I call heaven and earth to witness against you today: I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life that you and your seed may live… Deut. 30:19
In the Collected Works, Watchman Nee says, “The highest level of Christian living is a living by the will” (Vol 3, p 68). Many of us who have either grown up in the recovery or spent time reading the ministry might be caught off guard by this statement – Isn’t the most important part of our being our spirit? Shouldn’t we be those living by our spirit? Then how can the highest level of Christian living be one according to the will?
What Watchman Nee is pointing out is a very practical and extremely helpful point for our progress in the Christian life. He goes on to stress the difference between living by our emotions, which we tend to do, and living by our will, which we need to do. According to 2 Corinthians 5:7 and Romans 1:17, we are those who walk and live by faith, not by appearance, feeling, or sight. As such, we should not be concerned with our feelings, whether high or low, or our thoughts, whether good or bad. We should simply exercise our will to choose to walk by our spirit.
Our spiritual life is one which believes in God, and not one which senses God or sees God. Feeling and seeing are merely feelings in your soul; they are not your true spiritual life. The most important thing that we should know is that true spirituality depends on man’s will, rather than on his emotions. If your will consistently, constantly, and continuously (1) wills, (2) determines, and (3) chooses that which is of God and even God Himself, you are already living a spiritual life. Your emotions are unreliable. Indeed, they are like the waves. But you can abide peacefully by your will. What God wants to give is not a happy feeling every day. His purpose is for you to live by your will and your spirit. “I love the Lord, not because of what I feel, but because I want to love Him.” Just as we would read the Bible, pray, preach, and serve the Lord when we are joyful, in the same way we should read the Bible, pray, preach, and serve Him when we do not feel anything and our heart is as cold as ice. Please understand that the most important thing is to live by the will and not by the emotions. The most deceiving thing is for a person to take his feelings as an indicator of his spiritual life. From now on, please learn to exercise your will to control your whole being and your feelings. If God rewards you with feelings, thank Him. If He does not and you feel lost at heart, go on as usual. Until you have overcome your habit of living by your feelings, God cannot greatly use you. He needs solid vessels, those who do not change due to circumstances. – Collected Works of Watchman Nee, Vol 7, pp 1106-1108
It seems that in our daily living, we are keenly aware of our mind and emotion, but we often forget the third, and evidently most important part of our soul, our will. We are very sensitive to our feelings and often interpret them as signs of our walk with the Lord. We seem to analyze where we are with the Lord and try to use our mind to interpret the feelings in our emotions, forgetting about the capacity the Lord has installed in us to choose. We simply need to forget about how we feel or what we think, and exercise our will to turn to our spirit. Notice – we do not exercise our spirit to turn to our spirit, but we exercise our will to turn to our spirit. We don’t just exercise our spirit, the key is to choose to exercise our spirit.
In the Collected Works of Witness Lee, Brother Lee gives a very enlightening example of this in starting a car (vol 1, pp 23-28). Although the car runs on gasoline, it is started by electricity. The electricity starts the car, but once it is started, the gasoline runs the car. In the same way, our will is the electric starter, and our spirit is the gasoline which runs the car. Yes, we must be those who live by our spirit, just as the car runs by the gasoline. But how do we ignite our spirit? We have to use the will to choose to get there. Rather than waiting for a feeling or inspiration, we must realize that the spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet – we can turn to our spirit any time we choose!
A barrier some may have experienced is that we are hesitant to exercise our will for fear of living by will-power. However, the difference between the will and will-power is also illustrated by this example. After you start the car, you do not try to run it by means of the electric starter. That would be foolish. The starter ignites the gasoline, and the gasoline runs the car from there. In the same way, the will simply serves to get us to our spirit, and our spirit takes us from there. As we exercise our will, we must depend on and trust in our spirit. This is the reason both Watchman Nee and Witness Lee realized the will was so important – because it is the only way that we will get to our spirit! Our mind and emotion may try to distract us, but we must exercise our will and choose to turn to our spirit. Praise the Lord we have the capacity to choose life!
“Your spirit is connected to your will, which is powerful. So whenever you exercise your spirit, you have to realize that your will is involved.” – Witness Lee, The Spirit with Our Spirit, p 82
“The most important thing that we should know is that true spirituality depends on man’s will, rather than on his emotions.” – Watchman Nee, Collected Works of Watchman Nee, Vol 7, pp 1107-1108