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Of Obedience, "Hidden Tendencies," and the Grace in Between

I'm currently in the process of my half-dozenth or so go-round with Watchman Nee's The Spiritual Man. If y'r familiar with the book (and even if you're not), it may not be Summa Theologica or Institutes of the Christian Religion but it's still a pretty hefty read. And I never fail to get something new out of it each time through. This time around, one of those things looks like this (additional emphasis mine):

"God's intent is not merely to curtail the movement of our will but also to smash its inner tendency so that its very quality seems to be transformed. Strictly speaking, an obedient will and a harmonious one are very different: obedience is related to activity whereas harmony is related to life, nature and tendency. The obedient will of a servant is seen in his executing every order of his master, but the son who knows the father's heart and whose will is one with the father's not only fulfils his duty but fulfils it with delight as well. An obedient will put a stop to one's own activity, yes, but a harmonious will is in addition one heart with God. Only those who are in harmony with Him can actually appreciate his heart....

"When the moment of temptation and trial comes they will discover that an obedient will is not the same as a harmonious one, that non-resistance does not necessarily mean no will of their own self. Who is there who does not care for a little gain, who does not withhold a little something for himself? Who really desires no gold or silver, honor, freedom, joy, advantage, position or whatever? One may think he cares nothing for these items; while he has them he may not be conscious of their bold upon him; but let him be on the verge of losing them, and he shall soon discover how tenaciously he wants to hold on to them. An obedient will may agree with God's will on many occasions, but at some time or other there is bound to be a mighty struggle between the life of the believer's will and the will of God. Unless His grace realises its fullest work, the saint can hardly overcome....

"[O]rdinarily we say that an obedient will is already dead in itself. Yet strictly speaking it still possesses a thread of life which is unbroken. There continues to be a hidden tendency, a secret admiring of the former way of life. That is why on certain occasions it finds itself less joyful, less ardent and less diligent in obeying the Lord than at other times. While the will of God is in fact obeyed, there nevertheless remains a difference in personal like and dislike. Had the life of self genuinely and completely been consigned to death, the attitude of the believer towards every part of the will of God would be exactly the same. Any disparity in speed, feeling and effort shows a lack of concord in one's will towards God's will."

I could stop right there and I think you'd get it. But the thing is, I somehow found a great comfort—and simultaneously, a great deal of mental hand-wringing—in all this, and found myself wondering why. Here's what I've come up with so far:

• The restlessness—or dis-ease—we may feel as we are obedient to God may not be OK, but it is to be expected. It is not to be misinterprested as disobedience, or even necessarily as a spiritual attack (although it could be either, or both). It simply means that there is more to this than our obedience. We are to remain obedient to what we know, and let God show us the rest when He's ready—and for that matter, when we're ready to be shown it. And then, of course, be obedient to that as well.

• It's easy, especially as Americans, to mistake a lack of obvious influence for a lack of obedience. However, the idea "I'm not reaching these numbers of people; therefore, I'm not doing enough" doesn't come from God. At best, it comes from me—and very likely, from somewhere worse.

• By definition here, I won't be perfect. In fact, I can't be. However, God does ask me to be obedient, and thus to keep my conscience clear. Doing that is the only legitimate response I can make in response to my dis-ease.

• I can always come up higher. I can never be proud of being obedient; it is only my "reasonable service," as Romans 12:1 puts it. Nonetheless, it is the means by which God takes me higher, and closer to Him. My dis-ease is a reminder that I have further to go, and that any peace along the way is God's gift—and not my reward for "being a good boy."

• Even when I'm obedient, to the best of my knowledge and abilities, I'm not truly "in the center of God's will." It can certainly be said that I'm within God's will—which is far from nothing—but again, it's nothing to become self-satisfied over. What I can hopefully rejoice in, even as I keep walking and following, is that I'm being led deeper into God's will.

• All in all: Restlessness can be holy ("divine discontent"). Restlessness can be evil (rebellion). And sometime, restlessness is just... restlessness. Our emotions, in themselves, mean nothing. What's truly driving them, however, means a great deal. Only as we resolve to continue on with God do we discover what lies behind our restlessness.

And that's just what I've got. Comment away if you have more....

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