What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you see or hear the word surrender?
White flag? Giving up control? Cheap Trick? France? Death? These are answers some of my friends gave me.
Surrender is a concept we have great difficulty with. It grates against us. In a world where we’re taught to look out for number one, to get our piece of the pie, and to trust no one, the idea of surrender goes against our entire mindset. How can we ever be great if we don’t surrender? If I don’t look out for me, then who will?
According to WordNet, the word surrender means “acceptance of despair.” No wonder we have such problems with the idea of surrender. Surrender equals despair? Then who would want to surrender? Another definition I found was on Merriam Webster: “to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand” or “to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another.”
Recently, I posted on my Facebook for people to tell me what they thought about surrender and how they felt about surrendering their life to God. The replies were varied, to say the least; the largest portion of us seem to think of surrender as an act of weakness, few seemed to feel as though it would give them a sense of peace. When it comes to surrendering our life to God, we seem to like the concept, but we resist the reality. In other words, on paper we think it looks great to surrender all to God but in our daily lives we have almost no clue what that looks like; it’s hard!
I think our greatest difficulty when it comes to surrendering our life to God is that we feel as though we lose control. Which begs the question: Do we actually have any real control in this world? What isn’t up to God? In what area is He not in control? The truth is that we only have an illusion of control. Yet we cling to this illusion fiercely! It’s funny, really… but then again, it’s not.
Which brings me to something God has taught me very recently about surrender. I’ve been a Christian for around 5 years now, and it’s been a gradual process of surrender to God. He’ll bring me to a precipice and then simply whisper, “Now jump… Don’t worry, I’ll catch you.” Most of the decisions I’ve had to make have not been easy ones; but I guess that’s the price I’ve had to pay to grow closer to God. Slowly but surely, my life has become less and less about building up my kingdom and more and more about building up God’s Kingdom. But there was one thing I knew I was holding back… total surrender.
On January 20th, around 6 p.m., I was driving to a Bible study that Connie and I attend in Eagle River and I finally decided it was time. While driving down the highway I prayed, “God, I’m tired of holding back. I ask you to destroy everything in my life that’s an idol; remove everything that is more important to me than You. I want to love You more than anything else in this world. I want to constantly thirst for Your presence in my life. God, draw me closer to you no matter what it takes.”
To be honest, I had given some thought to this prayer before, but I hadn’t prayed it. I had actually been thinking about this prayer for about a month. It had been in the back of my mind for at least that long. To be perfectly honest, it terrified me! But now, it was too late to take it back. I was all in; and I meant it! There was no turning back.
The first thing I remember is that I felt an intense weight lifted off my shoulders. Pretty soon I realized I was driving down the highway, grinning like an idiot. I was overwhelmed with joy. And that brings us to the simplest yet most counter-intuitive aspect of being a Christian: Surrendering our lives for God’s glory equals our joy. Surrender equals joy.
You know why it terrified me to think about asking God to draw me closer to Him “no matter what it takes”? It’s because I assumed that within 48 hours my life was going to look like Job 3:3-4! I assumed that God would burn down my house, kill my wife, cause my dog to run away (if she survived the house fire), make me lose my job, have one of my legs rot off, and then cause me to go blind. (Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating but not by too much.)
I think we all feel as though, if we surrender everything to God, He will leave us with nothing. But over the last month I’ve experienced something very different from God. I’ve been given joy I never knew was possible. This leads me to believe that we have a fundamental misunderstanding about the character and nature of God.
I’m now convinced that we worship a God who specializes in obstacle removal. As part of our sanctification (the process through which we are made Holy), God will remove the idols we build up in our lives that keep us from seeing Him. In My Utmost For His Highest, renowned author Oswald Chambers says that “Sanctification means to be intensely focused on God’s point of view. Sanctification means being made one with Jesus so that the nature that controlled him will control us. It will cost absolutely everything in us which is not of God.”
God loves us far too much to let us worship idols; thus He will destroy them until we are devoted to Him alone. I believe that if we surrender all to Him, then nothing is an idol, and nothing need be taken from us. If we commit to build no obstacles between us and God, if we commit to surrender all to Him, then there is no need for Him to remove anything.
Disclaimer! This doesn’t mean that we won’t lose anything; it doesn’t mean life will suddenly have no challenges; it doesn’t mean we will be healthy and wealthy. It simply means that we will be given, as 1 Peter 1:8 says, a “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”
Which brings me back to the word surrender. Let me ask you a question? Picture a battle in which one of the generals surrenders. Did his surrender actually alter the strength of his army? Did his surrender cause his army to suddenly become weaker than the other general’s army? Or was his surrender an acknowledgement of a reality that already existed? By surrendering, is it possible that he was finally accepting something that had been true all along?
When we surrender our lives to God, it merely opens our eyes to perceive a reality that has been true all along: God is in control; God is sovereign; all we have is actually His. When we stop living our lives as though they revolve around us and start seeing the reality that our entire life should be an offering to God, we receive freedom from fear and worry; it is replaced with the gift of joy. When we stop greedily holding onto our idols and seek Him first, we see true reality.
I’ll be concluding this idea in another entry called The Litmus Test of Surrender.