The afternoon air stood still as the sun streamed quietly into my bedroom, contradicting the violent wrestling within my heart. In this season of heartbreak after heartbreak, it had become my habit to hide in my room, shut the door (even if I was home alone), and meet with God. This was my secret place of refuge where I would pray and weep, and where God would comfort me through His Word. There, sitting in His presence, my broken heart often found strength to carry on.
But not today. Today, there was no comfort.
As I had done countless times before, I poured out my heart and sorrows to the Lord, but instead of words of comfort, He showed me a hidden sin in my heart – a lack of surrender. He revealed the areas where I was withholding my heart and convicted me to repent.
I was not expecting that.
I was facing a mid-life crisis of disappointment. I thought of all the ways I had served God, doing my best to live for Him, and yet, somehow, my life had not yielded noticeable fruit. Instead of an exciting life following Jesus, I was facing dishes, laundry, broken relationships, financial hardship, more dishes, and a host of other unmet expectations.
In my frustration, I cried out to God. How is this the abundant life? Why are you allowing so much hurt?
Echoing His own words from Scripture, the voice of God was clear, ringing in my ears, resonating in my heart, and convicting my soul: I am the Potter and you are the clay. Does the clay tell the Potter what to make? What is it to you if I choose to make you a lowly potsherd? What is to you if I choose you to suffer? What is it to you? Am I not God? Will you give me the right to do with your life as I please?
No. I was not willing. What if I surrendered and He increased my suffering? What if I surrendered and tomorrow was worse than today? I couldn’t risk the hurt.
But I desperately longed for God’s presence in my life, and I knew only a surrendered heart could hold such a treasure. I could not have the best of both worlds – God’s presence and my wish list. To walk with Jesus meant I needed to surrender to Him and His right to do with my life as He pleased. I knew what I was required to do, but my stubborn nature clung to the hope that maybe, just this once, I could have my own way. The battle was on.
What is Surrender?
Surrender is defined as ceasing to resist an opponent and submit to their authority. It only takes an encounter with a toddler, defiance in her eyes and resistance coiled in every inch of her tiny body, to understand that rebellion comes to us as naturally as breathing. With cries of “Never surrender!” as the mantra of many movies, we should not be surprised to find ourselves struggling to accept this foreign concept. It flies in the face of our natural instincts and cultural conditioning.
But in God’s upside-down kingdom, surrender does not lead to defeat as feared, but rather to victory. And if we are to enjoy the benefits of a relationship with God Almighty, surrender must become a way of life.
The first step of surrender occurs at the cross where we confess our sins, accept Jesus’s gift of forgiveness, and submit our lives to Him. What follows is a life of daily surrender, where we live each day with a heart that is ready to do God’s will.
There’s one important difference between the two surrenders: the first leads to salvation – an event which occurs once – and the second should become a daily habit, continuing until the day we see our Heavenly Father face to face. Both are only made possible by the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
But why is surrender so important to the believer?
Surrender Acknowledges God’s Authority
When I surrender to God, I acknowledge that He is my Savior and my Lord. As my Savior, He rescued me from the pit of death, and as my Lord, I acknowledge His authority in my life. As the Eternal, Omniscient, Creator of the Universe, He alone is worthy of my worship, praise, and obedience! Surrender acknowledges God’s rightful position – as Lord of all creation – and puts me in my rightful position – on my knees.
“For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and joy are in His dwelling place” (1 Chronicles 16: 25-27 NIV).
Scripture states that one day “every knee will bow” (Romans 14:11), but until then, He allows each one of us to make this decision for ourselves. However, humbling myself before the King of Glory now is far better than living life on my own terms and suffering the consequences later. He is God, and I am not. Trouble always begins when I forget who He is.
This God, holy and powerful in all His ways, is also gentle and exceedingly compassionate. He longs for us to trust Him and yield to His wisdom and authority. The more you understand His majesty, holiness, and love, the more you are moved to surrender and obey.
Surrender Brings Life
“If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it” (Matthew 16: 24-25 NIV).
If I am not careful, I can make the mistake of embracing a gospel that is only about my needs, my wants, and my dreams – and thereby leaving God entirely out of His own story. If I have decided to follow Jesus, I cannot take control and demand that He should follow me.
Through death, we find life. This is the irony of the Christian life. A seed cannot grow until it’s planted in the soil and left to die. Likewise, our life in Christ is made possible by His death on the cross. When I repented of my sins and accepted God’s gift of forgiveness, I died to the old sinful nature inside of me, and God breathed life into me through the power of the Holy Spirit. His death brought me life.
In the same way, when I die to my own will and surrender to His, He brings the fullness of His life into mine. His presence, His strength, His provision, and His resources are all available to me as I surrender to Him.
It’s a simple transaction. I receive His life in exchange for my death. Now I do His will instead of my own.
But somewhere in the process, my selfishness kicks in and refuses to complete my end of the deal. I want Jesus to die for me, but I don’t want to live for Him – well, maybe a little, but not too much. I want Christ without completely yielding to His authority. But it is impossible to please God with a heart that is half-heartedly devoted to Him. Deuteronomy 6:5 calls us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
In other words, loving God requires the whole of my being. And how do I show this love? Through obedience and surrender.
Surrender is Worship
How do you worship the Most High of the Universe?
Romans 12:1 says that “in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.”
My best worship happens when I surrender my day to God. When I acknowledge that ‘this is the day He has made’ and His agenda gets preference over mine. This may mean rearranging my schedule, sacrificing sleep, spending time with a neighbour, or opening the doors to my home to others.
Some days, this is easy, but often I have my own plans for the day and do not wish to be interrupted! I want to live for Jesus but struggle to give Him my minutes – never mind my entire life! I want to be a ‘living sacrifice’ but I am incapable of staying committed.
As Rick Warren said, “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it can crawl off the altar, so you may have to re-surrender your life fifty times a day.”
One moment, I am passionately dedicated to Jesus, and the next moment, I am passionately dedicated to myself. On the altar, off the altar, on the altar, off the altar. And on and on it goes.
Paul wrote of this inner conflict when he said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15 NIV).
If it were not for the Lord’s grace and compassion, I would be disheartened at my attempts to stay faithful. Though I may crawl off the altar repeatedly, by His grace I get back on it! Sometimes several times a day. Or several times an hour. His grace is constant and though I am frequently unfaithful to Him, He is never unfaithful to me.
Surrendering is difficult, excruciating at times, but the longer I walk with Jesus, the easier it gets.
As I knelt in my room that day, my mind recalled past times when God had proved His love and faithfulness to me. I knew He was asking me to trust Him again. My heart fought the familiar hurdle of fear and mistrust – a path I knew so well.
Could I crawl on the altar again? Could I trust that He, God Almighty, would have my back if I gave Him my heart? Could I trust that His way was best?
The minutes ticked by. I knew relief lay beyond the walls of this battle if only I would surrender. Still my heart stubbornly held on. It was a long afternoon. But finally, spent of my strength and emptied of my arguments, I surrendered. Not only did God flood my heart with His peace, but He gave me something more, far more than what I had asked for: He gave me back my joy.
It’s been several years since that day, and though I cannot say that my troubles faded away, I can testify that He has been faithful. New dreams replaced dying ones. New hope replaced the hopelessness. Contentment became my new reality, and joy became my new companion.
Surrendering is still a daily struggle, but God has proved Himself faithful and kind, so each day I crawl back on the altar and trust that He knows what He is doing.
“What Thou wilt, when Thou wilt, how Thou wilt.” – John Newton