Full Surrender vs. Faux Surrender

If Jesus were anything at all like the rest of us – and praise God that He is not! – I have to imagine that He would constantly be pulling out His hair in frustration over how unbelievably slow we are to apply His revealed Truth to our everyday lives. Making things even worse is the fact that our fallen hearts quite naturally resist Truth; we’re slow to understand what He’s talking about in the first place, let alone act upon it.

The biblical accounts of Christ’s earthly ministry document again and again how many times the people around him (especially His disciples) give clear evidence that they just don’t get it. Jesus tells the disciples that He is on His way to death by crucifixion; they start arguing about which one of them deserves to wear the Super Apostle t-shirt (Luke 9:44-46). Jesus reveals Himself as the Living Bread, the true source of everlasting life; they scratch their heads and wonder if someone might have given him a baloney sandwich while they were out shopping at the Samaritan Plaza Piggly-Wiggly (John 4:27-33). I’ve become increasingly slow to laugh at how clueless the Apostles were, though; my own life regularly reveals the sad truth that I obviously don’t get it, either.

Or maybe I just don’t want to get it. Worse, maybe I’d rather just expend all of my physical and emotional energy on issues that I have zero control over, leaving precious few resources to draw upon when the opportunity arises to battle against those sins over which I do, actually, have at least some measure of control.

Yesterday, Pastor Dave preached his sermon on Acts 12:1-19. If you want to listen to the audio for that sermon, you’ll find it here; the title you are looking for is “One of the Funniest Stories in the Bible” from May 2, 2010. I can enthusiastically recommend listening to the entire sermon, of course, but what really hooked me this week was the analogy he opened up with. Comparing our efforts to control the course of our lives to the frenzied-yet-futile “steering” efforts of a two-year-old on a carnival car ride was (I thought) a theological bulls-eye. Thanks to Dave, I now have yet another vivid word picture with which to describe my all-too-frequent, ridiculous responses to the uncontrollable events of everyday life.

I can really identify with the clueless kid frantically spinning the steering wheel on a carnival ride, wrongly convinced that my energetic efforts to control my brightly-painted novelty vehicle will somehow alter the course of my journey. Wanting so badly to control my own destination, I throw myself into a campaign to go down in carnie lore as the All-Time Novelty Car Ride Champion, the precocious little kid who finally figured out how to break free from the cutout groove trapping my vehicle in endless circles. I am determined to launch out into the surprised crowd and speed off down the street.

Of course, that doesn’t happen. The ride ends, my expectations have been dashed, and on top of it all, I’m hungry. Rather than walk over to the nearby hot dog stand, I sit down and bewail my failure…and my hunger.

Absurd, right? Yet isn’t this a clear picture of how we all too often misunderstand God’s plan for our lives when it comes to controlling what we can, and trusting Him with those things over which we have zero influence?

As Christians, we are called to work diligently (Ephesians 6:5-8), do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), and seek His kingdom and righteousness in everything (Matthew 6:33). In short, Christians are called to be very busy people, making plans in accordance with His will, seeking the greater good of our community and co-laboring with Christ in the work of redemption.

But we finite, limited humans will never understand all the plans of an infinitely supreme God, and so we are called to simply trust Him when we just don’t understand. Our inability to grasp all that God is doing is no excuse for not applying the Truths that we do know. I have heard far too many people (including me) use the Christian catchphrase, “Let go and let God,” not as a testament to the awesome power of a sovereign Creator, but more as an excuse for their own reluctance to fully apply the truths of Scripture to an imminent problem or other personal failures of one type or another. I really don’t think surrendering to God is our ticket to sit back in our easy chairs and microwave another bag of popcorn, waiting to see what Jesus is going to do with our lives.

There is, I think, a very real tension between what we are supposed to be doing and what we expect to occur as a result of our faithfulness. Over and over again, we make a serious mistake when we respond to any situation with a foregone conclusion as to how our efforts will be rewarded. Certainly, God does reward faithfulness, but faithfulness-with-expectations is not really true faithfulness at all.

Let me illustrate it this way: If I render Christian service to someone addicted to alcohol or drugs, I am being obedient to Jesus Christ. If, however, my desire to serve that addict is tied tightly to the expectation that the addict will have a change of heart and finally get cleaned up, then I’ve set myself up to be disappointed and, more seriously, will probably be that much less willing to help out the next time a similar opportunity arises.

Similarly, when we respond faithfully to a situation in our marriage – showing grace and forgiveness to a spouse who has deeply hurt us and is asking for another chance – we tend to expect that our faithful response will equal a changed heart on the other end. Responding “faithfully” with expectations of a certain outcome – that the arguments with our spouse will become less frequent, our selflessness will spur our spouse into greater selflessness, etc. – is not a full surrender to the will and the Word of God.

Full surrender, I think, is something we can offer to God only after we have prayerfully given a difficult situation our very best shot, sought to glorify Christ with our words and actions and then let go of the results, trusting God with any outcome and leaning completely on the Truth that He is sovereign, and as his children, His plan is always to prosper us (Jeremiah 29:11-12). “Surrendered to God” can become a mockery when it becomes any sort of call to inaction or is tied tightly to the hope of a certain result.

God calls us to apply the Truth that He has chosen to reveal and to allow Him to be sovereign over the results of our obedience. Sometimes God will cure the addict; sometimes He won’t. Sometimes the marriage will be restored; other times not. When the smoke finally does clear, one question will remain: “Were you even trying to be faithful to my Word as you went through that difficult time?”

One of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith – for me, anyway – is being able to tell the difference between faithful acts of obedience and futile, this-is-how-it-should-be-dang-it carnival ride car-steering.

Buried not-so-deep inside my own personal life you’ll find a handful of situations that clearly do not honor God and are “not as they should be.” Justice has not (yet) prevailed, the stakes could not possibly be any higher, and yet God has mercifully revealed to me that I have done all I can to set the situation right, and now I must trust Him with the results. So I am writing today as much for myself as anyone else; after much in the way of furious labor, years of kicking and screaming, the time has clearly come to let go of the steering wheel and accept that my shiny little car isn’t going anywhere other than exactly where God intends.

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