The Real but Irrational Struggle of Surrender

The other day, a friend of mine wrote me an e-mail requesting that I write an article about something he struggles with (along with anyone else, I think, who has seriously thought about it): truly surrendering your life to God.

Why is surrendering our lives to God and his will such a struggle?

I believe there are several reasons. At the top of the list would be that, deep down, we don’t really trust God. The enemy of our souls, from all the way back in the Garden of Eden, has been seeking to cast doubt in our minds regarding the goodness of God, character of God and trusting God. All you have to do is go back to Genesis chapter 3 and note that his tactic in leading Eve, and subsequently Adam, astray was an attack on the character of God and why God can’t be trusted.

Secondly, our flesh is simply rebellious. We want to be our own god (something Satan appealed to in enticing Adam and Eve to sin) and not submit ourselves to another authority, be it God or anyone else. Mankind has a problem with authority, often because “authority” figures have let us down, taken advantage of us or abused us, all of which Satan uses to whisper “you can’t trust God either.” We want to be “in control” of our own lives.

The only problem is, control is an illusion.

As I write this, I am speaking at a camp in Arkansas. The “theme verse” at this camp is something Jesus said in Mark 8:35: For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. The “theme quote” of the week is one by the missionary Jim Elliot, and it is very similar to the verse above: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.

The irony for those who refuse to surrender and submit their lives to God is that the very “control” they want to hang on to, is the very thing they will find themselves losing! The more you try to “control” your life, the more “out of control” it actually becomes. While the “unbelieving world” may look at those who surrender their lives to God as something foolish, it is actually they that are the true fools; they are trusting in an earthly illusion while forfeiting an eternal reality!

You and I are a lot less in control of things than we realize. None of us had any control over our actual birth, location of birth, time in history of birth and the family we were born into. We entered this world with no control to begin with. And while we constantly seek to improve our health, safety and longevity of life, the statistics are still grim: death prevails over everyone, every time.

In fact, Scripture states that our existence (birth, life and death) are not merely “random” events; they have been planned and ordained by God. In Acts 17:24-28, Paul states the following: The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said; We are his offspring.

Psalm 139 speaks entirely on the fact that it was God who envisioned us, formed us in our mother’s womb, created us, knows us, loves us and ordained each day of our lives. The Psalmist declares in verses 14-17 the following: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we are completely dependent on God for every breath we take! Life is a gift from him. Therefore, “control” is an illusion in the first place. But let me speak to what I believe is the secret to being able to not only “surrender” our lives to God, but also be able to do so joyfully and willingly.

There are two very short parables (short stories which illustrate a spiritual truth) that Jesus told in Matthew 13:44-46 that I believe hold the “key.” Here is what it says: The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

First of all, notice that Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven (the realm of God where he rules as king) to a “treasure hidden in a field.” Obviously, “treasure hidden in a field” is something that is rare, valuable and containing riches that people over the centuries have sought after, toiled for, sacrificed for, fought over, even lost their lives over while pursuing it. Let us not fail to miss this truth: there is nothing more valuable, priceless and worthy of our toil, sacrifice or searching for than God’s very kingdom! In his kingdom, there is perfect peace, joy, eternal pleasure, righteousness and beauty (Psalm 16:11), everything we have always longed for and yet everything that seems to elude us. There is no evil, death, sorrow, pain or suffering (Revelation 21:1-7). Wouldn’t entering this kingdom and possessing this kingdom be worth whatever price you would have to pay to obtain it?

Secondly, notice that in both of these parables, the men who found this “treasure” (the second parable likens the kingdom of heaven to a merchant who finds a “fine pearl” of “great value”), willingly and joyfully sold all that they possessed in order to obtain what they didn’t yet possess. Why? How could they sell all they owned (which would contain many memories and life’s experiences) joyfully, freely, willingly and instantly?

The reason was that they realized that in this “trade” that they were making, they were going to come into the possession of something of greater value than what they currently possessed! This holds the “key” or “secret” to surrender: we are often only focused on what we are “giving up”, rather than what we are actually “obtaining!” The reason that it is hard for us to “surrender” our lives, is because we aren’t able to clearly see what a “bargain” it would be! We are failing to see the value of God’s eternal kingdom and instead, we are focusing on the fading and temporary earthly life we possess! It is totally irrational, but people fear the “unknown” even when something better is being offered to them!

C.S. Lewis once put it this way: It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak! We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with sinful things and selfish ambitions—when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the sea! We are far too easily pleased.

If you are having a hard time surrendering your life to God, you need to spend some time studying the kingdom of God and reflect on its eternal value and worth. The secret of the kingdom of God is that by “losing”, you will actually “find” it, and it’s by “giving up”, you will actually “gain!” In fact, you can’t out give God! He will outdo you every single time! Yet, if you try to “hold on”, the irony is that you will end up losing it all. True life is not found by clinging to it, but by surrendering it to God (or “clinging to him”), who is the giver of our life to begin with!

A great picture of this is found in Genesis 32:22-32. In this chapter, Jacob finds himself all alone one night, and an angel of the Lord begins to wrestle with him. As this wrestling match takes place, Jacob is “broken” (literally: the angel touches the socket of his hip so that his hip was “wrenched”). However, after having been broken, Jacob stops “wrestling” and begins to cling. He refuses to let go until this “man” blesses him, which is what happened. In fact, Jacob has his name changed to Israel, which means “one who has struggled with God and man…and has overcome!”

The lesson in this story is that the blessing is not in the wrestling (you will never win if you try to “fight” God), but in the brokenness of clinging to God! If you cling to your life (which is a gift from God), you will lose your life; but in clinging to the God, who is the giver of life, you are blessed!

Trusting in him is the issue; when you are wrestling with God, you are not trusting him. When you “cling to God” and surrender your life to God, you demonstrate trust in God. And, if you are having trouble trusting him with your life, this is where faith enters in. Scripture encourages, exhorts and promises us: Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Ask God to help you see his goodness and to tear down any strongholds in your mind or heart that are preventing you from trusting him or seeing his kingdom clearly. In fact, the best way to clearly see God’s heart is by looking at the life of Jesus. Can you not trust the heart of the One who laid down his life, so that you might have life?

As Jesus himself said in John 10:9-10: I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Lastly, let me encourage you with a truth from Romans 12:2. Many people have the misconception that God’s will is something that will make them miserable. Let me state clearly that God’s will does involve sacrifice, suffering, pain and challenges at times. However, Romans 12:1-2 says this:  Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Note: God’s will is not about making us miserable; his will is good, pleasing and perfect! His will will satisfy your soul and bring fulfillment, hope, joy, meaning and purpose to your life (which cannot be found in this world alone). Always remember this: there is no sacrifice you can make that will outweigh the reward you will receive! In fact, the greater the sacrifice, the greater the reward and fulfillment.

In the end, it does boil down to trust. The question put before us is this: will we place our trust in Christ and surrender our lives to God and his will, or will we hold on to our lives, deceiving ourselves with an illusion of “control” that will eventually be shattered and leave us empty, broken, disappointed, heart-broken, defeated, and robbed of the very life we were trying so desperately to keep?

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