The Consequences of Working Willfully

January 17, 2022

By Zhao Yang, China

I was elected to serve as a church leader in 2016. When I first took on that duty, I felt a lot of pressure because I didn’t understand the truth and didn’t have insight into things, so when brothers and sisters ran into problems, I wasn’t sure how to help them with my fellowship. I didn’t know how to consider the principles when I was appointing people to certain duties either, so I was always praying to God and seeking the truth to gain a grasp of the principles. I also sought co-workers out when I didn’t understand something well. Over time, I made progress in my ability to assess people and situations, and I was able to assign brothers and sisters to fitting duties based on their personal strengths. One time, a brother I worked with tried to talk to me about Sister Xia, the head of a gospel team, muddling through her duty and being really passive, saying she was holding up its work. He suggested replacing her as team leader. I thought to myself that she had great caliber and was really capable in her work, so even though she was showing some corruption, if she got a little more help and could make some changes, then she’d have no problem in that position. So I exposed and dissected Sister Xia’s state, and I pruned and dealt with her. After a few sessions of fellowship, I saw that her attitude toward her duty had changed a bit. She was taking more initiative and was also conscientious. After a little while she was promoted to a more important duty. I was really patting myself on the back after that, and I thought, “I was the one with the right idea. It’s a good thing we didn’t dismiss her, but we’ve managed to foster a talented person in God’s house. It seems I’ve got some decent discernment.” From then on, I stopped discussing appointments and dismissals with that brother, thinking that I was more experienced, so I could handle any issues on my own. Two years just flew by, and I became more and more adept at making arrangements for the church’s work. Thinking I had great insight into things, I was becoming more and more arrogant.

At the time I didn’t realize that I wasn’t in a good state. Then one day a letter came from a leader saying that our church’s Sister Zhang had come back after being dismissed from her duty at another church. I needed to arrange for her to attend gatherings. I was thinking that in my interactions with Sister Zhang, I’d seen she was arrogant, she tended to scold people condescendingly, and was hard to get along with. I assumed she hadn’t really changed. Then a little while later, so many newcomers were joining our church that we urgently needed people to take on watering duty. Brother Liu, who worked alongside me, said he’d been in a gathering with Sister Zhang and she’d gained some real self-knowledge and repentance since being dismissed, plus she’d watered new members before and was pretty effective. He suggested that we have her do some watering while continuing her self-reflection so that our work wasn’t delayed. The moment I heard him suggest Sister Zhang, I was thinking that that was a terrible idea, that he didn’t really know her, and she wasn’t someone who pursues the truth. She just talked about having some understanding and he thought she’d repented. I just felt like he was really lacking insight and didn’t have the slightest bit of discernment. I said to him firmly, “I know Sister Zhang. She’s arrogant and tends to come down on people condescendingly. She’s also hard to work with. Besides, she hasn’t truly come to understand herself or change, otherwise she wouldn’t have been dismissed. I don’t think she’s a good fit. We can’t let her take on that duty.” Brother Liu went on to say, “We can’t be too demanding. She is a little arrogant, but she’s really learned about herself through this experience of being let go and she’s been able to repent for the things she’s done. Now she’s low-key in the way she speaks and gets along fine with others. There has been some change in her arrogance. We need to treat people appropriately.” I felt kind of annoyed when I heard him say this. I thought that he was new to that duty, so he didn’t know what he was talking about, and he should just go along with me. I responded, more emphatically, “Isn’t Sister Zhang’s situation perfectly clear? I don’t just casually make up my mind about people, but I can see she’s not a good fit for that duty and we shouldn’t have her do watering.” Brother Liu didn’t say anything more, seeing that I was completely set on my opinion.

A little time passed, and because of a lack of people doing watering, some of the newcomers stopped coming to gatherings because they hadn’t received enough support in time. When a leader came to see what was going on, she and Brother Liu went to talk to Sister Zhang, and when they came back, Brother Liu said, “God’s house is in urgent need of people doing watering. We’ve seen that Sister Zhang has some real self-knowledge and is willing to repent and change. She was dismissed, but she never did anything that awful. She is just on the arrogant side and can still be fostered as long as she can accept the truth and change. We can’t define someone forever by what they do for a time, but give them a chance to repent. We’ve discussed it, and Sister Zhang should take on watering duty.” Hearing him recommend Sister Zhang for this position again, I thought, “I’ve been perfectly clear about it last time, and how could she possibly have changed after so little time? I’ve been serving as a leader for a long time and I know how to assess people, so why don’t you take my word for it? That way you can’t go wrong!” I explained my position again, really emphatically, and seeing how stubbornly I was clinging to my own idea, the leader said to me sternly, “We’ve gotten a good sense of Sister Zhang. We’ve spoken with her and listened to her fellowship, and she has some self-reflection and self-knowledge. She’s ready to repent and change. We should have her do a duty—she should have a chance to repent. We can’t define people based on their past behaviors. You say she’s arrogant, but since when were arrogant people not allowed to develop in God’s house? Sister Zhang is well-suited for watering work and there’s an urgent need for this right now. You’re sticking to your guns and insisting that she’s not used. Isn’t this willful and dictatorial? Assigning people within the church needs to go through you. They can’t perform a duty without your approval. You’re too arrogant and self-assured. By doing whatever you please, can’t you see you’re directly holding up the work of God’s house and its cultivation of talented people?” Hearing the leader deal with me this way was upsetting for me, but I was kind of resistant to it, too. I still thought that I had a lot of experience and I’d always had a good sense of people, so there was no way I was wrong about Sister Zhang. But, since everyone disagreed with me, I couldn’t keep on pushing against it. So I reluctantly said, “Since you’ve both seen some change in her, let’s give her a chance at watering. We’ll switch her out if it’s not working.”

Back at home, I thought about the leader dressing me down and felt really uncomfortable. Based on what she said, wasn’t I doing evil and working against God? That’s a really serious thing. But then I thought that I had thought through my decision not to appoint Sister Zhang to that post, so why did they say that about me? Where on earth had I gone wrong? So I prayed to God in seeking: “God, I’m having a hard time accepting this sister’s criticism of me. I don’t know how to understand myself in this or which aspect of the truth to enter into. Please show me the way.” I read this in God’s words after my prayer: “What does it mean to be ‘arbitrary and rash’? It means, when you encounter an issue, to act however you see fit, with no thought process, heedless of what anyone else says. No one can get through to you, and no one can change your mind, such that you cannot be swayed in the slightest; you stand your ground, and, even when what others say makes sense, you do not listen, and believe your way to be the right one. Even if it is, should you not pay heed to others’ suggestions? Yet you do not take heed. Other people call you stubborn. How stubborn? So stubborn that ten oxen could not pull you back—dead stubborn, arrogant and willful in the extreme, the sort that does not see the truth until it is staring you in the face. Does such stubbornness not rise to the level of willfulness? You do whatever you want, whatever you think to do, and you listen to no one. Were someone to tell you something you are doing does not accord with the truth, you would say, ‘I’ll do it whether it accords with the truth or not. If it doesn’t accord with the truth, I’ll give you such-and-such a reason, or so-and-so a justification. I’ll make you hear me. I’m set on this.’ Others may say what you are doing is disruptive, that it will lead to serious consequences, that it is detrimental to the interests of God’s house—yet you do not heed them, but offer yet more of your reasoning: ‘This is what I’m doing, whether you like it or not. I want to do it this way. You’re completely wrong, and I’m completely justified.’ Perhaps you are indeed justified, and what you are doing will have no serious consequences—but what disposition is it that you are revealing? (Arrogance.) An arrogant nature makes you willful. When people have this willful disposition, are they not prone to being arbitrary and rash?” (God’s Fellowship). “How does God treat each and every person? Some people are of immature stature, or are young, or have believed in God for only a short time. God might see these people as being neither bad nor malicious by nature and essence; it is simply that they are somewhat ignorant or lacking in caliber, or that they are subject to too many constraints, and are yet to understand the truth, yet to enter into life, and so it is difficult for them to keep from doing some foolish things or committing some ignorant acts. But God does not fixate on people’s passing foolishness; He looks only at their hearts. If they are resolved to pursue the truth, then they are headed in the right direction, and when this is their objective, then God is observing them, waiting for them, and giving them time and opportunities that allow them to enter. It is not the case that God knocks them down with one blow, nor is it that He grabs hold of a transgression they once committed and refuses to let go; He has never treated people like this. That being said, if people treat each other in such a manner, then does this not show their corrupt disposition? This is precisely their corrupt disposition. You have to look at how God treats ignorant and foolish people, how He treats those with immature stature, how He treats the normal manifestations of humanity’s corrupt disposition, and how He treats those who are malicious. God treats different people in different ways, and He also has various ways of managing different people’s myriad conditions. You must understand these truths. Once you have understood these truths, you will then know how to experience them and treat people according to principles” (“To Gain the Truth, You Must Learn From the People, Matters, and Things Around You” in The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days). I started to reflect on myself based on what God’s words revealed. I thought that I had some overall experience with appointing people and had a grasp of the principles. Especially when someone I’d chosen was successful in their duty, I really felt like I had discernment and was perceptive. I wanted to capitalize on this and felt very self-congratulatory, and didn’t listen to anyone else’s suggestions. When Brother Liu had some real understanding of Sister Zhang’s situation and said that she’d really gained some self-knowledge since being dismissed, that she was ready to repent and change, and urged me to treat people fairly, I just refused to listen to him. I just put her in a box based on how I’d seen her before, thinking she was arrogant, didn’t pursue the truth, and hadn’t changed, so she couldn’t take on watering duty. But in fact, God has never said anything like that. And God’s house has never arranged things that way. As long as someone is able to understand visions of the truth, and can achieve results in watering duty, they can be cultivated and trained. Even for those people who commit really serious transgressions, God’s house has never just condemned them outright. If they can accept the truth, reflect on themselves, repent for what they’ve done wrong, and are willing to change, God’s house can continue to foster and use them. No matter what kind of corrupt disposition someone shows or what they’ve done to disrupt the work of God’s house, as long as they’re not an evil person or an antichrist, God will give them opportunities to do a duty and learn to the greatest extent possible. This is God’s love and salvation. I didn’t understand God’s disposition or the principles of how people are treated in God’s house. I wasn’t looking at Sister Zhang’s strengths, but was just refusing to let go of the corruption she’d showed in the past, arbitrarily defining her and refusing to assign her to watering duty. That led to new believers not being watered in time and it was disruptive to the work of God’s house. Wasn’t that doing evil? Full of regret, I came before God and prayed, “God, I’m so arrogant and self-assured. I don’t want to be willful in my duty anymore. I’m ready to repent and change.”

Then the next time I was in a gathering with Sister Zhang and I heard her discuss her own self-reflection and self-knowledge, I saw she really had repented in a very practical way. I felt even more ashamed and guilty. After Sister Zhang took on watering duty, she was earnest and took on responsibility for it, and the brothers and sisters she watered made progress. She was later promoted to manage the watering work for several churches. Seeing how well she was doing in her duty left me feeling even more abashed. I hated how arrogant I’d been, how I’d just arbitrarily defined her, refusing to assign her to a duty and holding up the work of God’s house. I realized that I didn’t possess the truth and I didn’t have insight into things. I understood some methods and rules from all of my experience, but the church’s work can’t be done well just by relying on those. After that incident, I approached appointing people to duties with more caution, and when my willfulness reared its head and I wanted final say, I made sure to pray and forsake myself, put the truth into practice, and listen to what everyone else had to say.

I thought that I’d had some entry into this practice, but to my surprise, something happened later on that exposed me again. Six months later, a couple of the members who handled general church affairs had family standing in their way and they weren’t able to come do their duty. We urgently needed people to replace them. I looked into it and found a couple of sisters who were responsible and could cope with various situations, but there were some security risks with them. But then I figured that since they weren’t going to be doing a duty in their local area, there shouldn’t be any problem with having them take that on. We really needed more people and I hadn’t found any better candidates, so I decided to use them for the time being and switch them out when someone better came along. When I told Brother Liu that I wanted to have Sister Zhao attend to general affairs in the church, his response was, “We absolutely have to follow the principles when selecting people. They can’t work for the church if there’s a safety concern. I don’t think Sister Zhao is a good choice for this duty. We’ve got to go by the principles.” Seeing that he wasn’t on board, I disagreed with him, saying, “But don’t we have an urgent need? Don’t you think you’re being too fearful? It is true that she’s well known as a believer in her hometown, but it’s been years since the police have been checking up on her. Besides, she has courage and wisdom. I know this about her. I don’t think we have a better candidate at this point. It’s been more than 10 days and I haven’t found anyone to take on this duty. We can’t blindly follow rules in our duty.” He heard me out, and then insisted, “Appointing someone to a duty who presents a risk violates the principles. We have to put safety first.” I completely disregarded what he was saying and insisted on using Sister Zhao. After that, I arranged for Sister Liu, who also posed a safety risk, to work on delivering correspondence. Before long, the Communist Party started investigating believers under the guise of checking residential registrations. Sister Zhao was well-known for believing in God, so she came under suspicion and surveillance as she was coming and going from the place she was renting, because she couldn’t show her ID. Then another person handling church affairs that she’d been in contact with was implicated and put under surveillance too, and the communication lines for several different churches were impacted as a result. Everyone lost contact for more than 20 days, leaving some urgent work in limbo. Even some tasks for dealing with the aftermaths of incidents couldn’t be completed.

When the leader learned about this and found out that I’d insisted on appointing someone with safety risks, she dealt with me very sternly: “You’re being arrogant and willful again. You’re always arbitrary in your duty, and you go against the principles. This time it’s done serious damage to the work of God’s house. You’ve done what the great red dragon hopes to do but can’t manage on its own. Isn’t that serving as Satan’s minion, disrupting and sabotaging the work of God’s house? Based on your consistent behavior, we’ve decided to remove you from your duty.” Hearing this was really a smack in the face, leaving me utterly stunned. I thought, “It’s over. I’ve done a great evil. What if the brothers and sisters that have been implicated are arrested? If they are, I really have done a horrible thing.” I got more afraid the more I thought about it. I was racked with guilt. It felt like a knife to the heart, and I didn’t have the motivation to do anything at all. I was living in this misery day in and day out, praying to God and acknowledging my wrongdoing over and over: “God, I’m too arrogant, too conceited. My willfulness has done incredible damage to the work of God’s house. I’m ready to accept any punishment You want to give me, just please protect those brothers and sisters from arrest.” I found out later that those church members had been transferred in time, and escaped capture. I could finally breathe a sigh of relief.

After the fact, I reflected on myself. Why was I always so willful in my duty? Where did that really come from? I read these words from God, in “Only by Pursuing the Truth Can One Achieve a Change in Disposition.” “If you really possess the truth within you, the path you walk will naturally be the correct path. Without the truth, it is easy to do evil, and you will do it despite yourself. For example, if you have an arrogant and conceited disposition, then being told not to oppose God makes no difference, you can’t help yourself, it is beyond your control. You would not do it on purpose; you would do it under the domination of your arrogant and conceited nature. Your arrogance and conceit would make you look down on God and see Him as being of no account; they would cause you to exalt yourself, constantly put yourself on display, and, finally, sit in God’s place and bear testimony for yourself. You would turn your own ideas, your own thinking, and your own notions into truths to be worshiped. See how much evil is done by people under the dominance of their arrogant and conceited nature!” (The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days). I saw from God’s words that behaving arbitrarily in my duty over and over came from being controlled by an arrogant, self-important nature. With that kind of nature, I just couldn’t help but do evil and resist God. It was controlling me, so I thought too much of myself and felt that I was better than everyone else, that I was right more than anyone, so I should have final say on matters in the church. Once I set my mind on something, I refused to see it any other way, and I wouldn’t listen to anyone. I even wanted people to obey my ideas as if they were truth principles. I knew that those two sisters were safety risks and shouldn’t be doing those duties, and I myself had qualms about it, but I still just couldn’t put myself aside and seek God’s will. I wouldn’t listen to anyone else’s warnings, and I disregarded the Holy Spirit’s reproaches and guidance. I just pig-headedly assigned two people who weren’t safe, doing really serious harm to the work of God’s house. If only I had had the slightest desire to seek the truth, if only I had listened to Brother Liu’s suggestions, there wouldn’t have been such terrible consequences. I felt so much regret and self-blame when I realized all of this, and I hated my arrogance and willfulness. The Communist Party never stops trying to undermine God’s work, using all sorts of tactics to oppress and arrest His chosen people. And I had arbitrarily violated the principles, deciding to appoint unsafe people to take on duties, which led to other church members being put under surveillance. Wasn’t that indirectly working on Satan’s behalf, serving as the Communist Party’s helper in sabotaging God’s work? Those brothers and sisters probably would have been arrested and imprisoned without God’s care and protection. Then I really would have done great evil. This thought scared me more and more. The church had allowed me to serve as a leader, and God’s will in this was to have me practice the truth and do things according to principle, that I would arrange for brothers and sisters to take on positions that suited them. That way they could make use of their strengths and could prepare their own good deeds. But I thought that having a bit of experience as a leader meant that I’d become something special. I didn’t think much of other people, and I didn’t have God in my heart. I wasn’t even taking the truth principles of God’s house seriously, but just did whatever I wanted. I was arrogant to the point that I’d lost all reason. I thought about all of those antichrists who had been expelled from the church. They were incredibly arrogant, treating God with contempt and disregarding the truth principles of God’s house. They were dictatorial and arbitrary in their duty, and seriously disrupted the work of God’s house. Ultimately, they did so much evil that they were removed from the church. I knew that if my arrogant disposition wasn’t resolved, sooner or later I’d step onto the path of an antichrist and would be eliminated by God. At the time, I was scared by the thought of living by my arrogant nature. Even though I’d committed such a great evil, God’s house still hadn’t expelled me, but had just removed me from my duty, and God had even enlightened and guided me with His words, giving me a chance to reflect on and know myself, to repent and change. I could really feel God’s love and I had so much regret. I felt ready to repent and change. After that, I started consciously seeking a practice and how to enter in so that I could change myself.

I read this passage of God’s words: “How, then, do you resolve your arbitrariness and rashness? When you have an idea, you tell it to others and say what you think and believe about this matter, and then, you communicate with everyone about it. First, you can shed light on your view and seek the truth; this is the first step you put into practice in order to overcome this disposition of being arbitrary and rash. The second step happens when other people voice dissenting opinions—what practice can you put in place to keep from being arbitrary and rash? You must first have an attitude of humility, set aside what you believe to be right, and let everyone have fellowship. Even if you believe your way to be correct, you should not keep insisting on it. That, first of all, is a kind of step forward; it shows an attitude of seeking the truth, of denying yourself, and of satisfying God’s will. Once you have this attitude, at the same time that you do not adhere to your own opinion, you pray. As you do not know right from wrong, you allow God to reveal and tell you what the best, most suitable thing to do is. As everyone joins in fellowship, the Holy Spirit brings you all enlightenment. God enlightens people according to a process, which sometimes simply takes stock of your attitude. If your attitude is one of rigid self-assertion, God will hide His face from you and close Himself off to you; He will expose you and ensure you hit a wall. If, on the other hand, your attitude is correct, neither insistent on your own way, nor self-righteous, nor arbitrary and rash, but an attitude of seeking and acceptance of the truth, then, when you fellowship with the group, and the Holy Spirit sets to work among you, perhaps He will lead you to understanding by means of someone’s words. Sometimes, when the Holy Spirit enlightens a person, He leads you to understand the crux of a matter with just a few words or phrases. You realize, in that instant, that whatever you have been clinging to is erroneous, and, in the same instant, you understand the most appropriate way to act. Having reached such a level, has one successfully avoided doing evil, walking the wrong path, and bearing the consequences of a mistake? How is such a thing achieved? It is achieved by means of a heart that obeys and seeks. Once you can achieve this, then, in the end, you will act appropriately, and you will have satisfied God’s will” (God’s Fellowship). After reading this, I understood that to resolve arrogance and willfulness, what’s most important is to have a heart of reverence for God and a truth-seeking attitude. I can’t insist on my own perspective when things come up, but I need to discuss things with others, and if somebody has a different opinion, I should accept it first, then pray to God, seek the truth, and put the principles into practice. I should cooperate harmoniously with brothers and sisters. This is the way to gain God’s guidance. If I stubbornly cling to my own thinking, there’s no way for me to gain the Holy Spirit’s work. I won’t have insight into anything and I’ll be disruptive in my duty. I thought over how I’d done such a great evil because of my arrogant nature, and because I didn’t have a place for God in my heart. It came from wanting to be lord and master of everything, from not working well with others. Realizing this, I silently resolved to stop being so stubborn when things came up, but to seek and communicate more with others. I would listen to whoever’s idea was in line with the truth principles.

The church assigned me to serve as a watering team leader after that. I was really grateful and I treasured that duty. I was constantly warning myself that I absolutely had to learn the lesson from my failure, and that I couldn’t let my arrogant nature make me willful anymore. When problems came up, I would go seek out brothers and sisters to discuss things with them. One time I got a letter from a leader saying we needed to find some people suited to doing watering duty. Looking into it, I felt that Sister Su was a good fit, but according to the others’ assessments, she had an arrogant nature and wouldn’t accept brothers’ and sisters’ pointers and help. At this, I figured that she wouldn’t accept the truth, so she wasn’t someone who should be cultivated. Then I realized that I was arbitrarily defining someone again, and I remembered something God said: “Not reaching a verdict is a manifestation of people not being self-righteous, and not insisting is a manifestation of people having rationality; if, on top of this, you are able to obey, you will be able to achieve putting the truth into practice” (“Obeying God Is a Basic Lesson of Gaining the Truth” in The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days). I knew I couldn’t insist on having final say again, but I had to talk this over with the brother who worked with me and listen to what he had to say. When I explained my position to him, he responded, “Based on these assessments, it does look like Sister Su is really arrogant, but I noticed that this is all based on corruption she revealed in the past. We don’t know if she’s gained any self-knowledge. We shouldn’t stifle a talented person, so let’s have her write out a self-reflection and then ask for the opinions of the brothers and sisters who are in close contact with her. We can take a look at all of this and see if she is a good candidate for this duty. This approach is a better bet.” It sounded to me like his suggestion fit the truth principles. If I defined her as someone unfit for being fostered based on a few brothers’ and sisters’ opinions alone, that would be too hasty. We should take a look at what sort of arrogance she had. If it was unreasonable, blind arrogance and an absolute refusal to accept the truth, then she really shouldn’t take on that duty. If she had some caliber but was kind of arrogant, and she could learn about herself and change after being pruned and dealt with, that would be revealing normal corruption. Also, the people who had said that about her all worked with her in the past, so we needed to see what the people who were in contact with her now had to say. Taking a broader view would be more accurate. When we received Sister Su’s own self-reflection and other brothers’ and sisters’ assessments, we saw that she’d developed some practice and entry, and she was someone who pursued the truth. We recommended her for that watering duty. Ever since then, when I need to select someone for a particular duty, I don’t just arrogantly do whatever I want and make the decision on my own, but I maintain an attitude of seeking and listen to others’ suggestions. I also pray and seek truth principles. With this kind of practice, I feel at peace and free of qualms. I’ve been able to have this change entirely thanks to the judgment and chastisement of God’s words.

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