“Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps.” Jeremiah 10:23
This is such a hard topic. Many of us are afraid of what “total surrender” to God looks like in our lives. We imagine God telling us to sell everything we have, move to a third world country, sleep in huts, live off berries and insects, and be international missionaries in the jungle. For some reason that seems to be the most popular illustration of “total surrender” that I hear Christians talk about, which makes sense because it’s one of the more dramatic ways to transition into full-time ministry. It scares us though, because we don’t want to give up the comfort or control of our lives.
We can’t let fear of the unknown stop us from surrendering, because fear is not from God. When we completely surrender our lives to God, that doesn’t necessarily mean He’ll call us to be an international missionary. His calling on our lives may be the complete opposite, in which He calls us to minister to a circle of wealthy people in Manhattan. We really won’t know until we actually surrender and let Him lead us.
Lord knows that there are more than enough people and needs in our own country to make us full-time kingdom workers without ever crossing a border. It can result in any number of things depending on what God calls us to do. But that’s another discussion for another day. What I do know is that in exchange for surrender, He will give us a hundredfold of what we think we’re giving up in order to follow Him (Mark 10:29–30). It may not be wealth, health, or material blessings, but spiritual and eternal blessings that are worth far more than anything we can ever accumulate here on earth. But we have to trust Him.
The reason the Lord put this topic on my heart isn’t to explore what God’s specific calling is for us AFTER we surrender, it’s more about the what the act of surrendering looks like in and of itself.
I had a conversation with a friend the other day, and God used it to teach me about surrender. These are the 3 main thoughts that He gave me from that talk:
- Surrender is selflessness. (Mark 8:34-35. Luke 9:23-24, John 15:12-14, Phil. 2:3)
- Surrender is reliance on God. (John 15:4-5, Jer. 17:5-9, Phil. 4:13, Prov. 3:5-6)
- Surrender is walking in faith. (2 Cor. 4:16-18, 2 Cor. 5:7, Hebr. 11:1)
I know that sounds super obvious, but it’s one thing to merely know this in your head, vs. knowing it because you’re actually living it out and experiencing it. That’s the difference. The person I was talking to is living it, while for me, I’m still in the process of taking it from head knowledge to reality.
These are the personal soundbites of someone who is surrendered to God, taken directly from our conversation. When I read them, I compare them to my own thoughts and think about whether I can truly say these directly to God, with 100% sincerity:
- “It’s not about me.”
- “I don’t have any personal wants anymore. I only want what You want for me.”
- “I’m completely content to live each day serving You and the people You have put in my life.”
- “I’m living for You alone.”
- “I’m going to go wherever You take me, no matter what the cost.”
- “I may not be able to see what lies ahead for me, but I’m okay with that because I trust in You.”
- “My life is not my own- it’s Yours; and I realize that the way I planned my life to turn out, is no longer important.”
Selflessness. Reliance. Faith. It’s all right there, in beautiful simplicity. If I’m completely honest with myself, I can say maaaaybe 4 of those things to God without having to repent immediately after for lying.
I actually had to repent while praying the next morning, because my initial reaction to this person was essentially, “Snap out of it! What’s wrong with you?!” Obviously that’s not what I said or intended, but after thinking about it more, my words may have reflected that stance.
And here’s the kicker…my reaction wasn’t because I didn’t want them to pursue all of those things wholeheartedly (because that’s what I would want for myself and any follower of Christ), but it was because in that moment, I FAILED to RECOGNIZE that’s what total surrender looks like! The context and topic of the conversation held me from gathering what was truly being said. It wasn’t until the end of the conversation that I realized what I was hearing, and even then it seemed foreign.
It’s a rarity today to have someone proclaim and embrace total surrender. Surrender means completely giving up your own rights, control, power, and life to someone else. It’s not natural to us as humans, and it doesn’t come easy. We’re innately selfish. We talk about surrendering to God ad nauseam at church and in our small groups, but sadly it’s uncommon to actually see it, so it can catch us off guard when we do.
We often reserve “total surrender” as an attribute of those special guest speakers who come around a few times a year to share their extraordinary and miraculous stories of God’s power in their lives. We all say, “Wow, that’s incredible! I can’t believe they literally sold every single possession they had after only praying about it for 2 days, moved to Africa with $10 in their pocket, a husband, wife, and 5 tiny kids in tow, to go translate Bibles to a tribal language while teaching the villagers how to plant rice! That’s amazing! Praise God!”
We may get totally excited and inspired by their story for a little while, but then the excitement fades and we eventually forget, going back to our lives of comfort and continuing to live the same way as we did before. We steer our own direction and ask God to sit shotgun, rather than asking Him to sit in the driver’s seat.
I realize we’re all in different stages of our faith walk and relationship with God. Some of us are closer to total surrender than others, and that’s okay, because I know we all have to start somewhere. I truly believe that everything happens in God’s perfect timing, and that our walk with Him is a life-long process that takes a lot of faith and a lot of ups and downs.
But if we’re sincere about wanting to be in the center of God’s will, then we should be praying for Him to teach us how to surrender, every day, through His Holy Spirit. He may be working that in you and me right now. There may be things going on in your life that are stretching your faith and causing you to shift your focus to Him. Don’t chalk those up to coincidence or circumstance, because God is sovereign, and He allows nothing to happen without purpose. God loves us dearly and is drawing us closer intentionally, because He knows what’s best for us. He will allow pain and trials to enter our lives if the end result is a stronger relationship with Him.
Ask the Lord how to make each situation and relationship you’re going through a catalyst for change today. And may God transform us from selfish to selfless, help us to completely rely on Him, enable us to walk in unwavering faith. Lord, give us the genuine desire to give You our total surrender!
[From October 29, 2015]