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Standing Up on the Inside; a Hard Look at the Hardened Will

"An Excerpt from the author's booklet "The Prayer of Surrender"

Strong willed Johnny was in a battle with his father. More than once he had been commanded to sit down but he was determined not to. He stood defiantly with fists clenched by his side and his lower lip stiffly protruding from his frowning face. Finally, his father said firmly, “Johnny, I am telling you for the last time SIT DOWN! And if you don’t, you are going to get the worst spanking of your life!” Johnny knew the battle was lost and he plopped stiffly onto the chair. Then he muttered through clenched teeth, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside!”

If the truth were known there are many Christians like Johnny; they are outwardly obedient to the Lord but inwardly resistant to a total submission of spirit. They are still standing up on the inside. They harbor a point of resistance. They have a hardened will. You may be one of them my friend without even realizing it.

In Spite of the Best Training

Did you know that it is possible to have a hardened will in spite of good training and teaching? Some believers grow up in Christian homes, attend Christian schools, go to church regularly, read their Bibles daily, and even go to Christian camps, conferences, and preaching meetings, some even attending Bible college, but still they resist God. “He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Prov 29:1).

“Reprove” includes the meaning of education and teaching. The writer of Proverbs is saying that it is possible to be taught often, even over and over, with the result of a gradually hardened will. I know a man who read through the entire Bible constantly, unbelievably twice each month, all the while living in adultery without changing. His will had indeed been hardened, perhaps even because of his constant rejection of the reproof of the Bible.

In the Midst of Active Ministry

Many who are vigorously engaged in serving the Lord can also be struggling. Even participation in the highest of callings does not guarantee that the will is submissive. Contrary to doing the will of the Father, Jesus says such people can actually be guilty of iniquity;

“Many will say to me in that day; Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt 7:22-23).

Without Being Aware of It

Is it possible for a person to have a hardened will and not even be aware of it? It is not only possible my friend, it is altogether common. How well I remember a man who was living in chronic and habitual sin, yet congratulated himself that he was spiritually successful and in favor with God. He even assumed that because he read the Bible faithfully and got much blessing from it, he was right with God. It wasn’t until he read carefully from James chapter one that he realized the awful truth. Only then did he know that although he was a hearer of the Word, he was not a doer. Consider Jamess 1:22-24:

"But be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any man be a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a [mirror]: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.”

Upon reading this passage, this self-confident man dropped his Bible, put his face in his hands and began to wail piteously, “I’ve been such a fool! I’ve been such a fool!” He was completely clueless to the fact that he had sin in his life despite his pride in his Bible knowledge.

We can get to a place of self-congratulations because we convince ourselves that we are okay, that there is no hardness in us. We are not aware of the subtle nature of hardness and fail to take precautions against it, precautions like benefitting from a friend’s warnings. We are warned to “harden not your hearts” but to “Take heed…lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God”… and to “exhort one another daily …lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:8,12-13).

Being Proud of It

A husband in counseling verbally attacked his wife unmercifully, calling her names and insulting her in a horrible display of anger. I stopped him in mid-attack and asked him, “Why are you doing this?” He proudly answered, “Because I’m honest! That’s why! I believe in telling it like it is!” He felt proud that he held nothing back no matter the deep hurt he caused to his wife. He literally was calling evil good (Is 5:20). It was not until he was required to read Proverbs 29:11 that he stopped attacking and began to see the error of his way; “A fool uttereth all his mind”.

These varied results of an unsurrendered will are so numerous and varied that they are difficult to discern in our hearts, let alone to admit to. How are we to know if we have a will that is unyielded?

Evidences of a Hardened Will

As the man who was unaware of his sin until he read the Word of God, we too need a good dose of the Bible, even if it is shocking to our system. After all, it is a “discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb 4:12). And there is no better a place to look than the Book of James, chapter 4 where the great Apostle invites us into a veritable examination room for the soul.

As a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy assigned to the Emergency Room, it was part of my duty to take the patient into a waiting room of examination in preparation for the doctor’s arrival. I would register the temperature, blood pressure, respiration rate, pulse rate, and generally glean all the information possible to aid the doctor in his treatment. The ultimate diagnosis and treatment was of course up to the doctor. In like manner, I will attempt to assist the “Great Physician” in His diagnosis and treatment of the problem before us and possibly in you, and that is a hard and unyielded will. There are many dimensions and descriptions of this in the Bible and many signs of a rebellious, unyielded will. Here are a few of them:

A Division in Relationships

"From whence come wars and fightings among you?” (vs. 1). Whether in attitude or in actions, this person is at war with others. He is argumentative, touchy, and quick to react to an affront to his nature. He thinks the worst and reacts in the worst way attacking his “enemy” without mercy, all the while justifying himself as merely reacting to mistreatment. Marriage is a common battleground for such a person. In the midst of a loveless home, much tension seethes under the surface. Why? A hardened will.

After listening to one couple devour one another with hurtful words, I said, “I know what the problem is.” “You know what the problem is”!? they both responded. We have been to counselors, psychologists, and even psychiatrists for dozens of counseling sessions and they could not tell us what the problem was! Now, we are in our first session with you and you’re saying you know what it is?” “Yes”, I replied quietly, “I know what the problem is”. “Well then, tell us! What is the problem?” “Okay,” I said, “Please open your Bibles to Proverbs 13:10 and read the first line aloud.” “Only by pride cometh contention”. They both looked like they had been struck by lightning! Shock and surprise were written all over their faces and gradually changed to a grinning realization as we focused on the first word; “only”. The problem was pride, only pride and nothing but pride! It was a prideful will which would not yield to the other. If ever the definition of pride fit a couple, it fit them; pride is “the need to defend myself” and they both had earned a Ph.D. in that subject! But now that it was uncovered, the counseling was all downhill from there. We could now focus on the biblical solution; “humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He shall lift you up” (Jas 4:10).

Denial of Desires

"[ye] desire to have, and cannot obtain” (vs. 2). You just know that if you had this one thing, you would be happy. You wish for it, you search for it, you long for it, and you dream of it, but nothing happens! It never materializes. (In many marriages, one mate longs for a better partner. In fact, 75% of those in my marriage counseling believe they married the wrong person and want to replace them with the right one).

To make matters worse, the people around you are receiving their desires while you are not. You envy their success and long to experience it yourself. The rot of envy and the corruption of jealousy compound your problem. But no matter what you do, and how earnestly you wish, you desire and cannot obtain. Why? A hardened will.

Disappointment in Prayer

Strangely, many long for something but it never occurs to them to pray about it, to actually ask God for it. “Ye have not because ye ask not”. I once asked a wife who was frustrated with a lack of love in her marriage: “Have you prayed for more love?” “What!?”, she protested! “Who ever heard of praying for love? I want to fall in love!”

You protest: “But I have asked for it! I have begged God for it even through my tears but nothing happens! No answer from God. Why? Often it’s because we ask wrongly; “Ye ask and receive not because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your own lusts” (vs. 2-3). Some receive not because they don’t ask, and others ask and receive not because they ask wrongly, i.e. they ask selfishly.

How many prayers have been frustrated because of a self-centered “agenda”; one focused on my happiness, my needs, my pleasure, my satisfaction? For some it’s relief from pain, for others the restoration of a loss or even the reformation of a mate, but “It’s all about God” has been replaced by “It’s all about me!”It’s all about “your own lusts”. One of the greatest signs of an unsurrendered will is a pre-occupation with “your own lusts”. How about you dear reader? Let the Spirit of God speak to your heart.

Devotion to the World

"Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (vs. 4).

Instead of a closeness to God, this person wants to be close to the world. They want to dress like the world, hang out where the world hangs out, sing the songs of the world, revel in the entertainment of the world, and make their friends in the world. It never occurs to them how far they have drifted from God. They would be shocked to learn that God sees them as His “enemy”! But they are so hardened in their heart that they simply cannot see this! They wouldn’t believe it if you told them! They are blinded to their hard will and calloused heart. The world has taken them over; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life reigns supreme. The love of the Father is not in them. What a sad commentary on the spiritual state of many believers. The world has so enamored them that it is all they live for. Church is an obligation, the Bible is for Sundays only, prayer is only for emergencies, and Christian service is a barely tolerable duty. This is not a sudden change; it’s more like a gradual drift.

I well remember the reaction of my five-year-old son while watching a scene in a movie where a farmer had to shoot a rabid wolf. As it lay on the ground in the throes of death, Jonathan turned to me with tears in his eyes and cried out, “Daddy! They shot that dog!”But then fast-forward ten years to the time he was watching an action movie where the hero was slaying villains left and right. How my son had changed! He was leaning into the t.v. screen with eagerness, his muscles twitching in tandem with the hero’s, and cheering each new death! How far my son had come; from tears over a dying dog to cheers over a dying man. Truly we can “be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13), in this case through the world’s entertainment.

Distance From God

The final judge of any discussion over our closeness to God is not how close we feel to Him, but how close He feels to us. His perceptions are more important than ours, and what are His perceptions? When you choose the world over Him due to your hardness and coldness, He is “grieved” (Eph 4:30). He feels that you have made Him your enemy (Jas 4:4), that you don’t love Him (I Jn 2:15), and even that you despise Him (II Sam 12:9-10). These are serious perceptions of God and clear evidence that one has drifted into a state of hardness.

At this point you may say, “All right Dr. Jim. You have my attention! But what can I do to come to a place of surrender? What can I do to be fully yielded to God?” I’m glad you asked, and the fact that you are asking shows that you understand that a yielded will is learned!

That brings us to the subject of this book and that is prayer. More specifically it’s about how to pray and pray effectively. Obviously, a will that is not totally surrendered to God gets in the way of answered prayers; “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps. 66:18).To “regard” has the meaning to feel enjoyment, to have respect unto. It is the practice of esteeming something…anything more highly than God. The latin word is “video” which underscores the practice of viewing for enjoyment. In other words, if I keep a video of something I esteem more than God, and play it on the screen of my mind, I cannot expect that God will be pleased to hear my prayer.

I will never forget a misguided husband who came for counseling with an un-heard of request. He wanted me to convince his wife to allow him to carry on his affair with another woman. Do you find that shocking? No more shocking than what God feels when we pray while our private sin is playing on a video in the background.

Christ Our Model of Surrender

We must spare no effort and avoid no pain or expense to find any iniquity or hardness which hinders prayer. We must destroy the video! And glory to God, He has not left us without a model to follow. Like all things in the Christian life Jesus is our model. By looking at Him we can learn how to walk in obedience to God, especially regarding prayer. Here too Christ is our model. He teaches us how to pray by His very example. He shows us how to pray obediently in the very crisis of His life. He is the very model of surrender.

We will consider His process of learning, His pilgrimage of growing, and “the cup”; His picture for focusing.

His Process of Learning

"Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered; and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation” – Hebrews 5:8-9

At first reading, this Scripture seems strangely and shockingly out of place. Surely this can’t be true…that the Son of God would have to learn anything. After all, isn’t He God, and as God doesn’t He already know all things? James Stalker of Scotland wisely addresses this issue in his classic treatment of the life of Christ, “Imago Christi; The Example of Jesus Christ”. He suggests that in his humanity, Christ had to climb a stairway of increasing perfection which was facilitated through His suffering. “It became [God]…to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. (Heb 2:10).

“These are mysterious statements” he continues. “Was He imperfect that He needed to be made perfect, or disobedient that He required to learn obedience? They cannot surely mean that the smallest iota was ever [lacking] to complete His character in either sense. No, but simply because He was a man, with a human history and a human development, He had to ascend a stair, so to speak, of obedience and perfection, and, although every step was surmounted at its own precise time and He emerged upon it perfect, yet every step required a new effort and when surmounted, brought Him to a higher state of perfection and into a wider circle of obedience.”

Because Jesus was a man, and let’s remember that although He was all God, He was also all man, he had to learn and grow in His humanity. This growth was decreed by God to be in the classroom of suffering; the same classroom into which he invites us to observe Christ during His studies. Some believe that the greatest suffering of Christ was not on the Cross, but in the Garden. It is there in my opinion, more than anywhere else in Scripture, we can measure to some degree His growth in yieldedness through His suffering, and by doing so to shine the light of truth upon our own lesser souls’ need of growth as well.

His Pilgrimage of Growing

It is indisputable that Christ grew as a man. Throughout His entire life, He continued up the staircase of increasing growth and expanded obedience; “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Lu 2:52). This can be measured in various ways but as He got closer and closer to His life goal of providing forgiveness for all men on the Cross, His lessons grew more intense and meaningful. No more so than in the Garden itself. It was there that one can trace the progression of His growth in obedience and surrender. I am referring especially to the progression of His three prayers; the first was one of initial concession, the second a growing conformity, and finally the third one of complete consecration. Consider these with me:

Initial Concession

After instructing His disciples to tarry behind, He ventured farther into the privacy of the Garden, went to His knees, and eventually His face and prayed “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will but as thou wilt” (Mt 26:39). Mark gives us a different insight into this prayer when he words it differently than Matthew; instead of “let this cup pass from me” he records Jesus as having said take away this cup from me” (Mk 14:36). (Luke renders it “remove this cup from me” -Lu 22:42) In Matthew’s gospel, this can be seen as a request, and even more in Mark’s gospel. Wuest (“The Expanded Translation”) interprets Mark thusly; “Abba Father, all things are possible to you. Cause this cup to pass by and from me. But not what I desire, but what you desire.”

K. Shilder, in his blockbuster book “Christ In His Sufferings”, believes that Matthew’s use of “let this cup pass from me” is the main clause of the sentence while the thought of God’s will being done is a modifying clause of secondary or lesser importance. In other words, the important part of Christ’s first prayer is His request (or more as some interpret it) that the cup pass from Him, and His desire for God’s will is secondary.

I believe Mark’s account to be more representative of Christ’s state of mind than Matthew’s. Granted, both qualify Christ’s core statement with “nevertheless” and yielding to the Father’s ultimate will, but, as Schilder writes, it is modifying rather than primary. Although he suggests that this “indicates that Jesus was gradually coming nearer to His triumph [of surrender]”, at the point of this, the first of three consecutive prayers in the Garden, He was only beginning this journey.

This first prayer was one of concession to God’s will. I call it “concession” because I don’t believe it meets the qualification of complete consecration. A “concession” is “the act of yielding a right or privilege”. Granted, Christ is here yielding the privilege of a cup-free existence, but there is a seeming degree of hesitancy in His yielding as seem the words “take away this cup from me”. Morgan describes this as a “shrinking.” The painful process of “learning obedience by the things which He suffered” has just begun. He has only taken the first step toward full and complete surrender.

A Growing Conformity

“O, my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” (Matt 26:32).

This second prayer is offered by Christ after discovering His disciples sleeping rather than supporting Him in prayer. Is it possible that this revelation of man’s inability to help Him in this desperate hour of need drove Him back to the Father for more prayer? Has His will been humbled more than before because of this? “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness; and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Ps. 69:20). “He passed into the actual place of His passion…in utter loneliness. No man could help, no man could sympathize, no man could understand” (Morgan).

This prayer differs markedly from “take away this cup”. This is a softer, gentler approach to the Father. Christ shows a greater willingness to conform to His will. However, it must not be lost on the reader that He prefaced His willingness on the “condition” of impossibility”; if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it or referring to Wuest again; “if it is not possible that this pass by except I drink it”… In both translations it is clear that there is a condition attached and that is one of no other possibility but to drink it. “If it is inescapable, if it is inevitable, I will conform my desires to your will. I will perform a compliant act of obedience in accordance with your will O God.”

But one can see that neither Christ’s initial concession or even His growing conformity reaches the level of complete consecration.

Complete Consecration

The first prayer was tinged with a touch of resistance while hesitantly conceding to God’s will. The second was a reluctant conformity based on the impossibility of escaping God’s will. This the third prayer although worded the same as the second prayer (“He prayed the third time, saying the same words” – Matt 26:44), reveals something unique as revealed in the context.

Christ has reached a critical mass of despondency, depression, soul suffering and physical depletion. He is “sorrowful and very heavy”, “exceeding sorrowful even unto death”, in an “agony”, and now begins to sweat “great drops of blood”. The situation is so bad that God sends an angel to strengthen Him resulting in a greater intensification of suffering. Schilder believes that His suffering increased as a direct result of the angel’s visit. The angel’s purpose it seems was to insure the pain; “For the angel comes not to keep Jesus from hurting His foot, but, on the contrary, to keep Him from dashing on something without feeling the pain.”

On the other hand, as the pain was necessary for the Atonement, so was a living sacrifice. The angel heard Christ’s prayer for sustained life and gave Him the physical strength to embrace the cup; “Who in the days of His flesh [at Gethsemane], when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death [in the Garden], and was heard in that He feared” (Heb 5:7). The devil wanted a premature death, the angel desired a life lived long enough to complete the Father’s will. He sees to it that the Son of Man regains the strength of a lion; for only in that way can He die the death of a lamb.”

Jesus has completed His pilgrimage to consecration. He has wholeheartedly dedicated Himself to God. The difference after His third prayer is clear to the sensitive reader; “Then cometh He to His disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matt 26:45). “Sleep on now”; the relief is evident. The burden is lifted. He has gone beyond the enduring of His trial to the embracing of the cup. He is now ready and desires to set His disciples at ease by letting them know He is ready. How far He has come since entering the Garden a short time before! Just as there was an intensification of the conflict, there was an intensification of the surrender.

“The form in which this repeated prayer is described to us indicates that Jesus was gradually coming nearer to His triumph. His first petition was: “Let this cup pass from me”. That, according to the phrasing, is the main clause of the sentence…But when Jesus prays this last petition, He formulates it thus: “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, Thy will be done”. In this instance the phrasing as well as the content indicates that the words, “Thy will be done,” constitute the main clause. Jesus is not merely approaching it: He takes His stand in the one will of God” (Schilder).

An interesting choice of words, “gradually coming nearer to His triumph”, but a sentiment shared by others. Remember that James Stalker referred to the “stair of obedience and perfection” or a progression of perfection, and added; “We see the progress of this effort with great clearness in Gethsemane…a perfection attained through suffering. It was complete comprehension of the will of God and absolute harmony with it.”

The great John Owen adds to our understanding; insisting that Jesus had to go through a process of growth;

“He made a progression after the manner of other men, for He was made like unto us ‘in all things,’ yet without sin….[and as such] there was required a progression in grace also, and this He had continually by the Holy Ghost.”

We see then that this pilgrimage of growing as I have called it in this writing, has various descriptions; “gradually coming nearer to His triumph” (Schilder), a “progress of effort” (Stalker), and a “required progression in grace” (Owens). All of these are seen in Christ’s remarkable and mysterious pilgrimage through Gethsemane. The journey was not complete until He reached that blessed point of absolute and utter consecration. But who can doubt that He did when they hear those blessed words uttered from the Cross in complete and final surrender; “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Lu 23:46).

May God be with you my friend in your own pilgrimage of growth, and may you also come to your own triumph of consecration with a resounding finality of“thy will be done”! May you, like our Lord, drink your cup.

Which raises the obvious question, what is the “cup”? which is covered in the next chapter.


"The Prayer of Surrender”

Surrender is such a disturbing word! Who wants to surrender? We want to conquer! To control! To possess! To overcome! We prefer a language of power more than one of weakness, and “surrender” surely belongs to the language of weakness, doesn’t it?

Jesus didn’t think so. In fact, it is arguable that the greatest overcoming He ever did was to surrender to the cup that God had assigned Him to drink. He knew that only then could the salvation of men and the forgiveness of sin be accomplished.

But His surrender was not an easy or painless journey, and a journey it was. In this book, you will walk with Jesus through His journey and hopefully learn much about prayer. And perhaps you might even overcome that one thing that stands between you and surrender, between you and answered prayer, between you and enjoying the will of God for your life. And through that, may God help you to become a channel of blessing to many.

Chapter One: “Standing up on the Inside”

Chapter Two: “What is The Cup?”

Chapter Three: “What is Your Cup?”

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