VIRTUES: Resting In The Current (Surrender) by Gary L. Thomas

Embracing the Virtues of Christ

Resting In The Current (Surrender) by Gary L. Thomas

From: The Glorious Pursuit

The Man who wishes to offer a pure mind to God
but who is troubled by cares
is like a man who expects to walk quickly even though
his legs are tied together.
(John Climacus)

Lisa and I wanted to move back to Washington State to be close to our children’s grandparents, but the situation looked bleak.  When we discussed our options with a realtor, his scenario stunned us.  “Best case scenario is that you’d have to bring $10,000 to settlement.”  We’d have to pay to sell our home, assuming we could find someone willing to buy it.

“How long would we have to stay here to break even?” Lisa asked with the tone of a patient discussing a very painful procedure.

“To walk away without paying anything?  I’d give it six years.”

My wife and I had prayed extensively about buying this townhouse.  In every way, God appeared to bless the move.  Seven years later, our home was worth considerably less than what we paid for it.

“Why didn’t God stop us?” Lisa wondered out loud.  After all, we’d given God plenty of opportunities.

One day, while Lisa was praying, a definite impression formed in her thoughts.  It was as if God were asking, had she considered that he wanted us in that neighborhood to reach other people rather than to boost our financial equity?

We had to ask ourselves hard questions: Does our understanding leave room for serving a God who would lead us to make what turned out to be a poor financial decision but what also turned out to be a profitable spiritual one?  In other words, does obedience obligate God to bless us, or can obedience call us to sacrifice?

Think about the cross before you answer.

We need to discard our “primitive” Christianity, the one in which each sin merits a whack, and each act of obedience merits one Heavenly blessing.  We think obedience should lead to blessing after blessing until ultimately we become healthy, wealthy, and wise.

But it’s not that simple.  Though Jesus promised many blessings, he also promised there would be moments of sacrifice: “For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.”  When Jesus says everyone will be seasoned with fire, he’s excluding any exceptions with a startling finality.  He’s saying there will come a time when you will be asked to sacrifice for the faith.

Are you ready?

It’s possible that a Christian political candidate might do everything right – maybe her life is a sterling example of tenacity, perseverance, and Godliness – but still lose an election by an embarrassing margin.  A Christian businessman might operate his business on the principles of honesty and integrity and still watch bankruptcy enfold him.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that our faith is based on the concept of sacrifice, beginning with Jesus.  No one ever lived a more obedient life than Jesus, yet few have ever died such an inhumane death.  Israel was enslaved for four hundred years – but never forsaken.  The early Christian church was hunted, persecuted, and brutally beaten at various moments in its first century – but always held with great affection by her God.

At other moments in history, the church and her servants have been blessed by opulent abundance.  During some of these periods, the most respected position in the community was that held by the local Christian minister.  The richest members of the town were often stalwarts in the church.

We don’t choose the time or place in which we are born.  Surrender to God’s purposes is the interior attitude adjustment by which we can live above our time with an eternal perspective.  People who live on the surface of life are ruled by circumstances, but surrender lifts us above momentary streams of events.  As Paul said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

Faith and surrender are based on the notion that God’s good purpose will be worked out whether I see Earthly blessing or not and that in the meantime I can experience an interior peace that passes all understanding by adopting a childlike trust.  The measure of true faith is not how easy (or difficult) life becomes; it’s how we maintain a spirit of surrender through the ups and downs of everyday living.

So Many Children

One of the great difficulties of surrender is that God doesn’t appear to treat his children equally.

As we tried to sell our house, a woman in Lisa’s Bible study told how God “miraculously” provided a buyer for her house.  As the group rejoiced with her, Lisa fought like a guerrilla warrior against the sin of envy.

“Are we ever going to get out?” Lisa asked me, following a long stretch in which not a single prospect walked over my wife’s meticulously cleaned floors (with three small children, maintaining such “showable” floors is no mean feat).  The unspoken question was, If God provided for them, why not for us?

This question is as old as Christianity.  After Jesus’s resurrection, he had a heart-to-heart talk with Peter, and warned Peter about the kind of death he would face.  Peter looked behind him and saw John, so he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Even though Peter had just been forgiven for denying Jesus three times, he still resented the fact that he might have to die a violent death while John got off more easily.

Jesus refused to answer Peter’s question: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

In this, Jesus tells you and me that we must surrender our jealousy and envy about God’s plan for other people when those plans seem preferable to ours.  It is when I compare my situation to that of others that I surrender the precious peace that God wants to give me.

Instead of challenging God’s actions on behalf of another, on the matter of our townhouse we had to ask ourselves a more important question: Were we willing to adopt surrender and stay, if that’s what God wanted?  At a bare minimum, we needed to accept our circumstances until God made a way for us to move.

There was great freedom in this for me, and transformation.  When I insist on control, my anxiety level rises; frustration reaches a boiling point, and my wife and children are most likely to become my victims.  At the moment we needed to be drawing closer, supporting and encouraging one another, we could have become alienated with accusation and unfocused anger.  Practicing the virtue of surrender was our key to a stronger family life in the midst of disappointment.  If God was changing our plans, we needed to get on board with what he was doing rather than I become obsessed with what we wanted.

Through this process I realized how trials shape us.

No Neutral Trials

Some time ago, I was stunned by looking at high school photographs.  I was only ten years out of school at the time and had barely begun to grasp the seasons of life.  It never occurred to me that my athletic-looking crowd of friends would one day resemble my parents’ Bible study.  These pictures were my first clue.  I couldn’t believe how “low” my forehead had been back when I was eighteen.  It was just ten years, no more than that, but how I had changed!

Like time, trials will cause us to change.  They can leave us with an ugly, bitter, cynical, and mean spirit, or we can use them to become stronger.  But we can no more walk through trials unchanged than we can live through a decade unmarked.

How we profit from or are crushed by our trials largely depends upon our state of surrender to God.  Many of us came to Christ for very selfish reasons.  The second chapter of Matthew tells us that the Magi came to Jesus to worship him and to bring him gifts.  Even better, Paul came to Jesus to become his servant and he maintained that attitude throughout his life.  No manner of hardship was able to get Paul off track.

Why have you come to Jesus?  To be saved from your sins?  So that God would help your financial situation, save your marriage, or provide your children with a “blessed” life?

The virtue of surrender reminds us that we come to Jesus to learn how to be like him and to offer ourselves as God’s servants.  If we come to God to be amply provided for, yet find ourselves poor, we’ll leave God.  If we come to God to be made well, yet find ourselves sick, we’ll leave him.  If we come simply to serve him, no event in life can steal our motivation, for God will always be worthy of our allegiance.  If I came to Jesus to acknowledge his place as Lord and every possible door in life slams in my face, my ultimate purpose in life will still be the same – that is, to serve him.

Christianity without surrender says, “If God blesses me, I’ll be obedient.  If times get rough, I’ll try something else.”  Christianity born out of surrender is typified by C. S. Lewis’s remark, “I was not born to be free.  I was born to adore and to obey.”

While contemplating this truth of surrender, Jeanne Guyon wrote what may be one of the most profound reflections ever in all of Christian literature outside the Bible: “If you gave yourself to him to be blessed and to be loved, you cannot suddenly turn around and take back your life at another season when you are being crucified!  God gives us the cross, and then the cross gives us God.”

Guyon has learned what Paul knew: the wisdom of being thankful for the very thing that most people flee.  To experience a hard circumstance that goes against our will, she says, is a gift.  When accepted with the right spirit, it becomes an important means to a higher end: the presence of God himself.  As Paul taught, we are coheirs with Christ “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

When petty grievances threaten to shrink my life into self-pity, the inner discipline of embracing whatever God’s will is for me this day leads me into a deepening experience of fellowship with Jesus.

Here’s the key for me: Paul reminds me that I’m sharing in Christ’s sufferings.  I’m not suffering alone.  I’m not in wealth, ease, sickness, or comfort alone.  I’m living life with Christ.  My heart’s desire is to stay where Christ is.  If Jesus leads me through trial or triumph, the most important thing is that I’m with him.  Instead of asking, “Where is relief?”  “Where is comfort?”  “Where is the easy way out?”  I’m led to ask, “Where is God?  And what does he want of me in this situation?”

If, like me, you’ve found yourself chafing under the strain of obedience and service, reflect on this insight: God gives us the cross, and then the cross gives us God.

The Process of Surrender

The key to surrender is acceptance.  As Jeanne Guyon wrote, “As soon as anything comes to you in the form of suffering, at that very moment a natural resistance will well up somewhere inside you.  When that moment comes, immediately resign yourself to God.  Accept the matter.”  At times,  this acceptance will come only after bitter struggle.  Be encouraged that your experience will not be substantially different from anyone else’s: “Sometimes you may bear the cross in weakness; at other times you may bear the cross in strength.  But whether you bear it in weakness or in strength, bear it!”

Sometimes I surrender to God’s apparent will quietly, sometimes with great anger and only after a heated discussion with him.  How we come to the point of acceptance may differ; whether we come to acceptance should not.

So far, we have been talking about surrender to God in trials, but we can practice surrender in the face of blessings, too.

Shortly after receiving an award for excellence in teaching, Bob Patton was promoted and became a full, tenured professor of finance at a state university.  As a result of good money management, self-restraint, and diligent effort, he experienced a relative degree of financial security, which allowed him to begin building a comfortable home on a beautiful lot in Washington state.

As Bob completed this house, painting the final trim, he sensed God saying, “This will never be your house.”

Oh great, Bob thought, after all this I’m not going to get to live here.

Bob and his wife Betsy did move in, yet in the past two decades, they’ve rarely lived alone.  Why?  Because they took the attitude that the house was lent to them.  Accordingly, the Pattons have given free room and board to people who have needed it.  They’ve welcomed college and seminary students, families facing financial difficulties, people with physical disabilities, and people in emotional distress who need care for a while.

“The money is mine to manage,” Bob explains, “not mine to spend.”

Almost two decades ago now, Bob walked away from that secure, set-for-life professorship to become an associate pastor at a then-small church (of which I’m now a member).  His spirit of surrender in the midst of Earthly blessings has inspired many Christians, including me, to re-examine our assumptions about the management of money and possessions.

Bob and Betsy understand that surrender in the face of Earthly blessings means we relinquish that inner sense of “I deserve this good stuff!  I worked for it, and it’s mine.”  Surrender, for some of us, means keeping our eyes trained on God, when we have enough money to last ten lifetimes.  For others of us, it’s keeping our eyes trained on God even though we’re down to oatmeal and raisins five days in a row.

Surrender means adopting the right inner attitude to every outer circumstance: “Whether it be weakness or strength, sweetness or bitterness, temptation, distraction, pain, weariness, uncertainty, or blessing, all should be received as equal from the Lord’s hand.”

If all this sounds difficult, take heart; every thoughtful Christian has struggled with this.  In closing, let’s look at how we can practice this crucial virtue.

The Point of Our Surrender

Surrender has Christlikeness as its definite goal.  “What is the result of walking continually before God in a state of abandonment?  The ultimate result is Godliness.”  This only makes sense, doesn’t it?  If we surrender to God’s shaping, it only stands to reason that we’ll become more like Jesus.

None of my children are in diapers now, but I remember the difference between putting a diaper on my son and one on my youngest daughter, Kelsey.  With Graham, diapering was guerrilla warfare.  He had one goal – to get off the table as soon as possible.  If naked, so much the better.  He rocked and rolled and kicked.  I always got the diaper on him in the end, though sometimes he looked like he was wearing it sideways.  Kelsey practically thanked us for taking off her wet diapers.  She lifted her back so we could scoop the clean diapers under her, and she chatted and smiled as we cleaned.  Consequently, she wore a diaper with a perfectly shaped “V” in front and a tightly fitting back.

We can try to resist God, but our character will reveal it.  Surrender is not something we can achieve all at once.  Don’t discount the small battles, thinking you can win the war in one tremendous act of “giving it all up to God.”  John Climacus warns, “To be unfaithful in the small things is to be unfaithful in the great, and this is very hard to bring under control.”

Any small act of surrender, spiritually speaking, may do more good for you than a year’s worth of external discipline.  “A man who fasts – leaving off all those things his appetite improperly craves – does a good thing.  But the Christian who is fasting from his own desires and his own will, and who feeds upon God’s will alone, does far better.”  Skipping a meal is nothing compared to relinquishing control.  Earnestly pray about offering up a “small surrender.”

Above all, we must remember that God’s agenda and love for us holds a much bigger concern than supplying our immediate comforts.  God’s ultimate aim is that we be conformed to the image of Christ – and it is only through that grid that God’s goodness can be fully understood.  Our understanding of Christ’s nature is broken and bent; our true understanding of ourselves is hampered by sin, pride, and self-deception.  Only God really knows what needs to be “rubbed off” or “polished up.”

To really surrender, then, we need to learn to stop measuring our trials against our comforts, and instead measure our trials against their potential to draw us nearer to God and to make us more like Christ.

As God would have it, our home in northern Virginia eventually sold, and we were able to move back to Washington state.  We found a home to rent in Bellingham, and when the weather is right, we can see the tip of Mount Baker from our bedroom window.  Of course, we’re enormously thankful for this blessing, but I’ve learned my lesson.  Soon after we arrived here, someone asked me, “So how long do you plan to be in Bellingham?”

“I wouldn’t mind retiring here,” I admitted.  “But that’s up to God.”

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