Struggling with Surrender?

I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. – John 17:4

Property of Shelley Hendrix

Property of Shelley Hendrix

Recently, while on a trip out west, (I’m a Southern Girl), my husband shared his experience with “surrendering to the ministry.” We didn’t realize when he shared this phrase that it was unusual to ministry friends in another part of the country. They jokingly said things like, “You surrendered?!” and put their arms up above their heads–revealing the idea that this made being a minister sound like the death of the good life. How awful, right?

We all got a good laugh. I mean, they were right. We had just never thought about it that way before.

Stephen and I still laugh about it. The friends who kidded us are some of the most trusted, sacred, and wonderful people we’ve ever known. It reminded us, though, that our words matter. We often become so accustomed to certain phrases, slang, and lingo that we forget how these same words or phrases land with others. We had heard “surrender to the ministry” our whole lives in the walls of our churches, so it sounded totally normal to us.

Surrender? 

When I was growing up, one of my biggest pet peeves came to me courtesy of my own mom. Anytime I wanted to know what any word meant, she refused to tell me. She always said the same thing: “Look it up.” I don’t know why I asked her after the third or fourth time she answered me in this same way. What I once resented, I now genuinely appreciate: a love of words and their deepest meanings. (I also appreciate the convenience of carrying a dictionary with me wherever I go, thanks to today’s technology!)

With this in mind, I looked up the word “surrender” for us.

Surrender, according to Dictionary.com, means:

1. to yield (something) to the possession or power of another; deliver up possession on demand or under duress.
2. to give (oneself) up, as to the police.
3. to give (oneself) up to some influence, course, emotion, etc.: He surrendered himself to a life of hardship.
4. to give up, abandon, or relinquish (comfort, hope, etc.).
5. to yield or resign (an office, privilege, etc.) in favor of another.
6. to give oneself up, as into the power of another; submit or yield.

The choice to surrender continues to be a part of my own journey. I’ve learned as a follower of Jesus that surrender is not a one-time-call-it-done experience.

Surrender is only a “bad” thing when I forget (or don’t understand) its purpose within the context of relationship to God.

Sometimes I think I need to know WHAT I’m surrendering to: the ministry, my vocation, financial status, size of platform as a writer, role in the body of Christ, etc. But the truth is, I only need to know to WHOM I surrender. When I get this right, everything else falls peacefully into place. I can then live with purpose, and without all the pressure!

You are reading this, most likely, because words matter to you, too. I want to encourage you to pause today, and perhaps from time to time throughout the week, to write down and reflect upon the attributes of the One to whom you have chosen to surrender. Rather than focusing on our platforms, or even the next project, let’s take time to engage fully with the One to whom we choose, once again, to surrender.

Is God Talking to Me?

DogAs Christian authors, we often view our books as a way to get God’s Word out in a non-threatening manner. Novels are easier to hand to someone than a Bible and generally an easier way to start a conversation.

However, two recent events are causing me to change my view on that a little. Recently, my minister said that when he’s working on a sermon series, the subject matter is usually something he’s struggling with—something God is trying to teach him.

I had the good fortune to hear Ted Dekker speak during his Outlaw Tour down in Colorado Springs. A big theme of his talk was that his struggles as a Christian come out in his books. His questions about faith. Those uneasy issues that we all contemplate. Is God real? Is He who He says He is? Is there really a Heaven? Is my belief in Christ truly enough?

Perhaps we as authors are actually working through our own issues and the collateral benefit is that we’re frequently able to help other people.

But surely my writing isn’t just about me. It can’t be because my spiritual life is all figured out . . .

I began to think through the books I’d written and the ones I was planning on writing. There were some consistent themes. Truly believing in God’s sacrificial love. Letting God take control. Being submissive to His will for our lives.

If I look honestly at these themes, they are what I struggle with the most. A God . . . people . . . the Lord of the Universe dying one of the most painful deaths ever . . . for me. My heart usually reconciles this easily but my intellectual side waivers occasionally. This is what I believe?

And sometimes with a big gulp . . . I whisper yes.

I’m a control freak by nature. It lends to the job I do every day. As an ER nurse it is expected of me to bring control to chaos. I am stubborn and independent—which is the nature of two out of three of my heroines. They’d rather fix it themselves than reach out for help and yet, when circumstances become insurmountable, they must reach out to survive.

Isn’t this how it is with us? Maybe it is just me and all of you are very good at relinquishing control. If so, please let me in on your tips.

As we write these stories, maybe what we need to do first is read our stories with ourselves in mind and hear what God is trying to say to that person we see in the mirror.

This post first appeared at the ACFW blog. Hope you’ll check it out.

The Hard, Beautiful Work of Surrender

In-Gods-economy-ourThe angel of the Lord found Hagar by a well of water in the desert on the way to Shur. He said, ‘Hagar, you who serve Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?’ And she said, ‘I am running away from Sarai, the one I serve.’ Then the angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Return to your boss. Put yourself under her power.’ The angel of the Lord said to her, ‘I will give you so many people in your family through the years that they will be too many to number.’…So Hagar gave this name to the Lord Who spoke to her, ‘You are a God Who sees.'” (Genesis 16:7-10, 13 NLV)

Did you know: Hagar was the very first person–and the only woman–in the scriptures to “name” God? In the desert, she saw Him for who He really was, and called Him “El Roi” (the God who sees me). In the midst of a dry, barren wilderness, her wounded place became a ministry space.

Experiencing Him gave her the strength to go back to Sarah, who had been mistreating her, even though such a task must have frightened Hagar. From her desperate encounter, she received a sense of God’s provision and protection. And God ultimately blessed her obedience, just as He will bless us when we obey.

However, it’s not easy to trust God when He’s leading us to do something more difficult than we could ever imagine. In order to change our character and heighten our dependence on Him, He may ask us to surrender our long-cherished dreams, ideas, or habits.

Why? Well, God knows when our plans, goals, and rituals have turned into idols. He sees us relying on other things and people for comfort and relief, and He wants to guide us to a place of freedom instead of bondage. So He whispers to us: Trust me. Open your palm and release what you’re grasping tightly. I promise that I will hold onto you, if you will just give me everything.

What difficult thing is God asking you to do:
• Believe Him for the impossible?
• Forgive someone who abused you?
• Turn over your children’s future to Him?
• Persist in your calling, when you see no fruit?

I urge you to trust Him…no matter what. In God’s economy, your wounded place can become a ministry space. You may not understand why He’s asking you to obey, and you may be unsure how long you’ll have to stay in a difficult situation. But whatever you go through, He promises to sustain you. He will never leave you to fend for yourself.

Perhaps your obedience is for someone else’s benefit. He may want to teach your children, friends, co-workers, or spouse about His character.

Unfortunately, if we don’t surrender the first time God asks us to, He changes tactics…using other people, circumstances, and even pain to get our attention. Does that sound harsh? It’s all for our good. Our Maker, who knows the future and created us to find our ultimate fulfillment in His arms, longs to save us from ourselves. He knows that because of our limited view and human frailties, our desires—if left unchecked–will lead us to destruction.

II Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, who with unveiled faces reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

This transformation takes place not by our own efforts, but by the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. As we die to our plans, God changes us to be more like Jesus.

And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

Post adapted from Wounded Women of the Bible: Finding Hope When Life Hurts by Dena Dyer and Tina Samples (Kregel, 2013).