if false is of no importance
and if true is of infinite importance
but it can’t be moderately important.
C. S. Lewis
if false is of no importance
and if true is of infinite importance
but it can’t be moderately important.
C. S. Lewis
If I’m completely honest with myself, I have two expectations:
As Americans, it would be unthinkable for us to say something like, “God has called me to a small, obscure ministry that will never bear much fruit; instead, I’ll actually pour my life into just a few guys and then one or two of them will have ministries that far exceed anything I ever could have accomplished.” Of course, if you really think about it, isn’t that what Christ did? Didn’t He just focus on 12 men who took His message much farther than He ever did? Interesting… but I digress, back to my two expectations.
It’s easy for us to think that God will be so amazed by our passionate devotion that He’ll have no choice but to make us the main catalyst for the next Great Awakening! But as I’ve been reading through the Prophets, I see something a little different happening. To understand what I mean, take a look at the “commissioning” of some of the prophets.
8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
12 and the LORD removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. (Isaiah 6:8-12)
Do you see what just happened? Isaiah answered God’s call and God told him to go preach to a people that would absolutely refuse to listen. Isaiah asked how long he is supposed to do this, and God tells him to keep preaching until the entire land is a desolate waste! That hardly sounds like the modern promise that God has a wonderful plan for your life. Let’s look at how cheerful Jeremiah’s commissioning is, I’ll just underline the parts that I want to emphasize.
The Call of Jeremiah
14 Then the LORD said to me, “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land. 15 For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the LORD, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. 16And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. 17 But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. 18 And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, forI am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:14-19)
We see the same thing: Jeremiah is sent to fail. God doesn’t say something like, “Go to my people and save them from disaster.” Instead, he says “My people will be destroyed and I want you to spend your days calling them to repent. They’ll never do it, but that’s not your responsibility.” The same thing happens with Ezekiel.
4 And [God] said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. 5 For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel— 6 not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. 7 But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. (Ezekiel 3:4-7)
God tells Ezekial, “Although I could send you to a foreign nation, and although they would listen to you and worship me, I’ve called you to the house of Israel. They will reject you.” And don’t forget what God tells Hosea: “Marry a prostitute so she can cheat on you and have other men’s children. I will use this as an example to show Israel how they have cheated on me” (Hosea 1:2).
Do you see what’s wrong with my original two expectations? They’re completely wrong! If I’m honest with myself, I’ll admit that those two expectations are really just a spiritual-sounding twist on the American dream. So here’s the question that is haunting me (and I want to share with you so you’ll be haunted too): If you knew that God was not calling you to a successful ministry would you still go? The thing is, if I’m honest, I’ve created a formula that goes something like this:
God’s calling + my obedience = ministry success
But the truth is, as we’ve seen, God doesn’t call anyone to be successful, He doesn’t owe anyone success, nor does He promise anyone success. God calls us to faithful obedience, no matter what. We aren’t called to success, we’re called to obedience. I pray that God will give me the courage to obey Him unconditionally. So here’s my question for you: Would you go?
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.
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.
Second preface: This is also a “me too” account, meaning I have been just as guilty as anyone else in this area… I’m not throwing stone per se, because, especially when I was in high school, I was just as hypocritical as anyone else I knew; maybe even more so.
So now that I’ve gotten those two prefaces out of the way….
Where I grew up, everyone claims to be a Christian:
“Yeah, I believe that Jesus died for my sins, is my Savior, and all that, but…”
“Yeah, I said the sinner’s prayer when I was like four years old, so I’m a Christian, but…”
“Yeah, I think Jesus was a good moral teacher, but…”
…but few actually live as though they worship Christ as Lord. It’s the “but” that really gets you.
It’s like saying:
“I’m 100% devoted to a cause, but… only 10% of the time.”
“I’ve had a life-changing encounter with God Almighty, but… I’m going to keep living like I haven’t.”
“I’ve decided that God’s Kingdom should be the first priority in my life, but… I’m going to build up my kingdom instead.”
“I’ve confessed Jesus Christ as my Lord, but… I’m not going to submit to His authority in my life.”
“I’m a Christian, but…I’m a lukewarm Christian.”
Here’s the ironic part: Those who claim to be lukewarm Christians are actually making a reference to the Bible, and by doing such are proving that they have never seriously studied the Bible! The analogy of being lukewarm comes from Revelation 3:16 and it’s not a pretty picture. In Revelation 3, Jesus is speaking to some churches about areas in which they have fallen short. He compares one of the churches to a glass of water that He was expecting to be hot but, when He took a sip, it turned out to be lukewarm. Here’s the thing, the lukewarm water doesn’t get swallowed or kept. It gets spit out!
We fool ourselves if we think we can sit comfortably in our lukewarm Christianity. We are deceived when we tell ourselves that giving our leftovers to God is a suitable offering.
Anything short of 100% commitment is not Christianity. Anything short of passionate devotion to God is a cheap forgery of real Christianity.
A friend of mine recently wrote as her Facebook status: “If you are truly saved you CANNOT live comfortably in sin! “Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.” – 1 John 2:4 So, if you are sinning without care or conviction, YOU ARE NOT A CHRISTIAN, and YOU ARE NOT SAVED! There is no gray area! Please, get right with God now! Don’t put it off, because you may not get tomorrow!”
I agree with this person. A Christian will look different once they’ve become a Christian. Moses encountered God and his face glowed! (Exodus 34:29, 35) Paul went from persecutor of Jesus to martyr for Jesus! My point is simply this: when you encounter the living God you are forever changed. If you think you can be lukewarm, then you have not been saved but have instead been deceived. Back when I was a “lukewarm Christian” this became abundantly clear to me when I joined a First John Bible study. The Scriptures confronted me with verses that said that I was a big, fat hypocrite and that I was a fraud. Verses like 1 John 1:6, 2:6, 2:17, 2:23, 3:6, 3:10, 3:18, 4:8, 5:3, and 5:19 all served to convict me of my hypocrisy. The Holy Spirit told me to stop pretending! Soon after, by the grace of God, I repented and have trusted in Christ alone for my salvation.
But First John forced me to realize that Jesus didn’t die on a cross for the occasional shout-out; He died to be my Lord. (Although I haven’t finished the book yet, Radical by David Platt is really challenging me in this area and I’ll probably add more thoughts inspired by this book in later entries.)
I challenge you to examine your life in light of what Scripture says a Christian should look like. Read First John and see how you stack up; it can be read in one sitting. Could someone watch you and tell by the way you live your life that you are a Christian? Or would your own actions reveal you to be a hypocrite? It’s a tough question to answer, but it’s one that must be faced. Do I say this judgmentally? No. I say this because I love you too much to keep quiet. My prayer is that you encounter the living God and are forever changed for God’s glory and for your joy!
I’ll be following up this idea in another entry called The Difficulty of Surrender.