The culture of finger-pointing and catastrophizing others' words has grown…
When God seems to ask too much of us, we tend to resist or hide.
Discover why surrender is a supremely wise and comforting thing to do.
Imagine living during World War II and one day seeing this newspaper unfold onto your breakfast table: PEACE! After all that torment and worry and suffering!
This original Philadephia Inquirer newspaper, still in our home, was carefully preserved for over seventy years by my father-in-law. (We found it shortly after he passed; I took the photo below in 2017.)
This headline speaks a great truth: Surrender leads to peace.
God doesn’t expect more than you can give,” you’ve been told. (See 1 Corinthians 10:13.) But you’re not so sure. Fear may be creeping in. Peace is slipping away.
But we can find PEACE even in the midst of our battles.
Work WITH God’s Plans
Often, our greatest battle is the one we wage with God. We don’t like what He expects from us. Or we don’t like the circumstances of our lives.
But God planned this day, each day, just the way it is, just for you. As the Bible says,
The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. (Proverbs 16:9, ESV)
A key to finding happiness in this life is working with God’s plans for us instead of resisting them.
In fact, that’s a simple definition of spiritual surrender.
What is Biblical Surrender?
We generally envision “surrender” as a group of defeated, ragged soldiers coming out of hiding with their hands over their heads and one of them waving the white flag.
Who wants to be the first to give up? We’re not quitters, are we?
Biblical, spiritual surrender has nothing to do with quitting or abandoning the free will that God gave to all of His children.
A more suitable definition of surrender for our purpose is this:
“To cease resistance or hiding from an enemy and submit to their authority.”
I like this definition a lot. It applies perfectly to life as well as to war.
In the Philadelphia Inquirer photographed above, there’s a great truth: PEACE comes after the surrender.
Let’s take a close look at how you can find peace, even when life doesn’t make sense because of your unpredictable, painful circumstances or if you just don’t feel like obeying God and submitting to Him.
Tip: What follows is a powerful metaphor that illustrates what surrender to God really means. We hope you read it! However, if you just want to learn things you can do to show God you are surrendering to Him, scroll further below to “Practical Recommendations.”
Ending Our Trench Warfare with God
Picture everything described below in your mind, as if you are there. Fire up your most vivid imagination.
Imagine yourself now in a deep trench during a different war—the dreadful ground warfare of World War I.
Peering over the top of the trench, about one hundred paces away, you can see an enemy line. There together behind the enemy line, stand God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
What? Well, yes.
By nature, you and I have made God our Father and His Son our enemies. Given our fallen natures, we routinely act contrary to God’s will and commands. (See Romans 3:23)
When life becomes painful, we duck down into our trench as we try to hide our unbelieving, angry thoughts from God. We may be trying to be faithful to God, but often our hearts cling to our resentment and opposition to God.
Sometimes in boldness, we peek over our trench wall with an angry face, shaking a fist.
But then we open our Bibles and we read of submission and humility.
“Submission! God is the one making life hard on us!” we grumble.
At times, we may stop our rebellion, but our frustrated, confused hearts keep us tucked down in our trench, unwilling to stop hiding.
We then venture a peek over the top of the trench to see what God is up to. The Father and Son still stand smiling and waving.
They gesture their arms toward us, as if saying “Come out of there. Come over to us! We love you. It’s better over here. Trust us and let go of this fight. We want to help you. We can help you. We think of you and love you all day long.”
We sink back down, pondering this demonstration of love. But the trench has been our home for so long. And we know God has hurt us. He’s made our life hard. It’s not fair. It’s not!
We keep suffering for months and then years, peeking over the top now and then because of beautiful promises in the scriptures. Sure enough, each time, we see Them waving and gesturing at us to come out and come over.
One day as you sit despondently, the Holy Spirit comes to you and enters your heart. You feel an unusual clarity and perceive this message: “Give up this pointless fight against the God who loves you so much. Stop hiding. Stop resisting. Submit to that authority who rules this universe. Submit to that wise and loving authority who created you and all other things.”
You weep. “I want to,” you say. “Okay, I see that my fight is foolish. Why do I fight against God and His Son who love me most? The rest of the world may fight against God, but I don’t want to anymore. I’m ready. I do see.”
You pop your head out fully now and venture a brief smile. They smile back, most heartily and with no resentment or judgment. Their gestures are eager and loving, greater than ever.
But your feet are stuck. You just can’t seem to get out. Your arm comes over the wall now but that’s as far as you can go. After a time of hanging on the edge of the trench wall, you sink down in the despair of your pride and habitual mistrust and resentment.
“I can’t. I can’t really trust God.”
Then more honestly, you admit what you’ve suspected: “I don’t want to trust God. I don’t want to let go of my resentment and fear and self-pity. I’m stuck in this hole forever.”
You are convicted by your darkest, most habitual, troublesome sins and negative thoughts.
“I really am powerless.”
But that very instant, an unexpected warmth begins to fill you. Your sadness and despair are pressed out by a growing calm that surprises you. You feel freer somehow.
“Why? Where did that come from?”
Merciful Help for the “Stuck Heart”
After some time, you hear something approaching above you.
In a final, feeble effort, you peer over the wall just one more time. To your astonishment, you see Jesus Himself walking toward you, just twenty paces from you, striding confidently and smiling with encouragement.
You slide back down in shock, your back toward Him. “This is unexpected,” you think. “He’s coming all the way to me?” But then you remember the words of scripture,
I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him. . . (Revelation 3:20)
The footsteps stop at the top of your trench. Jesus kneels and looks down over the edge. You look up with shame, yet a hint of hope. You remember the words of Paul:
For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. (Romans 7:19)
“So true,” you think. “I’m powerless to do the good I want to do to. I’m too weak to even ‘surrender,’ although I know it is good. God isn’t forcing me. He’s inviting me to leave this pathetic place and stop my foolish resistance and enter His presence.”
Mercifully, the Holy Spirit comes upon you again and you hear His prompting:
“Jesus will do what you cannot do, but you must do what you can, as little as that may be. Do it now. . . Do it.”
You are frozen by the fear of change. But God has literally come to you from above, still standing patiently. And now the Holy Spirit is speaking within you. God just won’t give up!
Your eye is drawn by a movement from above. You look.
The hand of Jesus is coming down, extended into your hiding place, waiting for you, hand open, hanging in the air, with the imprints of the spikes of the crucifixion still visible.
“Reach up and hold His hand,” the Spirit prompts you. “It is now up to you.”
A surge of desire and conviction swells within you.
“But how? HOW?”
The Holy Spirit answers: “Say ‘I trust you, Jesus, more than I trust myself’ and mean it. Then raise your spiritual hand up, as weakly as that may be. Picture your hand going into His with humble trust. That is all you need to do. Remember: Jesus saves you. You don’t save yourself.”
You bow your head.
“I can do that. Yes, that much I can do.” And you lay your hand into the hand that was sacrificed for you.
You stand and breathe like you haven’t breathed in years, still holding on.
You sheepishly look into the eyes of Him who pulled you higher, but there is no condemnation, only pleasure and rejoicing at your good decision.
“Why would I fight against a God who loves me like this?” you think to yourself. With new courage, you feel relief as your heart proclaims these words:
“I choose to no longer hide. I choose to no longer resist. I choose to accept the authority of the One who is wiser than all and who loves me beyond my ability to understand. I choose to surrender. I get it! I finally get it! It’s a good thing to do. It’s the wise thing to do!”
After climbing above your trench for the first time in your life and now with Jesus’s arm around your shoulder, you see God the Father beaming with pleasure that you have chosen wisely. The Great Mediator of all mankind has begun His precious work in you. The Holy Spirit burns within you, confirming the blessed decision you made.
You are heading home.
Jesus steps out now in front of you and turns to look you in the eye.
“There’s still a battle ahead of us. But come, follow Me,” He says. “For the remainder of your life, watch Me in real-time as I walk just ahead of you. Keep your eyes glued to my back. If you study my life and remember my ways, the life you see in Me will become part of you.”
The preceding metaphorical story can help us understand “why” surrender makes so much sense. What about the how?
Here are some concrete steps you can take. These are things believers do who have decided to place their hands into the hands of the Lord and climb up and out of their trenches of resistance and rebellion.
- Remind yourself that surrender does not mean you should become a robot by giving up your God-given freedom to choose. Surrender means you are choosing to stop resisting and start obeying with a trusting attitude. God wants to lead and inspire you, yes. He wants to transform you for the better, yes. But you will still be you. You will be the holier, better you God wants you to become, through His grace and not your own ability. He does not want to control you. Satan is the one who wants to do that, to your misery. (Read more about what it means to be a slave of Christ. It may not be what you think.)
- Choose to believe in Jesus Christ as God and your personal Savior. It is a decision. Do it. Open the “belief valve of your heart.” and let doubts roll away. Jump in, both feet. Say, “I believe in you Jesus; forgive me if I doubt and I will strive to keep believing.” (Read a great article here, to help those who doubt.)
- Choose to believe that Jesus is all-knowing and therefore wiser than you. He is worthy of your trust. (Read more about trusting Jesus here.)
- Tell him if you are fearful about changing your life. God respects those who are honest in heart. Remember it was Jesus who praised the man who “would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (See Luke 18:13.)
- Obey. Do something that Jesus taught us to do, perhaps more diligently than you do it today. Do it because you trust God and are willing to walk in obedience. Remember it was Jesus who commanded the apostles just prior to his ascension into heaven, “[Teach] them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (See Matthew 28:20.) For example, consider this partial, paraphrased list from the “Ten Commandments.”
- Be more respectful and kind in remembering and honoring your parents.
- Avoid being jealous or begrudging people of things they have (or who they are).
- Stop sexual misconduct. Sex outside of marriage is wrong, period. Even many Christians ignore this commandment. But the humble, believing follower of Jesus will not ignore this. See my own blog post on this topic here, Why Sex Matters to God (5 Reasons).
- Consider how you are using your time, which is a measure of what you love most. If you love social media posts, watching TV, fixing cars, doing crafts, or whatever other things so much that you don’t take time to pray and read the Word of God, what does that say about what you love most? God declared through the prophet Moses, “You must not have any other god but me.” (See Exodus 20:3, NLT)
- Pray on your knees (if you are physically able) morning and night. This is symbolic of your worship and humility before a God who is so mighty we cannot imagine it. If you are lax in your prayers, you can surrender to his authority by being more faithful in your obedience to this command. Jesus prayed constantly, and we can learn to do the same and be greatly blessed by it! (See this tremendous article. I love it!)
- Read the Word of God every day. There are so many free apps and emailed resources that can help you do this. (Here’s just one example: Sign up for Pastor Rick Warren’s daily devotional.)
- Join a local church family and become part of the solution in the world today. Find a church that believes in requiring something of its members, not just sitting and listening on Sunday. Find a church that is involved in community service, serving one another as believers, and get involved. This is surrender to the God of heaven in action! This is part of what Jesus meant when He said, “Come, follow me.” Research and visit churches near you and see which ones follow the example of Jesus through giving service and creating disciples, not just talking to listeners.
God bless you for reading this whole article. May these words that flowed from my computer keyboard as the Spirit of God filled my heart enable the whispering voice of His Spirit to soothe you and guide you. I testify to you that these words are true, in the holy name of Jesus Christ.
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