Have you ever seen a toddler throwing a temper tantrum? Odds are, if you have ever seen a toddler, then you have seen a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. They can come in a variety of flavors, but the general progression is as follows:
- Child asserts his/her will.
- Child’s will is thwarted.
- Child’s heart rate increases, brow furrows, nostrils flare, fingers curl into fists, back stiffens, eyes narrow.
- Child begins to make his/her demands known as ear-piercingly as possible.
- Child may begin jumping up and down and flailing limbs and/or throw him/herself onto the floor and begin flailing limbs.
- Child continues until redirected or until his/her demands have been met.
We ask ourselves what on earth is this ridiculous, hyperbolic behavior all about? It’s simple. It’s about will. (Okay, yes, sometimes it’s also about missed naptime or low blood sugar, but it’s mostly about will.) The toddler, who considers himself the Absolute Supreme Ruler of the Universe, will not stand idly by while his will is thwarted by well-meaning adults. The toddler wants what she wants and she wants it now. It is our job as parents to teach our children that they are not, in fact, the rulers of the universe (because that job is taken) but are actually under the authority of God.
How can we teach these fundamental truths to our children yet so often fail to remember them when it comes to our own lives? Probably because, as our toddlers graciously remind us, from the very beginning of our existence it is simply not in our nature to put someone else’s will before our own. (We may also need a nap or a snack.) Even though as adults, we don’t usually throw ourselves on the floor anymore, we still struggle to assert our will. We hate when we don’t get our own way. We want what we want and we want it now. Or we feel the pull of the Holy Spirit telling us how to act in alignment with God’s will, and we just don’t want to.
To be fair, what God asks of us is not always easy. The spiritual life demands everything from us, because Jesus gave everything for us. God is probably not going to ask us to die on a cross, but we’ll be asked to take up our crosses every day, to choose sacrifice every day, to unclench our small fists and open our narrowed eyes and look up and say, “Father, let your will be done in my life.”
And how do we know God’s will for our lives? Jesus says in John 7, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” Therefore, the first step of obedience to God’s will is to bend our will toward God’s will, that is, to desire to be obedient. He goes on in chapter 8 to say, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” There is so much to unpack here! We learn that God’s word is meant to be our spiritual home address, that living in the word leads to obedience, that obedience is a mark of true discipleship, that God’s word is truth, and that somehow, counterintuitively, living under the authority of God is not bondage but freedom.
Romans 12:1 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Paul is telling us that in order to know God’s will for us, we need our minds to be renewed, our wills inclined toward God’s. We are already made new through the finished work of Jesus Christ, so the joyful work that remains for us to do is to get into God’s word and then do what it says.
John Piper talks about what happens when we work to renew our minds in the word of God: “Page after page after page is helping us discern the moral will of God. What does he approve of? What does he delight in? What is good, acceptable and perfect in his view for you to do this afternoon? So start here. … The Bible is sufficient to help you discern every good work…so start there and ask the Lord for a renewed mind that is a mind that when it reads the Bible can see what it means. That is step one. Number two. You must choose many things that are not specifically covered in the Bible. In other words, you must choose to do many things where the Bible does not give you explicit instruction. The Bible will not tell you what person to marry. The Bible does not tell you which car to drive. The Bible does not tell you whether to own a home or rent a home. The Bible doesn’t tell you where to take a vacation. It doesn’t tell you what phone plan to buy. It doesn’t tell you which brand of orange juice to drink and a thousand other choices that you must make. … So step number two in penetrating through to the will of God’s command as it applies to the things where he didn’t make it explicit is you have got to have a new mind shaped by the rest of Scripture so that when you come to those decisions there is a readiness to see and do the will.”
So the next time you’re tempted to assert your own will, or maybe even to throw a very mature, dignified temper tantrum, maybe have a snack and sit down with God’s word to see what he has to say about it. And if you ever see me rolling on the floor flailing my limbs and making my demands known, please remind me to do the same.
Written By: Jess Upshaw Glass