Jackson Five Friday: Surrender

Happy Friday, Y’all. Fall has arrived in Tennessee and it’s spectacular to step outside in the morning and feel a chill in the air. Soo lovely.

I’ve run out of time this week. This morning I went to an event on raising boys and now I’m sitting at the salon hoping to end my record streak of consecutive atrocious hair days. Yeah, “bad” just doesn’t cut it.

Anyway in lieu of a weekly post I’d like to share with you a talk I’ve given a few times to women. It’s a message I’ve been passionate about for a decade, and it applies to men too, although I would change a few things if I were giving this talk to both men and women. You should also know that the underlying assumption is that the audience would know nothing of my story, near the end you’ll understand how that might change things.

I hope you enjoy it and will reflect on the “discussion questions.”  Have a blessed weekend and love to each of you.

Kristie

Surrender

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I want to start out with telling you a story about my son Sam. Here is a picture of all three of my sons, Will, Nate and Sam. Sam is about eight months old in this picture, so this is a while back. And as you can see he is quite unhappy, despite the beautiful surrounding and attentive older brother. Sam was a delightful baby – I mean just the happiest, cuddliest, most darling baby in the world. He had and has the biggest, most expressive brown eyes I’ve ever seen and he knows how to use them to just melt your heart. But sadly, there were three things Baby Sammy just would not tolerate: (1) he hated riding in the car; (2) he refused to ever be put down – which was the problem in this picture; and (3) he refused to go bed. So long as you didn’t try any of these three stunts you were golden. But of course my older sons had preschool and sports and Sam would be put in the car many times each day. And every single time he would go ballistic. He never got over it.   It was incredibly stressful because he was the loudest crier I have ever heard in my life, and he would scream bloody murder the entire time no matter how long the trip. At one point we discovered that Sam would sometimes stop crying if we played Johnny Cash, but oddly he only liked one particular song. Ironically, it was “I’ve Been Everywhere.” We would play it on continuous loop as long as that would work.   I can’t even tell you how many times we played that song.  Those were days when showering felt like a major victory.

Putting Sammy to bed was a similar nightmare. When he was breastfed things were relatively easy because he would fall asleep nursing and I’d be able to transition him to bed, or give up and let him sleep with me. But when Sam was one, I weaned him and then the bedtime routine got ugly, really ugly. He would be exhausted and well-fed, and the child still fought off sleep like a crazed banshee. One night when I was trying to get this beyond stubborn child to go to sleep, it occurred to me that this fighting, this crazed resistance is often a picture of how we are with God. We resist Him with a fierce independence, as if we’ve got the answers. But just like Sam, we often only get what we desperately need when we surrender.

Sam would eventually go to sleep. He would eventually waive that white flag, his eyelids would stop cooperating, and he’d pass out. I’d marvel that only in surrender did he get exactly what he needed.

And here’s a picture of all three boys sleeping [cannot find, will leave it up to you to imagine]. So peaceful isn’t it? They might rather be up playing games and wrestling around, but eventually they acknowledged their need of rest and went to sleep. In fact, let’s consider how things would go if they had just stayed up. If they just continued to fight off sleep?  We can imagine them not getting along, becoming overly sensitive, being mean-spirited with each other. They might be able to stay awake longer, but the quality of their life wouldn’t be the same, it would be diminished. They wouldn’t be living life to the full. We can imagine them becoming more and more miserable, not at all living the abundant life.

I want to challenge you that we will find rest and peace and a more abundant life, if we surrender our whole lives to God, that these pictures of my sons can give us insight into our lives with Christ.

I hope that when you leave this session, that you’ll walk out convinced that the paradox is true: a surrendered life is a freer, more abundant life.,

I became passionate about the idea of living a fully surrendered life in 2006. I had two sons, and was pregnant with our third. I had lived long enough, been married long enough, and been a mother long enough to know that the white knuckled death grip I kept on my family wasn’t a good thing. It’s not only not a good thing; it’s not effective. Earlier that same year, I had a miscarriage at about 10 weeks. Which I’m sure many of you know, quite intimately, is heartbreaking. I remember feeling numb and dazed. I had two healthy little boys and so much to be thankful for, but losing that baby was a stark reminder that I was not, have never been, and never will be in charge. I can act sovereign till the cows come home. I can pretend that Planet Jackson spins and orbits because of me, but the truth is I can’t ensure I’ll take another breath. I can’t make my sons live another day, or even hugely influence their personalities as I’m learning. Logically I was coming to grips with how little control I have in this life. Yet the posture of my heart remained anything but surrendered.

Do you ever feel like your world rests on your shoulders? I’m not even sure why exactly we, as women, feel like this. I think I felt overly responsible for the health of my marriage and for the success of my career, but when I brought home my first son, that feeling intensified a thousand fold. I have been an aunt since I was fourteen years old, and I was a super involved aunt. In fact when my niece Caitlin was born my sister had a horrible delivery and was not supposed to lift the baby. That very week my mom did something to her back so I moved in with my sister to help. I was obsessed with that baby. I was fourteen but I read every little pamphlet the hospital sent home. I was soon an expert on newborns, and I only moved back home to start my freshman year of high school.

So honestly, I was absurdly confident and did not consider the task of caring for a newborn to be daunting — I sort of thought, I got this. The problem was that when I was fourteen hanging with my niece I didn’t have postpartum hormones and I didn’t face that overwhelming and pervasive thought that this baby will not survive without me. In addition, my beautiful firstborn son lost weight at an alarming rate the first week or so – he took about four days to start nursing at all, and he progressively turned highlighter yellow from jaundice. He also had a terrifying little tick, where his tiny little body would spasm. The first time he did this inexplicable twitching was on the way home from the hospital. I about lost it. The gravity of being a mother hit me like a giant boulder. I felt crushed by the weight of it. Oh and we happened to be moving that week, and we had many out of town guests stay with us. I was a wreck – not outwardly I was putting on the best show I could, but inwardly I was a complete mess and profoundly overwhelmed.

And I know I am not alone, most of us women, at certain stages of life, fight the sense that we make the world go round. And at least on the surface we do tend to keep many plates spinning. But I promise you God does not want us to live under this weight. He wants to carry our burdens – whether they be the burden of motherhood, singleness, whether they be burdens that are more personal or more professional. No matter where or how we feel that unrelenting pressure, Jesus wants us to cast all our cares on Him knowing that He loves us and that He has a good plan for us.

But back to 2006. My husband and I were at a Bible conference at Billy Graham’s conference center in beautiful Ashville, NC. The featured speaker was the Chip Ingram. He is currently a pastor with a church in Santa Monica, California but at the time he was the president of Walk Thru the Bible. He spoke that weekend on Romans 12 and I came away with a deep appreciation for how this particular chapter is an incredible summation of the Christian life. I recommend memorizing the whole chapter– it is chock full of application and truth for every day life.

But my biggest takeaway from that weekend, the thing that truly changed my worldview, was from Romans 12:1. It is a verse that is very familiar. It’s the kind of verse that I might even be prone to think might not offer anything new, but what I heard this pastor say, I had never heard or considered before.

Here are a couple different versions of the verse.

From the NIV:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.

The ESV says:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

And I love the Amplified Version:

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship.

This verse is probably familiar to most of us here today. But let me read you what this pastor pointed out at the conference I was at. [This is now in Chip’s book, Living on the Edge: Dare to Experience True Spirituality]

“The command here is in a tense of the verb in Greek that tells us this offering of our bodies takes place at a specific point in time.” p.27

My epiphany was that this verse was talking about a MOMENT in time.

The Greek verb used in this verse is the same exact verb and tense used in Luke 2:22 which is where Mary and Joseph take Jesus to Jerusalem to “present him to the Lord.” And if we stop to think about the form of the English verb “present,” it sounds like it happens at a point in time. Just think of when you’ve been presented with something. When you graduate from high school you receive a diploma – it represents four years of work, but the presenting of the diploma happens in a specific moment in time. If you are presented with a raise at work, it may be a reward for a job well done, but the raise itself becomes effective at a point in time. Similarly, when we present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice it happens at a point in time, and is in response, as Paul says, to God’s mercy to us, in other words we present ourselves to God in response to His love for us.

When I heard this for the first time, I felt incredibly challenged by it.

Because, Ladies, I’m just going to keep it real. I was pretty content and satisfied that I was making spiritual progress. I came to church every week. I had listened to about every sermon Lon Solomon had ever given – for years I spent more money on tapes and then CDs than would seem reasonable today with all of the free podcasts at our fingertips. I was involved in Bible study. I taught Sunday school. I was a Children’s leader at CBS. I did the fellowship program through the C.S. Lewis Institute. Every summer my husband and I took our sons to a Christian family camp in Michigan. Spiritual growth was a major focus of my life. I was turning over more and more of my life to Christ, and I took seriously that my life should more and more reflect my Savior. But what I had not done, was what this verse seemed to be challenging me to do – to take a specific moment in time and say “THIS IS IT LORD, my whole life. I’m not holding anything back.” In fact, the thought of making this kind of all out commitment made me anxious.   I liked my “progress paradigm”– I was reassured by sentiments like faith is a journey (which, of course it is, but this can be used, and was used by me as justification for failing to surrender my whole life – or as the Amplified version says presenting all my members and faculties).

It’s not like I talked it through with God in very explicit terms, but in my heart I was holding back. I didn’t want to give my whole life. I was on a journey; I was making progress. In a very real sense I thought I could keep a corner or two for myself. It’s as if I was surrendering under the following conditions: anything and everything is yours Lord, just not my family, just not my marriage. Or even, anything and everything is yours Lord, just I’m not moving to Africa, or Lord, you have it all, just I don’t really want to be disfigured, or maimed, or terribly poor or martyred. If I gave it much thought, more and more conditions would flood my mind. But really most of all, I wanted to surrender, tried for years to surrender, without surrendering my marriage or my sons.

But here’s the thing, it’s completely illogical. I can’t shield my husband from the world. I can’t stuff our marriage into some protective force field. And I can’t protect my sons. I am not ultimately in control. But I really believe I’m not the only one who has thought this way. I believe there are a lot of us women who think like this. In fact, a good friend of mine, Emilie, has a daughter, Anna, who is fighting Lyme disease. Anna is really, really struggling and has been for over a year now. I’m in a Tuesday Bible study with Emilie and she’s a mature believer – she’s walked closely with the Lord for many years. But you know what she said this week. She said that she feels so crushed and overwhelmed by Anna’s illness that she has to remind herself that she cannot heal her daughter. Healing Anna is not Emilie’s responsibility. Yet she carries the weight of it, as if it were. We cannot allow our logic and our worldview to get derailed. Just like Emilie we have to be intentional and remind ourselves of the truth. We need to say to ourselves. I am not sovereign. I am not in charge. God is on His Throne and He loves me with an unquenchable love.

Let’s just be completely honest. Have you ever said something like, “God, I want to grow closer to You.   I want to live my life for you, but I cannot face this circumstance or I will not go through that kind of trial. But ladies if God is Sovereign, and He is, then we can’t do that. We should never be in the business of telling God what we cannot or will not do. It’s not just flawed logically. It’s flawed spiritually. Because holding back is failing to love him with all our whole heart, soul and mind. Because if we love God with all of our heart, soul and mind then we will also trust him. Lon Solomon is a master of putting the Bible into simple and digestible terms. The Bible says that we should have childlike faith and Lon is amazing at boiling down the gospel message so that small children – like my own three sons — can readily understand it. But one of my favorite Lon summations is just two words, and I don’t know if he’s said this recently, but I’ve heard him say it a few times over the years. He said that the entire Bible can be summarized in just two words. The whole Bible is God saying, “Trust me.” Trust me.

So going back to our verse, Romans 12:1, Paul writes “in view of God’s mercy present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” We are asked to acknowledge God’s great love and in response to that love make a decisive dedication of our whole lives to him.

Last week I ran into a woman who has been something of a mentor to me, but I haven’t seen her for a long time. She wanted to know how I was doing, but I didn’t really want to talk to her about anything going on so much as I wanted to ask her to please please pray about this talk. Being a godly woman, I just knew she would. A few nights ago I checked my email before bed, and I got a message from her with the subject line: praying. It was a brief note. This is all it said, “Kristie, I’m praying for you as you work on what you’ll present this weekend. What do those women most need to hear?” And that was the whole email. I’ve thought about and prayed about this little but weighty question. What do you ladies most need to hear?   And I think it’s this: God loves you! He loves each and every one of you with more devotion and affection than you could possibly fathom. His love has never failed you. He loved you right through the ugliest moments of your life. You may even stop and picture the scene that causes you the most shame. That scene that you shudder to even think about, because you get a sick feeling in your stomach, thinking “oh, how could I ???” You know what? Jesus didn’t love you one iota less in that moment. You can’t earn His love and you can’t lose His love. His love for you is perfect. And it’s perfect all the time.

But God does want something in return for loving you that way. He wants YOU! He wants your whole life. He wants you to make an all out commitment to Him, with arms wide open, with eyes wide open, trusting that He loves you, trusting that His promises are true.

Have you done this? Do you know the day, the hour, not where you asked Jesus to be your Savior (although parenthetically for some of us a total surrender may have occurred the day you were saved, I tend to think is probably uncommon – that’s certainly not my story because I prayed a salvation prayer as a little girl). What I’m talking about today is marking the hour where you say without a single condition, Thank you Jesus for being my Savior and I want to mark this day as the day where I decisively dedicate my whole life to you. Today Jesus YOU ARE LORD, You are Lord of my whole life, my marriage is yours, my job is yours, my affluence is yours, my children are yours, my parents are yours, my everything is YOURS. If you have never done that I’m going to invite you to in a little while, but first I want to change course a little bit.

Because I don’t want to leave you with the impression that surrender is a one and done kind of thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have to surrender ourselves to God every. Single.   day, often every single hour. D.L Moody has a wonderful quote about this issue. He said, “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.” If you have made an all-out surrender to God, you can testify to this truth – our need to put ourselves back on the altar is a daily requirement. It’s like we can wake up in the morning, grab a cup of coffee and put ourselves back on the altar. The author Jerry Bridges said that we need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day. And I love that idea, but I also believe our lives can be transformed by the practice of surrendering daily to God, of consciously putting our lives back on the altar.

I made an all-out surrender to God, naming what I feared surrendering the most on October 22, 2006. It left me with a wonderful sense of peace, because I wasn’t warring within about what I was unwilling to give up. I felt freer and lighter in my walk with the Lord. What a comfort it was to admit I’m not in charge! Because I can tell you that holding onto anything as tightly as I was holding onto everything is tiring, it’s consuming. There is freedom in surrender. The idea of doing it may feel scary, it may even make you anxious, but once you surrender there’s peace. There’s healing, there’s freedom.

Now, I will tell you that my sticky, stubborn fingers wrap themselves around my husband and sons again and again, pretty much every day. But I’m getting better at allowing God to pry my stubborn fingers open. More and more I’m able to stand before Him with open hands ready to acknowledge His sovereignty and ready to receive His grace.

And you know what we get when we come to Him with hands and hearts that are surrendered, we get the abundant life that Jesus talks about in John 10:10.

In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” The ESV says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

The Amplified version puts it this way, “I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that “Christ came to give life and something more, something better, life with advantage, that in Christ we might not only live, but live comfortably, live plentifully, live and rejoice.”

The abundant life is a full life – not full of things, not full of this world, but full of the joy and peace that Christ brings when we live each day surrendered to Him.

So what does this look like in day to day life?

I think it’s useful to think of surrender as having two forms.

We have prospective surrender – which is trusting God with our whole lives and our whole future. Prospective surrender means we stand before the throne of our Lord and Savior each day with open arms, yielding to His good pleasing and perfect will, which as Romans 12:2 says we will know when our minds are renewed and we are no longer conformed to the pattern of this world.

But there is another kind of surrender, surrendering where you are now and where you’ve been. This can be really hard because sometimes we just want to understand why some tragic or horrible or cruel thing happened. But ladies I hope you know that we can surrender even when we don’t understand.

I want to tell you about a woman I know who’s been through a lot, her name is Judy. In February of 1999, Judy lost her sister, Janet, to cancer. Judy and Janet were incredibly close – they had spent their whole lives as best friends. No one could fill the void left by Janet. Judy was just 57 years old and her heart was broken to live the rest of her life without her only sister. In November of that same year, Judy was with her husband, Roy, they were on an airplane flying to see their daughter. On the plane, Roy had a massive heart attack and died. Judy was devastated, totally undone by the loss. She had been a child bride who married the boy next door. Their 40 year love affair ended without warning. She thought she might die of grief, but the losses just kept coming. Fourteen months after losing her husband, Judy’s brother, whom she absolutely adored, took his own life. Six months after that, Judy’s own precious and beloved son was killed in a plane crash. The losses this woman faced were mind boggling, almost unreal. But sadly this was the reality that Judy woke up to everyday. I witnessed it all because Judy is my mom.

I am not alone in standing of awe of her. She weathered more heartache in those few years than most people have in a lifetime. And you know what I saw in her, day after day, loss after tragic loss?   A spirit of surrender. Never in a million years would she have wished for pain like that, but somehow through it all she believed that God doesn’t make mistakes. Despite how her hopes and dreams were utterly shattered from a purely human perspective, she continued to hold on to her faith, to trust that even though she couldn’t possibly understand it, God promised that He had a plan for her life.

My mom is not a perfect woman, but I do think she’s a spiritual giant when it comes to trusting God. Her heart of surrender has meant that she has lived without bitterness, without even a hint of anger. Yes, she looks more forward to eternity than anyone I know, but she does so with a spirit of contentment and joy in the here and now.

I imagine you too know people who have embodied the truth that God’s grace is sufficient. Who have been able to surrender to their circumstances, trusting that – in spite of it all –God has a good, pleasing and perfect plan?

Surrendering our future to God is not easy.   For some of us, surrendering our past is even harder. We may also have a painful thorn in our side this very minute that we are reluctant to give over to God.

But ladies I believe that if we truly love God, we will trust Him, and that if we truly trust Him, we will surrender our whole lives – every single part of who are – to Him. I believe this is the path to living the abundant life, and because God loves us so much he sent His son to die for us – to give us, eternal and abundant life.

Do you know this free and abundant life?

[intodroduced and played this song, which is worth the download!]

“By Your Side” by Tenth Avenue North 

 Why are you striving these days

Why are you trying to earn grace

Why are you crying

Let me lift up your face

Just don’t turn away

Why are you looking for love

Why are you still searching

As if I’m not enough

To where will you go child

Tell me where will you run

To where will you run

‘Cause I’ll be by your side wherever you fall

In the dead of night whenever you call

And please don’t fight these hands that are holding you

My hands are holding you

Look at these hands at my side

They swallowed the grave on that night

When I drank the world’s sin

So I could carry you in

And give you life

I want to give you life

And I’ll be by your side wherever you fall

In the dead of night whenever you call

And please don’t fight these hands that are holding you

My hands are holding you

Here at my side wherever you fall

In the dead of night whenever you call

And please don’t fight these hands that are holding you

My hands are holding you

‘Cause I, I love you

I want you to know

That I, yeah I’ll love you

I’ll never let you go, no, no

And I’ll be by your side wherever you fall

In the dead of night whenever you call

And please don’t fight these hands that are holding you

My hands are holding you

Here at my side wherever you fall

In the dead of night whenever you call

And please don’t fight these hands that are holding you

My hands are holding you

Here at my side, my hands are holding you

Friends, I hope you don’t fight the hands that are holding you!

Discussion Questions

  1. Is it possible that you are striving for something that you will only get through surrender? What might that something be?
  2. Do you think every believer is called to live a life of surrender?
  3. What areas of your life are hardest to surrender?
  4. In what area of your life is it hardest to trust God?
  5. Are your answers to the two questions above related or unrelated? How?
  6. In what circumstances is it easiest to believe that God loves you? Do you see a relationship between how much you truly believe God loves you and how much you are able to trust His plan for your life?
  7. Can you think of an example of when you have personally experienced the paradox that there is freedom in surrender?
  8. Is there something from the past that you need to surrender?
  9. Thomas á Kempis wrote in The Imitation of Christ that if we resign ourselves wholly into the hands of Christ, and take nothing back, we will have more grace. Does this ring true for you in light of Romans 12:1 and John 10:10?

 

 

 

 

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