We are often encouraged to surrender our life to God. And that is good, because only in surrender to God do we find life.
However, as with nearly everything about the spiritual life, there are ways we can miss or misunderstand what God means by something like surrender. First up are those who are terrified by the very word surrender, because they have been hurt in the past by someone who misused power over them. Of course, on one level this makes perfect sense. No one should submit to evil in any form, even when when is couched in “spiritual” terms like submission. But on the other hand, this reaction is a bit like someone who got sick the first time they tried eating pizza, which they got from an unsanitary vender, and concluded that all pizza was poison. No, the problem lies with the person who made it, not the pizza itself. Surrender is not intrinsically bad for us. It is in fact unavoidable — we all surrender to something. The question is, To what will we surrender our life? If we can find a God who loves us more than we can possibly imagine, and who wants to heal our wounds and guide our steps for good, then how could we ever do any better than to surrender to His love for us?
Second, we have all struggled with the relationship between surrender and obedience. Because the truth is that while obedience flows quite naturally from surrender, obedience is also quite possible apart from surrender. We can even retain full control of our own body and soul while attempting to obey all that we think God expects of us. And closely related to that issue is the fact that we often try to surrender as an act of obedience, and perhaps find ourselves at that place time and again, “repenting” of our lack of surrender and resolving to try even harder. But as it turns out, that kind of effort is actually opposed to surrender.
David Benner (Surrender to Love) aptly describes surrender to God as something that comes out of our experience of God’s love for us. When we know experientially in our body and heart that we are loved more than we could possibly have hoped for, then falling — dropping our entire weight — on God is not a hard thing to do. It is the only response that makes sense to us. Surrender comes out of our heart more than our will. It is, in fact, laying down our self-will so we can follow one who is much greater than us and far more good to us than we ourselves could be. In doing so, we allow His love to transform us, bit by bit, into the person He created us to be, as we learn to trust Him more and more.
So perhaps the best thing we can do in regard to surrender is to shift our focus away from the act itself, and instead seek God’s love in all its glory; to let it in and savor His goodness and care for us. Because every time we grasp even a little more how much God loves us (Eph.3) we will find ourselves drawn into His goodness more deeply, and we will want to give up more of our own ways for His ways (Isa.55).