During the last few years, we’ve had the privilege of running many b2b (b the leader God wants you 2 b) courses for emerging leaders all over the world. During the first Monday morning worship time, we give the opportunity for individuals to take a small white flag symbolising self-surrender and place it before the Lord. Philippians two tells us that Jesus left the glories of heaven, humbled himself to become a man and willingly went to the cross in self-surrender.
Before we can do anything for God, there is a need of surrender – yet we don’t find this an easy step. During our early years as toddlers, we discover that we can assert our will and choose our own way, causing much work for our dear parents. This is a healthy stage of development for a child. However, we then seem to spend the rest of our lives trying to relinquish this same will that often seems to be victorious!
Giving up rights: I remember the teaching in my Discipleship Training School on ‘giving up rights’. It was totally radical for me back then. We were encouraged to submit ourselves to God and let go of our rights of time, privacy, possessions, recognition, fruitfulness, success; the list goes on. I remember how hard it was to relinquish my record collection to raise money for my DTS! (It seems so petty now!) I love reading the story of Mary in the gospels, who as a young girl gave up her rights to have a normal wedding and the joy of giving birth with her whole family gathering around her. She agreed to be the mother of Jesus and in so doing gave up her rights of reputation, instead being willing to suffer the gossip and judgement of her community. She accepted God’s plan which meant her plans and expectations of a normal life were put to one side; she willingly surrendered saying, ‘Whatever you say is good for me!’
Willpower: I desired to give a response just like Mary but became aware of the strength of my inner will. It was apparent that my will wasn’t going to simply surrender there and then. As often as I put my will on the altar it somehow slipped off again! We tend to think of willpower as an asset, but I did start to wonder if it really was. We look up to the person who, through personal discipline, follows through on their goals to achieve a diet or exercise plan. We celebrate the person who follows through on commitments, implements actions and makes things happen. We admire the person with strong habits of devotion to the Lord who through the years has been faithful in spiritual disciplines. I recently taught in a b2b about my five daily disciplines that I call TIPSY (Thanksgiving, Intercession, Priority, Silence and Your word today) and recalled that it has been eight years since I created them. I enjoy this kind of self-discipline when I can structure my time with the Lord, but am aware that it can so easily become a legalistic formula. Spiritual disciplines are a means to go deeper with God and should never become an end in themselves.
Ruth Haley Barton wrote a great book on discernment and I’m incorporating her thoughts in the following paragraphs. Although following through on commitments and habits is important, willpower isn’t always positive. When it turns to wilfulness, willpower always gets in the way of what God wants to do, deceiving and hindering us in our real spiritual growth. Wilfulness produces stubbornness, unteachableness and rigidity. It is the unredeemed two-year-old toddler returning.
Obedience, discipline and self-control are all good but, when they are valued in themselves, the disciplined life can easily lead to rigidity, legalism and pride. Self-control can easily move to the control of one’s whole life – personal life, work and relationships. And when self-control is focused on, without being balanced by love, we become clinical, cold and rigid. Highly disciplined people are prone to pride and self-righteousness as they compare their accomplishments with others. These are heavy words but this is why Jesus spent so much time talking to the Pharisees, exhorting them to move away from their law-oriented walk with God.
In the Lord’s prayer we pray: your kingdom come, your will be done. Yet often we pursue the desire for our own will to be done! Some of us have submitted our wills from the pressure of control and fear. But that’s not what God looks for. He wants us to surrender our lives because of our love for him. If we view surrender as a step of obedience, or a struggle of the will to press through on, it can lose its value. Often there is an inner struggle, but it’s a struggle to come to a place of peace and surrender!
The well-known poem ‘footprints’ shares the picture of two sets of prints in the sand where Jesus and another person are walking together. As they progressed, there comes a time when the person becomes surprised that there was only one set of prints and assumed that Jesus had left them. But Jesus was actually carrying them through this hard time in their journey. Another poem shares that rather than two sets of footprints, there was one but two lines in the sand. This was where Jesus was dragging the person, kicking and screaming into submission! That’s definitely not how it works.
Surrender comes from our love and devotion to Jesus. Jesus found it hard too, but out of his love for Father God he says, ‘Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I would have it.’ Matthew 26:39 TPT
Entitlements: This is the current word that perhaps replaces what we called ‘giving up rights.’ The dictionary definition of entitlement is: the fact of having a right to something, the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment. Let’s go back to a summary of Philippians two – Jesus gave up his entitlements as God to become man. He humbled himself to live in a body and dwell with us, becoming willing to suffer a horrible death. He understood surrender and gave us a model of laying our lives down for one another.
This is a radical approach in life and community, one that we are still grappling with. To come to a place of surrender, we have to understand our desires and to know the end that we are living for. The problem can be that we have meshed desires from God and ourselves, which dilutes and messes up our journey. A desire for wealth leads to greed and dissatisfaction. A desire for power saps compassion just as a desire for reputation feeds self-preoccupation. And a desire for respect leads to an overinvestment in image. It seems our hearts are mixed with ordered and disordered desires.
Desires: Ordered desires, surrendered desires, tend to bring us into a greater sense of freedom and intimacy with Jesus. They develop and expand us, connect us in community thereby enhancing our whole lives. Disordered desires narrow our focus into self and cause an ingrowing rather than expansion, into life. They take away from my future of being conformed to the image of Jesus. Ordered desires emerge from spending time with Jesus, taking on his attitudes and coming to a place of willing surrender. Disordered desires try to bring me my own happiness and fulfilment by my own means. That never ends well.
Only love is strong enough to transform wilfulness into willing surrender to God’s will. May His kingdom come in all of our lives.
Until next month