transforms our hungers. He changes not just what we do but what we want to do. This is the work of the Holy Spirit within us—“for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). In our new walk, we make choices that help shape the design into something beautiful. These are the “wills” and the “won’ts.”

Our society often fails to come to terms with this area of the will. Why do we shun it so? Mainly because it is difficult and persistent. Yesterday’s victory does not guarantee tomorrow’s. The relentlessness of the enemy of our souls demands that we remain ever watchful, and that’s the hard part. We want results without effort. We want a lifestyle, but we don’t really know what life is about. We want success without having to pay the price to get there. We want straight As, but we don’t want to study. We want a blessed marriage, but we don’t want the effort and commitment that it takes.

Certain keys to the will can unlock the huge potential God has placed within human power. Rightly understood, it yields humility; wrongly understood, it yields arrogance. Three scenes in the Bible put the will at the center of the discussion.

Writing Down Your Purpose

We find the first scene in Joshua’s farewell address given to his people after they had crossed over the Jordan and came into contact with many seductive foreign gods. Joshua very plainly retraces for them all that God had done for generations in guarding them, delivering them in times of trouble, and keeping them in his care. He protected them in their forty years of wandering, during which time they learned many bitter lessons.

Joshua had succeeded Moses, and now, as he was about to leave them to the care of others, he gave a very straightforward plea: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). No one could mistake that the choice of service to God lay in the will of the people. But this choice did not come in a vacuum. God presented it to them within the context of his work in their lives and his choice to bless them.

We must take hold of God’s promise to bless us. He does not want us to struggle without his voice or his wisdom. He brings us to the place of his choosing, one way or the other. God could easily use a sledgehammer approach and “enforce” his will. He could make the Terminator look tame by comparison. But with infinite patience God works away in our lives, giving us sign after sign of his love—more often than not it goes unnoticed by most of us. Jesus asked the apostle Paul, “Why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) and then went on to say to Paul, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (verse 5 NKJV). In effect, he was saying to Paul, “Why are you bloodying yourself against the markers God has placed along your way?”

Earlier in The Grand Weaver I told the story of Ban Sanook, the “Fun House” in Chiang Mai, Thailand, established by a Japanese foundation to teach those who have disabilities how to weave silk. As I walked into the home for the first time, all who sat at the weavers’ bench wore casual dress. But two young people wore clothing a little more formal than the others. It was their duty that day to serve coffee and tea to the guests, hence the dressier attire. As they learn to serve, they also learn how to practice good personal hygiene, how to make a cup of coffee, how to make change for anyone who makes a purchase, and how to clean up the kitchen. It thrilled me to see how flattered they feel that they can wait on tables and take an order, then persist in the challenge to count and make change. The process also takes great patience on the part of the guest.

The man who birthed the vision for this place sat down with me one day and told me the story, both tragic and remarkable, of each child. He proceeded to tell me about the highlight of the week for them, when children from local elementary schools come to visit—children who perform tasks in the average to high range. He says, “It is a sight to see the young people with autism and Down syndrome teaching weaving and dancing to those not touched by any visible disability.” He showed me pictures of the schoolchildren sitting at the looms and the “disabled ones” looking over their shoulders as the instructors. I asked, “Do they really teach?” He paused and said with a chuckle, “Teach and disturb at the same time.”

But then with emotion in his eyes, he said, “When you think of how serious their debilitations are and yet how much laughter we hear here all the time, and when you see the finished works of art that fill this room, I get a little impatient when the not-so-afflicted in my circle of family or friends tell me they’re not doing well because of a headache or a cold. I’m afraid I have become unsympathetic to our minor problems that we make so much of.”

It made me think of how easily we take for granted the gift of being “normal.” Sometimes those of us who have been blessed the most seem to be the least capable of seeing God’s gracious hand on us. In our popular jargon, all catastrophes are “acts of God.” By inference, our successes are “fate” or “good luck” or the results of sheer “individual effort.” Legend has it that a corporal once said to Winston Churchill, “I want you to know, sir, that I am a self-made man.” “Young man, you have just relieved God of a solemn responsibility,” replied Churchill.

Like the old maestro who can make a melody out of the one remaining string on a broken instrument, God can show us the pattern of our lives if we will just see his gracious hand that has brought us this far already. We would do well, as Jacob did, to put up stone markers to remind us of God’s goodness to us in specific situations: “I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone” (Genesis 35:3).

But this major step of making a choice to follow God entails one nonnegotiable commitment: to recognize the mission of your life not so much as a profession but as a measuring stick by which you will gauge your progress for life itself. Out of this emerges a commitment that your life express total submission to God’s will. Reaching this point becomes most defining after you have spent time considering what it means, and then ideally have found a text of Scripture that encapsulates that pursuit. Such a thread is of incalculable worth.

Have you ever worked for a company that did not know why it existed? One of my favorite television commercials shows a group of men and women around a boardroom table in a serious and agitated discussion over some computer problems that have plagued the company. Finally one young man speaks up and says, “What about the shirts?”

“What about them?” demands the boss.

“Isn’t that what this company is all about — manufacturing shirts?” comes the response.

The commercial suggests that too often we put all our energies into the peripheral concerns of life and forget why we are here. We neglect the purpose of our life.

The bane of our lives is getting sidetracked into secondary pursuits. Joshua reminds us that each of us must deliberately choose whom we will serve. So write down your purpose. Place it somewhere in a prominent spot so that you will continually be reminded of that purpose.

Cliff Barrows, Billy Graham’s associate, told me that he always followed a particular practice when he checked into a hotel room. Before doing anything else, he put a picture of his family in a prominent place in the room. “It was a reminder to me and a signal to all who entered my room of my moral obligation to my family,” he said. This is exactly what I mean. Mark down your life’s goal, which will then provide you with the measuring stick you need to determine whether attractions and distractions are legitimate or illegitimate.

Susanna Wesley was a remarkable woman who gave birth to nineteen children. One can only guess the inner strength she must have had to raise John and Charles, two among many others who sat on her knee and learned from her to walk with the Lord. One day, John asked her to define sin. I doubt any theologian could have done better than she did: “Son, whatever weakens your reasoning, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes away your relish for spiritual things; in short, if anything increases the authority and power of the flesh over the Spirit, then that to you becomes sin, however good it is in itself.”1 That definition became the guiding beacon for John. He carved it into his consciousness. His mother inbred in him his sensitivity to sin.

I think of another example. As a young man, David Livingstone prayed, “Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. Sever any ties but the tie that binds me to your service and to your heart.”2 That prayer became his watchword when God laid Africa on his heart. I think of that remarkable line: “Sever any ties but the tie that binds me to your service and to your heart.” What a mission statement for life! To be bound to God’s service and to his heart! Set the purpose clearly before you.

Doing What’s Right

The second scene occurs in Acts 22, where Paul recounts God’s working in his life and the Lord’s description of Paul’s life mission. While Paul is recuperating from his blindness, Ananias says to him, “The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth” (Acts 22:14). Paul has a clearly distinctive encounter when he “sees and hears.”

We also see this definite instruction to the apostle Thomas to see, touch, and hear the risen Lord. After Thomas obeys Jesus’ instructions and recognizes him for who he really is, Jesus says to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). In the same chapter, when Mary saw the risen Jesus and literally wanted to hold on to him, Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me. . . . Go instead to my brothers and tell them” (verse 17). And again in the same chapter, as Jesus bids his disciples farewell, he says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (verse 23).

In all of these instances, we note a presence, a voice, and a direction. We do not see, feel, and touch God. We do not, as a rule, hear his audible voice. Usually we hear God’s voice to us through his written Word. That hearing must constantly be paired with “doing.” It is amazing how many times we see in Scripture the word “do” combined with the term “the will of God.” Jesus speaks of seeking not his own will but the will of the Father (see John 4:34; 6:38). “If anyone chooses to do God’s will,” Jesus says in John 7:17 (emphasis added). Revealing, knowing, and doing — these are the implicit ideas. In this context, we learn that God really does reveal his will; and if we walk in the known will of the Father, he reveals aspects of his will not so easily known. The hard part is to do that part of his will we already know.

How do we accomplish this, and how do we know for sure what God wants us to do in life’s complex situations? This is where a battle rages within us over doing God’s will. The apostle Paul said it best in Romans 7:15, 24: “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” The seemingly endless struggle of willing and doing takes its toll. Often we cry out to God, “If only I knew the right choice here!”

Paul again gives us the clue in Romans 8:9: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.” Here is the common ground to which all who approach God for power must come. Paul reminds us that the law lacks power (see Romans 8:3) because it was only a prescription, and no prescription by itself can bring rescue. Following the prescription does not solve the problem, for only the Holy Spirit has the power to rescue.

Unfortunately, so much theological fluff comes our way when we discuss the Holy Spirit, and so much misguided teaching has confused people about the Holy Spirit that we have forgotten the most important aspect of the Spirit’s presence: the power that he gives us to do God’s will. “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires,” writes Paul (Romans 8:5). But there are times when we throw up our hands and say, “But it’s too hard! How can we do all that it takes to walk in obedience?” God speaks to that as well.

It Can Be Done

We witness the third scene in the book of Jeremiah (chapter 35). God asks the prophet to visit a small group of people called the Recabites, invite them to the temple, and in a side room offer them some wine to drink. Jeremiah makes the arrangements and brings them into the temple. After he seats them in the side room, he brings out a tray of glasses filled with wine, just as God had instructed him. But strangely, as he enters the room he becomes aware of discomfort among his guests.

“I’m sorry,” says the leader of the group. “Didn’t you know that we don’t drink wine and that we haven’t done so for generations? One of our ancestors, a very devout man, commanded us never to drink wine or to live in buildings. So to this day, we and our children and our grandchildren will never drink wine, and we live only in tents.”

Jeremiah, surely mystified by the whole episode, must have wondered why God would give such instructions when he already knew that the Recabites did not drink wine. God explained, in effect, by telling Jeremiah, “I just wanted you to see a living example of how it is possible even for an earthly father to command such implicit obedience that it lasts for generations. But I have spoken to my people again and again, yet they have not obeyed me but have kept on making excuses for not serving me, their heavenly Father.”

God makes a strong and compelling point. We are fully capable of exercising our wills to do what we have set our minds to do. Just observe those who follow earthly leaders.

This is where the hard questions of the Christian faith come to the fore. The gospel declares that the Holy Spirit brings about the new birth and that because of the Spirit’s power within us, we gain the ability to do God’s will. In other words, the new birth and the new walk are supernaturally bestowed. If by the sheer power of the will even a “pagan” is able to comply with a tough set of rules for living, then what does it say of the Christian who supposedly is supernaturally endowed but lives a duplicitous life? This is a hard question for the believer to answer. Only in and through the power of the Holy Spirit is the Christian walk even possible.

Submitting to God’s Will

So where does one begin? With self-crucifixion. In effect, we go to our own funeral and bury the self-will so that God’s will can reign supremely in our hearts. Our will has no power to do God’s will until it first dies to its own desires and the Holy Spirit brings a fresh power within.

I well recall the first sermon I ever preached. I substituted for a young man who didn’t show up for the engagement. I stood in front of the audience, completely terrified. Before I entered the tent where I was to speak, I fell on my knees, pleading with God to help me not to faint from fear. Once I stood up, it felt as though another power and another voice had taken hold of me.

The second time I preached, I had no doubt whatsoever of what was happening inside me. I knew that a power greater than myself was working out God’s will and proclaiming his message. To this day I am absolutely convinced that when you work under God’s will and your will submits to that will, you become a different person before people.

The ABCDs of a Willful Walk with the Lord

Out of these experiences, I developed what I call “the ABCDs of a willful walk with the Lord”:

Ask without pettiness

Being before doing

Convictions without compromise

Discipline without drudgery

Ask without Pettiness

The Bible tells us to ask for the Holy Spirit. In Luke 11 Jesus responds to a request from his disciples to teach them to pray with what is commonly known as “the Lord’s Prayer.” He then expands on the virtue of persevering in prayer:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

LUKE 11:9-13

This passage presents two unexpected contrasts: a snake instead of a fish, and a scorpion instead of an egg. But that is precisely the nature of the dramatic surprise that awaits those who have lived for themselves by the power of their will for their own sake. You ask for pleasure, and you end up empty. You ask for purpose, and you end up ravaged. In his goodness, God will never betray us into a false hope. He promises to give the Holy Spirit to those who simply and sincerely ask him for that gift of God. If the will to serve God is there, the Holy Spirit must both prompt the prayer and empower the will.

It took two years of struggling with my newfound faith before I understood what it meant to crucify the flesh and to ask the Holy Spirit in persevering prayer to make his home within me. I believe that this is both a moment in time when we make this commitment and a daily reminder to the self of the Spirit’s power, which is needed afresh. With that power within, we do the will of the One who sends us.

Being before Doing

In a world that always wants to do, we hardly know what it is to be. What does it mean to “be”?

When someone asks, “Who are you?” we invariably answer by giving our name. When Moses asked God in Exodus 3 why he was chosen for the task when nothing in him merited the position, God said to him, “I will be with you” (verse 12). Moses immediately responded by asking God what he should say when the Israelites ask him the name of the one who sent Moses to them. God gave an answer in relation to time and existence. He told Moses that he is the eternal “I AM.” That defining description stands in contradistinction to the entire created order. No one else can say that he or she is the eternal “I AM.”

This is why we always give our names in relationship to somebody else. In my name is my father’s name. In my passport is my citizenship. Our identity is locked into place when we come to be, because there was a time when we were not. Time, contingency, and name give us our identity. All are in a relational frame of description. Pilate wondered if Jesus truly was the “Son of God” (see John 19:7–8). In his farewell words to the disciples, Jesus said he was returning to the Father (John 20:17). Who we are is always defined by “whose” we are first. A “Christian” is really “a Christ One.” My name is identified with his name. That’s what it means.

One of the strangest incidents to hit the news in recent memory was the story of young Whitney Cerak. I received the news of the tragedy that had struck Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, shortly after it happened. Because my son graduated from Taylor and two former Taylor students serve on our staff, we were in a direct line of information about what had happened.

On that fateful day, April 26, 2006, several Taylor students and staff members were making their way back to the campus in a college van when an errant truck hit them head-on. Four students and one staff member died instantly. Funerals were held, and the bereaved mourned their losses. One can only imagine the grief that so many endured through a jolt as sudden and tragic as this. The VanRyn family received word that their daughter, Laura, though seriously injured and in a coma, had survived the crash—the only student still alive. The entire family rushed to the hospital and kept watch over their daughter day and night. The crash had critically injured and disfigured her.

As the days went by, Laura began to open her eyes and then gradually speak. Her family’s hearts leaped with joy at the progress she was making. But then some odd doubts began building over some of the things she said. Her young fiancé also felt perplexed and started raising some questions. Reassuring themselves, they attributed all of it to her head injuries and a lengthy recovery time. But when they called her by name, she kept shaking her head and saying her name was not Laura, but Whitney. Oddly enough, there had been a Whitney in the van, but she had been one of those immediately killed. Her family had already buried her. What were they to make of all of this? Why did she keep referring to herself as Whitney as her parents were calling her Laura?

After comparing dental records, officials uncovered a huge blunder. Someone at the scene had falsely identified the lone student survivor as Laura. In fact, Laura VanRyn was dead. The young woman in the rehabilitation center was not Laura, but Whitney Cerak. The rehab center instantly notified the Cerak family of the mistake. Authorities exhumed the body of the girl mistakenly identified as Whitney and quickly determined from DNA testing that the body was that of Laura VanRyn.

One can only imagine the trauma and the shifting emotions among the families. A family that thought their daughter was dead found out she was actually alive, while a family that had rejoiced in the survival of their daughter discovered that she had died at the crash scene. In an odd way, Whitney will have the privilege of hearing what others said at her “funeral.” For one family, at least, there were tears mixed with joy. Explanation after explanation followed to apologize for the colossal mistake. Thoroughly embarrassed, the coroner announced that he was retiring at the end of 2006.

Why does a mistake like this so traumatize us? It does so because we derive our identity from relationship. We carry within us a deep-seated bond to those we love and know and represent. It means something more than just my own individual life. I cannot simply be me without connections and repercussions. Our society is gradually seeing these bonds loosen as we continue to define ourselves in isolation.

Who am I? What does it mean to “be”? The answer is this: I am a child of God related to my heavenly Father. I must be this child in my own understanding. I am not my own. I belong to him. Resting in that knowledge, I know what it is to be his. I should pursue doing God’s will, then, and by his grace he will enable my will.

Convictions without Compromise

The will is both the framer of my convictions and the efficient cause in honoring these convictions. Setting these convictions in place gives me guidelines regarding where to draw the lines. Sometimes, unfortunately, we operate within a zone where the lines get blurred—something like the strike zone in baseball where the umpire makes a judgment call on whether it should be a ball or a strike. This is why the broad category of setting life’s purpose first and then measuring each moment by this purpose is so important.

The classic example here is Joseph in the Old Testament. When Potiphar’s wife repeatedly tempted him, he gave her a pointed answer: “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). Notice that he did not say, “What if we get caught?” He did not say, “This is a tough call.” Any other answer could have left room for her to talk him into the affair. His response removed any possible enticement to rationalize and give in to the temptation.

A conviction is not merely an opinion. It is something rooted so deeply in the conscience that to change a conviction would be to change the very essence of who you are.

Discipline without Drudgery

Hardly anyone likes the word “discipline.” It is both the blessing and the bane of our lives. Discipline always seems like a weight around our necks. But if one can only see the need for and the fruit of discipline, one can understand why it offers such great rewards. Think of the athlete who disciplines his or her body for the big race. Think of the discipline of study before an exam and the rewards of success. Think of the labor of love and the victory of reaping a harvest after sowing healthy seeds. Think of honoring God with everything you have and the peace that it brings. The Lord tells us that he disciplines those he loves (see Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 3:19); by implication, then, the undisciplined life is an unloved life.

One Final Warning

There remains one major warning to be stated about the will. It is this: the more one surrenders convictions and neglects discipline, the more one gradually changes one’s own hungers and desires. There is an old adage that says, “When you sow a thought you reap an act; when you sow an act you reap conduct; when you sow conduct you reap character; when you sow character you reap a destiny.” History is full of faltering wills that have reshaped the future with immeasurable impact. Let’s examine just one illustration.

When David was battling the Philistines, he felt terribly homesick and wished he could have a single drink of water from his well in Bethlehem. Three of his choicest warriors in a cloak-and-dagger operation got behind enemy lines and stealthily reached the well. They filled a pitcher they had brought with them for the purpose and stole back out, unnoticed, returning to the place where David was, wishing he could be home. One can imagine the inner thrill they felt as they approached him. They took the pitcher out from under their cloaks, poured out a goblet of water, and said, “Here, David—all the way from your well in Bethlehem.” But David paused. When he realized that they had risked their lives to get him that one drink of water, he took the goblet and, in a dramatic illustration, poured the water onto the ground, saying that he could not accept a gift that had jeopardized the lives of others in order to bring him delight. The soldiers were left speechless (see 2 Samuel 23:15–17).

It was a noble act on the part of the king. As I read it, I wondered, “What would have happened if David had reacted the same way when he saw Bathsheba?” The answer is that much of Old Testament history would have changed. But sadly, David’s will failed him that time, and the consequences for him and others were disastrous.

We can each recall moments like this in our own lives—moments when our response should have been different from what it was.

A disciplined life that leads to the power to say no eluded David. That one choice led him to make other choices that were devastating to a compromised life and created an appetite for all the wrong things. G. K. Chesterton once said that there are many angles at which you can fall and only one angle at which you can stand straight. The next time you think about the power of your will, think not just of the immediate choice but of all the other compromises to which one ill-advised choice could lead.


1Cited in Sherwood Eliot Wirt and Kersten Beckstrom, eds., Topical Encyclopedia of Living Quotations (Minneapolis: Bethany House,1982), 227.

2 “David Livingstone — Missionary to Africa.” Moments with the Book: http://www.mwtb.org/html/41047... (October 26, 2006).

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