One of the things I talk with pastors about is spiritual growth and how to help people along the path. According to “Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth”, there are four places we find ourselves in when it comes to spiritual growth. They are: Exploring Christ, Growing in Christ, Close to Christ and Christ Centered. There are different habits, behaviors and disciplines of people when they’re in each segment. The goal is to help people move from one segment to the next. The hardest segment to get people to move to is from Close to Christ into Christ Centered. One seeks God’s wisdom and direction for their life along with daily disciplines. The other is complete surrender to God allowing Him control over your life. It’s a hard jump for people to make.
In Mark 1, Jesus had just begun His earthly ministry. He had been baptized and was beginning to preach. As He did, people began to follow Him. There were some people though that He asked to be disciples instead of just followers. In Mark 1:17-18 Jesus saw Andrew and Simon Peter cleaning their nets and said, “‘Come follow me and I will transform you into fishers of men instead of fish!’ Immediately they dropped their nets and left everything behind to follow Jesus” (TPT). These two, along with the other 10 disciples, left everything to give themselves completely to Christ. Most people simply took off of work, listened to Him preach, and then went back to work. These guys dropped what they were doing in complete surrender to follow Him. They gave up everything.
I’m not suggesting that you quit your job to be a Christian and have a better relationship with Christ. I am asking you to examine the things that you’re holding onto that are keeping you from complete surrender to Christ. It could be control of your schedule, your money, your time, your talents, etc. The Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19 was called to move from Close to Christ into a Christ Centered life. He walked away sad because he wanted to hold onto things. It didn’t mean he wasn’t a Christian. It meant that he didn’t move to a Christ Centered life to experience all God had for him. Like him, we hold onto things that Christ is calling us to let go of. We need to be like Andrew and Simon Peter where we immediately drop those things, leave them behind and surrender to God’s will.
I’ve been thinking of an old poem by Myra Brooks Welch turned into song and sung by Wayne Watson. It’s called, “The Old Violin: The Touch Of The Master’s Hand”. It starts off, “’Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer thought it hardly worth his while, to waste his time on the old violin, but he held it up with a smile.” He asked for a dollar for it, maybe two. Then an old man came up, tuned it and played a beautiful melody. The auctioneer then asked for $1,000. It then switches and says, “And many a man with life out of tune, all battered and bruised with hardship, is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd, much like that old violin…But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd never can understand, the worth of a soul and the change that is wrought by the touch of the Master’s hand.”
In Matthew 14, Jesus is grieving John the Baptist’s death and just wants to be alone. He gets in a boat and sails to the middle of the Sea of Galilee, but the crowds follow His every move from the shore. He goes to the shore and heals the sick all day long. By late afternoon, the disciples catch up and presume to tell Jesus what to do. “You should send the crowds away to the nearby villages to buy themselves some food.” But Jesus has other plans and told them to feed the crowd. They answered in verse 17, “But all we have is five barley loaves and two fish.” “Let me have them,” Jesus replied” (TPT). He then fed the 5,000+ crowd with so little.
If you’re like me, you look at your life and say, “God, how can use you me? I have so little to offer.” But going back to the poem and the story in the Bible, value is measured based on whose hands something is in. You and I can only do so much with what I have to maximize our potential. The exponential change and growth happens when we surrender our lives to Him and place them in His hands. Your background, past and brokenness limit you in your own hands, but becomes limitless in His. Where you disqualify yourself, He tunes up and plays a beautiful melody that touches others. Submitting our life to Him is the greatest thing any one of us can do because that’s when we place it in the Master’s Hands.
One of the books I’ve just read is about discipleship and how churches can create them. The first section of the book helps to define the four areas where people get stuck in the spiritual continuum. Many people never move past exploring Christ. They stand at the edge of receiving Him, but aren’t willing to give their heart to Him. Others who have accepted Jesus struggle to reconcile their private faith with their public life. They have a hard time growing in Christ. Once people become a new creation and develop spiritual disciplines, their life transforms and they move close to Christ. However, the next move is the hardest. It’s one thing to live for Christ, but it’s a totally different thing to completely surrender to Him living a Christ centered life. It’s where we quit asking God for direction and give Him control.
Think of the story of the rich, young ruler who came to visit Jesus in Matthew 19. He asks Jesus what he needs to do to have eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. The guy then wants to know which ones. Jesus rattled off several of the 10 commandments. The ruler got excited and let Jesus know he’s been following the rules his whole life and feels like there’s more, so he asks what else. Jesus then tells him to sell everything he has, give the money to the poor and then follow Him. The young man went away sad because he was willing to follow the rules of Christianity, but he wasn’t willing to surrender his life completely to Jesus. He wanted Christianity and eternal life without fully surrendering his life.
Psalm 37:5 says, “Give God the right to direct your life, and as you trust him along the way you’ll find he pulled it off perfectly!” (TPT) We usually look down on the rich young ruler for not giving up his possessions, but you and I hold things back from Jesus all the time. We seek Him for guidance, but are we giving Him the right to direct our life? It’s like my driving navigation app. When it tells me to turn, sometimes I go straight because I think I know better. I’m driving and it’s guiding. When we approach Jesus that way, we may be living a life that is close to Christ, but it’s not fully surrendered to Him. God is calling you and I into a deeper relationship with Him that requires more surrender the closer we get. To fully surrender to Him is to fully trust Him.
Having been raised in church, there’s a time in my life I like to refer to as halftime. It’s a period where I chose to quit making my life about God and decided to make choices that were selfish. I lived the opposite way of what I knew to be right. It wasn’t long before God started trying to get my attention. Things in my life started to go wrong. I was losing the blessings God had given me. Stubbornly, I kept going in the direction I was headed ignoring God’s attempts to get my attention. Finally, things started getting so bad that I had no choice, but to surrender. I laid down on my living room floor one night and prayed, “God, I give up. I can’t do this any more.” The storm stopped, but I still had to live with the consequences of that period in my life.
As I read through the book of Jonah, I see some similarities. He was a God fearing man who lived the way he was supposed to. When God asked him to preach, he ran from his calling. While he was going the opposite direction in a boat, God sent a great storm to get his attention, but he ignored it. The Bible says that he was sleeping in the boat when the others had to wake him. As the storm worsened, he knew the only choice was surrender. Jonah 1:15-16 says, “Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him” (NLT).
Even when you’ve made choices to run from God, He can use it for good. These sailors would never have given their lives to the Lord if Jonah wouldn’t have run away. They saw a powerful God who would stop at nothing until one of His lost sheep surrendered and came back into the fold. If you’ve been running from God, don’t wait until the storm gets so bad that you lose everything before you surrender. If run away, but you’ve already surrendered, get rid of the condemnation. God can use that period in your life for good, plus He can still use you for His purposes. Jonah led an entire city to God after he had run away. Your choices in the past haven’t negated God’s calling on your life. It’s time to move past your mistakes and start moving towards your calling.
There was a Rich Mullins song that said, “Surrender don’t come natural to me. I’d rather fight you for something I don’t really want than take what you give that I need.” That lyric has always stuck in my head because of how true it is. We like to say we surrender everything to God until He asks us to give up something. It’s almost like we’re the rich, young ruler. We don’t mind following the commandments He gives, but when we are asked to surrender things of earthly value, we get sad. The truth is that being a Christian is truly about surrender because it’s an action of the heart. It’s an inward thing versus the outward showing of following a bunch of rules.
Since the beginning of creation, God has been concerned with what’s going on inside of us. That’s the truth of who we are, and only He looks past our outward displays to see our intention. If we truly want to be a follower of Christ, it starts with surrendering authority over our life to Him. We give up our rights to what He wants. That’s the cost of being a disciple. If God asked you today to sell everything and give the money to the poor, what would you struggle selling? That’s the barrier between you and a more intimate relationship with Jesus. Surrender doesn’t come natural to us, but I believe it’s something we can all get a little better at.
Here are some Bible verses on surrender.
1. For all who belong to me now belong to you. And all who belong to you now belong to me as well, and my glory is revealed through their surrendered lives.
John 17:10 TPT
2. When you live a life of abandoned love, surrendered before the awe of God, here’s what you’ll experience: Abundant life. Continual protection. And complete satisfaction!
Proverbs 19:23 TPT
3. All who seek to live apart from me will lose it all. But those who let go of their lives for my sake and surrender it all to me will discover true life!
Matthew 10:39 TPT
4. Likewise, unless you surrender all to me, giving up all you possess, you cannot be one of my disciples.
Luke 14:33 TPT
5. (I use everyday language because of the weakness of your natural selves.) At one time you surrendered yourselves entirely as slaves to impurity and wickedness for wicked purposes. In the same way you must now surrender yourselves entirely as slaves of righteousness for holy purposes.
Business guru Brian Tracy says that a person only feels good about themselves to the extent that they are in control of their life. When outside forces are disrupting their life, they aren’t in control and stress comes in. When they can afford to do the things they always wanted to, they feel good about themselves. While I believe it’s true for the most part with our physical lives, I think it’s opposite for our spiritual ones.
You will only feel satisfied with your spiritual life to the extent that you surrender to God. When you put aside your wants for God’s needs, you find a fulfillment like you’ve never known. You find satisfaction in your spiritual life. Conversely, when you know what God needs you to do, but you struggle with the decision, you find turmoil. When you ultimately pass on His request to satisfy your desires, it results in conviction and regret.
There is a constant struggle in each one of us who are believers. Just because we have accepted Christ, it doesn’t mean that our sinful nature leaves. Instead, we have to battle it daily and crucify it. We will never be fully satisfied as believers until we surrender to the Spirit who lives in us. Romans 8:7 says, “For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. (NLT)” It wants to do things that satisfy the flesh, so it fights against what God wants to do which is to deny the flesh. It creates a constant battle as long as we let it live.
Jesus told us to deny ourselves if we wanted to follow Him. In Matthew 16:25, Jesus said, “Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself. (MSG)” The only way to find out who we were truly created to be is through self sacrifice. We have to put our wants, our desires, our dreams and nail them to the cross. When we do that, we surrender to God’s will for our life, our spirit finds true satisfaction, our purpose is fulfilled and our lives come into harmony. Surrendering our mind and life to the Spirit is how it’s done.
Romans 8:6 says, “Letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. (NLT)” If you find that you’re not living in peaceful satisfaction, look to see who is in the driver’s seat of your life. Are you in control? If you, you’ll find that you’re constantly struggling between doing what God wants and what you want. Or is God in control? If you have let Him have free reign with your life, you will find an inner peace and satisfaction like you’ve never known. The key to being controlled by the Spirit is surrendering to His will.