All to Jesus I surrender,
All to Him I freely give.
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.
I surrender all,
I surrender all,
All to thee, my precious Savior,
I surrender all.
As Lent comes to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “surrender,” and what it means to truly surrender my life to Jesus.
More accurately, I have been trying hard not to think about it.
But the harder I try to ignore it, the louder it repeats in my head: surrender.
What does it mean to surrender? The dictionary says “surrender” means “give up.” But give up what?
I think surrender means giving up three things: pride, freedom, and control—even control over one’s own life.
In military terms, surrender can be an act of cowardice. For dedicated soldiers on mission, surrender is not an option—because it means the loss of those three things, and also possible death to the physical body.
In spiritual terms, however, surrender can be an act of trust. For dedicated Christians on mission, surrender is the only option—precisely because it does mean the loss of those three things, and also certain death—in this case, to the sin nature.
I’ll be perfectly honest: I am great at the act of surrender. I surrender to worry. I surrender to anxiety. I surrender to my flesh, my ego, and my emotions.
In fact, I can surrender to almost anything except God.
But look at Jesus. According to Scripture, on the last night before his death he does nothing but surrender.
First, on his last night with the disciples, he kneels to wash their stinky feet (John 13). It’s mind-blowing—the Creator of the universe, disrobing and performing the lowliest, filthiest act of service.
Next, he surrenders his freedom. Facing arrest, torture, and execution, he prays in agony for another solution, even sweating drops of blood through his skin (Luke 22:44). Yet he ends with: “…not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39, 42). As I’ve tried to make that my daily prayer, I’ve found that almost immediately I start adding qualifiers: “Your will be done, Lord – but I would really appreciate it if you would…” Giving up one’s freedom to the will of God can be much, much harder than it looks.
Finally, Jesus surrenders control. Without resisting, he allows himself to be taken captive and subjected to a series of impromptu trials, a brutal flogging, and death on a cross.
That ugly, blood-stained, wooden behemoth of a cross.
In Philippians 2:6-8, Paul quotes a first-century hymn describing this voluntary transition from glory to servanthood:
[Jesus], being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Jesus’ surrender to crucifixion forces me to rethink my own issues with surrender. He gave up everything to win the battle against sin and death. Sometimes I can barely win the battle against a Snickers bar. Oddly, I’m willing to surrender to Jesus for salvation, but not for the daily details of my life. For that, I surrender only part.
Jesus alone surrendered all.
So what can we do to move toward surrender? Here is what I think, and try to do – better on some days than others.
- Understand the reasons behind the resistance. Instead of just confessing areas of known resistance, go deeper and examine what drives them. For instance, since publishing my first book I worry about whether people will like it or buy it, and whether I have any more good ideas in me. These are areas over which I have little control—yet I still worry. So I have to ask, what exactly do I fear? I admit I fear failure—but exactly what kind? Or maybe I’m afraid God will leave me stranded—but in what specific ways? Am I afraid I might end up alone and in poverty, or what? I think we should examine and question each worry and fear to find its driving motivation, because I believe those underlying motivations are where Jesus wants to set us free.
- Focus on the cross. Our struggle to surrender to Jesus is one of the very reasons he was nailed to that cross. It always happens: five minutes after I say, “Yes, Lord, I surrender,” something comes along that causes worry. And then I surrender to that, instead of to God. I give in to my anxiety. But the cross is for everything—our yielded parts, and our unyielded parts too. If we don’t get that, we will beat ourselves up every single time we fail to surrender. Without the cross, we might as well quit before we blow it again.
- Remember that the initial surrender to Christ is a good enough start. If you are a Christian, you have said “yes” to Jesus Christ. That is a huge start, and it is a big deal—even if you, like me, tend to keep worrying and trying to control the uncontrollable. Once we’ve said “yes” to the cross, Jesus graciously keeps working with us in each problem area of surrender, no matter how much we resist.
The thought of deeper surrender to Jesus has really been a battle within me during this season of Lent. But I think the fact that I can’t get it out of my mind is proof that it’s an area Jesus wants to enter.
In fact, the above passage from Philippians ends with this promise that he himself will help me to obey:
“Therefore, my dear friends…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
So once again, I look to the cross this Holy Week and nail my struggle onto its blood-stained wood. Today, I am surrendering everything I can. Tomorrow, he’ll invite me to go deeper and then, as scripture promises, help me to follow.