In this 5th line of our prayer, we are asked to be willing to surrender what God claims, to surrender what we already have or whatever God asks of us, withholding nothing. I already talked about what it took to surrender my home in Pennsylvania to move to Texas. Over the years, other gigantic surrenders included leaving my parents in Papua New Guinea for four years to go to college; lying in bed in my Baylor University dorm room, one by one giving up every person that I deeply loved and felt I needed for survival; leaving family and grandparents to move to Indonesia to serve there; letting go of my expectations of my husband and how he would love me. Now, I am being asked to surrender my two young adult sons, a predicted and promised monthly income, and in the past few days, a challenging loved one . There are so many things that we have to surrender every day – health and well-being, an ordered lifestyle, predictable outcomes, other people's reactions, well-functioning technology, a desire to be married, the next crisis!
In Genesis 22, we find the familiar story of Isaac and Abraham. We see that Abraham was willing to surrender his child that he loved and waited many years for, because God asked him to. He trusted that God had a plan. Hebrews 11:19 tells us he believed God would bring Isaac back to life if he died.
God said, "Take your son - your only son, whom you love, Isaac – and go to the land of Moriah! Offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will indicate to you." (v. 2) When they came to the place God had told him about, Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood on it. Next he tied up his son Isaac and placed him on the altar on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand, took the knife, and prepared to slaughter his son. But the Lord’s angel called to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am!" he answered. "Do not harm the boy!" the angel said. "Do not do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God because you did not withhold your son, your only son, from me." (Gen 22:9-12)
Surrendering stuff is one thing. Surrendering those we love is another thing. Surrendering self is even harder. My wants, my desires, my tastes, my preferences, my control, my rights! Our example is Christ. We are instructed to be like him in Philippians 2:5-8: You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross!
How do I not grasp for equality? How do I empty myself? How do I humble myself even to the point of death? I find a clue in 1 Corinthians 13:3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love. Love always seems to be the key!
God's demand of Abraham was quite unique although not any easier than some of his demands on us. And his reward to Abraham (blessings, multiplied descendants, all peoples of the earth blessed – Gen 22:16-18) was also unique, but like Abraham, we too can have faith that God has a good reason for asking us to surrender. We can trust that he has a good outcome in mind. And the reason we can trust God is because he…is…love.
I have never been a great swimmer. Growing up near rivers and streams instead of swimming pools was part of the reason. Perhaps the fact that I was carried away by rapids for several hundred yards as a young child has something to do with it too! (That's another story for another time!) I couldn't do a decent breaststroke if my life counted on it, but I learned early that I could float. I learned that by lying back and relaxing, I could keep from sinking and still enjoy the refreshing water. I did not have to do anything to float. I just had to surrender and trust that the principles of science would apply in my case. In fact, looking up to see if I was successfully floating was counteractive. Thrashing about in doubt or fear only made me sink.
This is what it's like to surrender myself to God's love, to his care, to his guiding and leading. Instead of always insisting that I control situations, I relax, lay back and let him take over. Giving up control is hard. In order to float, one must stop thrashing and trying to control the ability to not sink in the water. How it is possible to surrender total control of my life to God? I can only do it when I know without a doubt that he is love, when I trust, totally trust, his love. Scripture speaks volumes about God’s love but Psalm 103 describes it so well: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. And the Apostle Paul prays that we would grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:19).
I am indebted to David Benner and his wonderful book, Surrender to Love, for these concepts. He says, Surrender to anything other than love would be idiocy. Alarm bells should go off when we hear of people surrendering to abusive relationships. Surrender involves too much vulnerability to be a responsible action in relation to anything other than unconditional love. Ultimately, of course, this means that absolute surrender can only be offered to Perfect Love. Only God deserves absolute surrender, because only God can offer absolutely dependable love.
- What is God asking you to offer up? To surrender?
- Can you trust that God has a solution/end product of blessing from your surrender?
- Do you know without a doubt that God is love? Do you trust his love?
- What would it look like for you to relax, let go, and float in the river of God's love?
Take a few minutes to do one or more of the following exercises:
- Sit quietly before God, open your hands in a gesture of surrender. Sit this way with the Lord for several minutes. Listen to what he wants to say to you.
- Imagine yourself floating in a swimming pool. Even better, go get in one if you can. As you surrender your body to the water, surrender your whole self to God. Tell him that you trust him to love you and take care of you.
- "Sleep is an act of surrender. It is a declaration of trust. It is admitting that we are not God (who never sleeps), and that is good news." (James Bryan Smith) The next time you are in a position to fall asleep, surrender yourself to God and tell him that you trust him as you fall asleep.
- Read and meditate on Psalm 103. The entire psalm describes various ways that God expresses his love toward us. Note each one and prayerfully thank God for the many ways he loves you. Meditate on how much you truly know and believe that God loves you this way.
Heavenly Father, blessed God of love, the words of a song by William McDowell echo in my head: "I surrender all to you. Everything I give to you, withholding nothing. I give you all of me, King Jesus, my Savior forever". Teach me to daily surrender to you. Alert me when I am trying to remain in control and clinging to things and people and ideas that you are asking me to let go of. Enable me to relax and lie back in your gracious and big arms of love. Thank you for loving m e in a way that gives me confidence to trust you. And where I still do not understand and know your love, show me, teach me, help me to surrender what you claim. Amen.