Day 28 – Surrender
Earlier in the week, we touched on the element of surrender in the movement from certainty to humility. We surrender to love. We surrender to relationship with God. We surrender to being led by the One we call Lord. Certainty and knowing is about holding everything together for ourselves. It is about protecting oneself from vulnerability and not being in control. Humility opens us to a life of listening and being led by our Lord.
Eugene Peterson said it so well: “The kingdom of self is heavily defended territory. Post-Eden Adam and Eves are willing to pay their respects to God, but they don’t want him invading their turf. Most sin, far from being a mere lapse of morals of a weak will, is an energetically and expensively erected defense against God.”
As we explore this invitation to surrender today, let’s pause for a moment and acknowledge that while we may readily give lip service to the idea of surrender, actually living as a surrendered person is another thing. In his classic song Hold Me Jesus, Rich Mullins sang: “Surrender don’t come natural to me. I’d rather fight you for something I don’t really want than to take what you give that I need. And I beat my head against so many walls and now I’m falling down … falling on my knees.”
As the people of Israel were in the process of entering into the wilderness, God said to them: “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.” (Exodus 15:26) Notice the specific relational language in what God said: diligently listen and give ear. We often separate out obedience as being duty and put it in the context of good morality. God never does that. He invites us to relationship and then further invites us to listen to Him. From there, obedience is a relational response to God. Jacques Ellul made the observation that “Christianity is not moral, it is spiritual.”
Humility is necessary in embracing a listening stance. Humility is acknowledging the reality that no matter how much I “know,” I am still living in a cloud of unknowing. We feel things, perceive things, and have been shaped by things that we may trust, but the invitation of surrender is to humbly listen to the voice of God.
We see the struggle of surrender and bringing obedient response to a relational context in Jesus. As Jesus was facing the cross, He experienced the tension and struggle. “Being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44) In the previous verses, we hear the specifics of Jesus’ prayer: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (vs. 42)
The way God the Son lived in human flesh is incredibly instructive when it comes to understanding surrender. Philippians 2:5-9 is a primer of sorts as we are invited to “have the mind of Christ” which is described as something already in our possession. His mind or approach to life is something that is ours in Christ. The idea of being a new creation (cf., 2 Corinthians 5:17) describes this well, but just as we may be given a new set of clothes to wear, we also have to make the decision to wear them. Notice in these verses how Jesus wore humility and responsiveness to God the Father:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.”
The pattern described is quite compelling. First, Jesus did not consider His life (i.e., being God) as something to utilize to protect Himself. The word “grasped” is a word which means used to one’s advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself. He released His own will, His own perspectives, and decided to be a servant. Remember that even though He is God, He took on human form with all of its vulnerabilities. He could have used His strength, power, and authority to defend and protect but instead He humbled Himself. He took on the approach of listening to and responding to God the Father.
It is easy to go back to what we know rather than wear the new garments of humility we have been given in Christ. Like Peter went back to fishing after the death of Christ (cf. John 21:1-14), we may go back to old patterns, habits, and ways of thinking. Jesus will meet us there just as He met Peter and invited him to remember. Are there ways you are tempted to retreat to what you know? As you do, reflect on what is happening, release, and remember that the Lord is with you, leading you, inviting you to surrender once again. The undoing and unravelling of moving from certainty to humility is a process, and when we notice the unravelling once again, we can smile because we are seeing with increasing clarity the ways of God in the wilderness.
“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19
Questions for reflection: what does surrender look like for you? How is the Lord shaping your understanding of surrender and inviting you to humbly surrender?
Prayer: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will … all I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me. Amen.” Ignatius of Loyola, The Suscipe