The Litmus Test of Surrender

(This entry is a conclusion of thoughts from Lukewarm Christian is an Oxymoron and The Difficulty of Surrender.)

God has put the idea of surrender on my mind a lot lately. In The Difficulty of Surrender, I basically defined surrender as an awareness and acceptance of God’s sovereignty. The hard part about this definition is that it’s more about a state of being than it is about doing; and as people, we like to know what to do. During one of my discussions about the idea of surrender, Morgan asked me a great question. He said, “The real question is “how do you surrender?”. We are people in perpetual motion, always moving, maneuvering, planning, positioning. It’s tiresome.”

His question made me consider the practical difficulties of my definition of surrender, so I thought I’d take a minute to look at how it can be applied practically in our lives and expand it a little. Since God is concerned with our motives, I think it would be foolish if we never took time to reflect on them ourselves. Thus, I think when we examine whether or not we are living surrendered lives, there are (at least) two really good questions to ask ourselves.

First, is my surrender conditional or unconditional? I know a handful of single people who very, very much want to get married; I was the same way when I was single, too. I actually joined the Air Force because I knew that it was the quickest way for me to be able to provide for a family. When I became a Christian, my prayers sounded something like this, “Dear Lord, I’m ready for the wife you have selected for me.” I thought, for some reason, that God would deem that as an acceptable surrender.

Truthfully, I hadn’t really surrendered that aspect of my life to God. I might as well have prayed, “God, I’m ready when you are…we’re waiting on you here.” I had this silly idea that I could somehow manipulate God by half-heartedly surrendering my love life to Him. In reality, I had simply laid out a check-list of what I felt my love-life should look like and how I expected God to fulfill that request. I surrendered my love-life to Him conditionally. It’s like I was saying, “Yeah, you can have it, but this is what I want You to do with it.” But that’s not really surrender is it?

It wasn’t until I unconditionally set my love-life before Him that I authentically surrendered. I had an aha moment and my prayer changed into, “God, I will love you and follow you no matter what; even if it’s your will that I should be single for the rest of my life, I commit myself fully to you unconditionally.” At this point I believe I finally understood what it meant to release control and let God do as He willed. (Interestingly enough, the exact same week I prayed that prayer, Connie arrived in Alaska. We didn’t meet for about a month after that, but I always thought it was amazing how God worked that out.)

So once you’re committed to unconditionally surrendering your life to God, what does that look like? Well that brings us to our second question concerning authentic surrender.

Ask yourself, do my plans or actions seek to build my kingdom or God’s Kingdom? A while back, Connie asked me how she could discern whether or not a desire was from God. The best I could come up with was to answer her question with a question: whose kingdom was she seeking to build? While our actions are important, I think our motives are of equal importance. Thus, even when we’re doing things that are good, we must examine our motives.

Some actions are not inherently good or bad, such as making money, getting married, or even volunteering at a homeless shelter. It’s actually the motives behind these actions that God is concerned with; getting married so you can be served, making money so you can spend it all on yourself, or volunteering at the homeless shelter so others will think well of you. Suddenly, when good things are done for the wrong reason, they are no longer good. When those activities are done so they build up my kingdom, then my motives are sinful. Thus, it is not a pleasing sacrifice to God.

However, when we surrender all to God, for His purposes and for His glory, everything can become an offering to God. Suddenly, the way I treat my wife, the effort I put into a workout, how I invest my money… It is all an offering to God, for His Kingdom.

This requires an awareness of the fact that your life is not about you. The greatest thing you can do with your life is bring glory to God.

So perhaps an expanded definition of surrender-one that is more practical-should be this: Surrender is an awareness and acceptance of God’s sovereignty and an unconditional commitment to see His Kingdom built and His name glorified, no matter the cost to us.

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The Difficulty of Surrender

(This entry is the continuation of a previous entry called Lukewarm Christian is an Oxymoron.)

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.

suffered under Pontius Pilate

(This is part six of a multi-entry blog series exploring the Apostles’ Creed.)

We’re still talking about Jesus. Mainly because Jesus Christ is the definitive character of Christianity. This entry looks specifically at the line that says that Jesus:
“suffered under Pontius Pilate,”
Like before, we’ll break this passage down into several smaller sections.

Life is full of surprises!

This is part seven of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

When I first found out that I wasn’t going to Iraq or Afghanistan I was pretty disappointed. This may sound odd to my non-military friends, but it’s the truth. I was disappointed because I wanted to go somewhere were “the action” was; somewhere exciting! I got tasked to go to one of those non-disclosed locations in Southwest Asia. One of the things that I assumed was that no one would be searching for God at a deployed location with a swimming pool and trips off base. I had foolishly put God in a box and decided that, because people were not in immediate danger outside the wire, no one would be considering the bigger things in life.

Surprise!

Give Him the chance by opening yourself up and God will surprise you. Always! Part of my prayer on New Years day was, “I surrender 2010 to You, for Your glory.” I actually wrote that down. I think God prompted me to write it down so I would remember my surrender. At the beginning of the year, and at the beginning of my deployment, I decided to let God do His thing. Isaiah 55:8-9 is one of my all-time favorite passages. It reminds me that God is God and I am not. He knows what He’s doing. Sometimes I don’t know, but He always knows. Faith isn’t having all the answers, it’s trusting in a God who has all the answers.

I originally deployed with a very skeptical attitude. Like I said earlier, who would be taking God seriously at a deployed location with a swimming pool and trips off base? God surprised me because the fellowship I enjoyed there was some of the best I’ve ever had. I also met a lot of people who wanted to grow closer to God during their deployment and I met a few who came to know Christ during their deployment.

In fact, my deployment turned out to be an amazing experience. Surprise! The Chapel had Bible studies every night of the week. The worship band had about nine members including a former Tops in Blue performer and they sounded amazing every week. The Holy Spirit used me to lead a friend to Christ. I made friends who I will keep in touch with for life. I saw people grow and mature in their walks with Christ and learn more in those six months than they’d known their whole entire Christian life prior. God taught me more than I could ever share (although I am trying).

I say all of this because God surprises me. All the time, He surprises me. It’s foolish for us to put God in a box and assume anything about Him. He is God. He is bigger than any box we could put Him in. As I stated in a previous post, God puts people in the right place at the right time so that His will can be done. Hindsight is 20/20 and I know, looking back, that God put me in the absolute right spot at the right time.

If you’re reading this and you’re not sure why your life is the way it is right now, all I can tell you is to trust God. Trust that He knows what He’s doing. Surrender your life to His purposes, sit back, and be amazed. You might just be surprised!

Faith and “Planning?

As a Christian, I know that God has big plans for me. I know that my life has a calling. Second Peter 1:4 invites us to “participate in [God’s] divine nature.” When we become Christians, we choose to accept that invitation.

Jesus’ last words are an invitation for us not only to join his ministry, but to take it everywhere. Let’s read Matthew 28:18-20:

“All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

This verse makes me think of Jesus shooing the Apostles. “Get! Go do something; I’ve got your back. Make a difference!”

The only question that remains is, “What does God want me to do?”

And there we have our problem. One day I realized that the verse that defined my (pseudo) walk with Christ (it was really just standing in one place) had become Psalm 27:14:

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Those who know me well will tell you that I always have a plan. I’m the type that likes to know where I’m going to be 10 years from now.

When I started living for Christ, I realized that my plans needed to change. I didn’t know where I was supposed to go or what I was supposed to do, but I knew with absolute certainty that God had other plans for me. But I had become so obsessed with what God wanted me to do that I hadn’t done anything or made any decisions.

It felt like I had been in my car at a four-way stop, wondering which way to go. I had been so afraid of going in the wrong direction that I had decided to simply put my car into park and wait.

I didn’t know what I was waiting for, perhaps a burning bush?

I knew for a long time that I was on the verge of figuring it out; I just needed to give it more time. Then one day my answer was finally reveled to me. It definitely wasn’t the answer that I was expecting.

“There is no plan, only a person.”

I had been asking the wrong questions! Instead of focusing on what God wants me to do, I needed to be asking myself who God wanted me to be!

As far as my future is concerned, what I want to do, where I want to go, that choice is mine. God gives us freedom to pursue whatever we’re passionate about. I think the key is to become the Godly person that God has called us to be. Then, when big life decisions arrive, we’ll be equipped as a person to make the right choices.

Jesus, our perfect example of faith, never taught people how to plan out a successful Christian life. Jesus taught us who to be! Suddenly, my focus became less outward, and more inward.

I began to ask myself, “What’s the point of being a Christian?” What did Jesus have in mind when he was teaching his disciples? Jesus was talking about us in John 10:10 when he says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” Jesus came not to hinder us but to set us free.

Looking back, all of my hesitation and second-guessing seemed very foolish. I have the Holy Spirit as my guide. It’s very liberating when you realize that nothing is the wrong choice when you have furthering God’s Kingdom in mind.

In Hebrews 11 we find the author discussing faith. What is faith? Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “…faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith isn’t knowing something, it’s trusting God and taking a risk and putting that faith doing something. Faith without action is no faith at all. If there isn’t a fight or struggle for something it probably isn’t worth having. Later in the chapter the author lists dozens of Old Testament heroes who were all successful because of their faith in God. These ‘ancients’ never knew what the outcome of their actions would be, but they knew that God was with them. So, with faith that still sets an example, they took their chances.

Looking back, I couldn’t even remember what had caused me to be so afraid. Galatians 2:20 says,

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

My problem was I hadn’t been living by faith in the Son of God. Why be afraid? We’ve already died to self. Now, Christ lives in us.

I’ll admit, the world can be a scary place but Jesus told us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) This verse has a warning and a promise in it. First, we’re guaranteed to have hardships, but Jesus also promises that he has overcome this world. If He is within us, then we also, through Him, have conquered this world. Romans 6:13 tells us:

“Do not offer the parts of your bad to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”

The encouraging thing about this verse is the fact that, once we’ve offered ourselves to God and put the old nature to death, we can become ‘instruments of righteousness.’ Suddenly we have purpose. Suddenly we are free to make a difference.

I was finally ready to start making a difference, but I was still wondering how I was going to do it. I wanted some type of assurance that as I grew closer to God, He would bless my plans. Well in John 15:7 Jesus states, “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” By remaining true to God, I can rest assured that my actions will be blessed. Ultimately, that’s what faith is…taking a chance and knowing that God has got your back.