Surrendering our wills to God isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a courageous act that leads to true freedom. Join us as we explore why surrender is the foundation for Practicing the Way of Jesus.
Jesus made a remarkable statement in Luke 12 to his followers:
Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)
I don’t know about you but I’d like a life that’s beyond fear, and I’d like to live in the reality of that kingdom of love and joy and peace that we talked about last week.
But if I’m going to do that, if I’m going to change, I need help.
I need a way of life that keeps me close to God and that keeps my mind aware of his presence through which I can receive the power to do what I cannot do on my own.
I need a way of life that’s not legalistic or superficial or mechanical but at the same time isn’t just the same old way everyone else does life.
A lot of times people think being a Christian is mostly about professing the right beliefs, but it’s not.
One of the great illusions even among church people is — information alone will produce transformation. Information is very important, but it’s not sufficient.
It’s fascinating that in the early days of the church the name that was given to people in the Jesus community was — Followers of The Way. We see that in Acts 9 and Acts 22 and lots of other places.
They didn’t call them — Believers in The Creed.
Now, a creed is really important. What you believe is really important.
They were sometimes called believers, but in the Greek language in the New Testament the word for belief and the word for trust is the exact same word, so any time you see that word you can translate it as “The people who trust.”
To trust Jesus means precisely to follow in his way.
The way they lived is actually described in Acts 2, and in this series we’re going to look at that together. Over the next 9 weeks, we’re going to get what you might think of as a discipleship pathway or a spiritual program or a framework.
We’re going to learn a way of life together as disciples, students, learners of the way of Jesus.
It involves practices taken directly from the New Testament.
It’s informed by the 12 steps, because the 12 steps actually got borrowed from the church, and the church needs them back.
We’re calling this series “Practicing The Way of Jesus,” and if you want to benefit from it, I’m going to ask you to make a commitment to the whole series. I’m going to ask you, if you want to benefit from it, to come every week.
Live with these truths and engage in these practices.
If you have to go out of town, go online to catch the message.
When you come every week, come with raw honesty and a deep, joyful sense of personal spiritual inadequacy. Some of you look way too put together, so go ahead and work problems this week and come back messier.
We are liars, cheats, gossips, failed parents, cranks, the greedy and the needy, the anxious and the proud, and we cannot afford to live in pretense and hiding. We can’t afford that.
And I’ll tell you really plainly — God will use this series in your life not mainly because of what you hear on Sundays. I’ll try to make the messages as clear and helpful and spiritually practical as I can, but what will impact you is what you do during the week. It has always been that way for people following Jesus.
I want to encourage you to make sure you’re in a small group or pick another person you can talk to about how you’re doing with these practices over the next 9 weeks.
What are you learning?
Where are you getting messed up?
Where are you finding God?
Ask them to pray for you, and you pray for them.
Learn about these practices together.
The goal is not for this to be a series we finish and everyone says, “That was a great series. What’s next?”
These are practices that are grounded in Scripture that have been used, tested, and helpful to followers of Jesus throughout the centuries. And if we arrange our lives around them, we will live close to God and receive power from God for as long as we live.
The idea is that we’re never done with this.
Alright, today’s practice is the foundation. It’s the ground for everything else we will learn and do. If you don’t get this one, everything else can kind of mess you up because it can turn into stuff that’s nothing more than a self-help program.
We can summarize this practice like this — Surrender your life and will fully to God.
This is expressed in the most famous prayer of all time — the Lord’s Prayer — in a single phrase where Jesus says, “Your will be done…”
The amazing thing about this prayer is you can pray it any time.
When you’re frustrated because you’re in a traffic jam, because you can’t control the traffic.
When you’re worried about one of your kids, because you can’t control them.
When you’re mad at your spouse, because you can’t control them.
When you’re mad because you don’t have a spouse, because you’re not in control of that.
When your computer crashes.
When you didn’t get accepted into the school.
When you didn’t get that job or that promotion.
When you were hoping she would say, “Yes,” but she said, “No.”
When you were hoping she would say, “Yes,” and she did say, “Yes,” but then you are wishing she had said, “No.”
When you’re worried about money.
Wherever you are, whatever you’re facing — you can say this prayer.
Something in the universe unlocks when you surrender your will.
It’s like a key to a door that opens almost all by itself, and inside we see a pathway with an inscription that says, “This is the way to a faith that works,” and it does work.
I’ll tell you what’s so amazing about this prayer and why I need it so much.
I’ve been a Christian long enough and I’m spiritually mature enough now that I only have two problems. Some of you have lots of them. I only have two.
One of them is that I do things I don’t want to do.
And the other one is I don’t do things that I want to do.
Does anyone else have either one of those problems?
I say, “Don’t eat that.” Then, I eat it.
“Don’t drink that.” Then, I drink it.
“Don’t smoke that.” Then, you smoke it.
“Don’t look at that site. Don’t wimp out. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t brag. Don’t envy. Don’t yell at the kids. Don’t say, ‘You sound just like your mother.’” Then, those words come out of my mouth.
The apostle Paul said:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (Romans 7:15-18)
This is the human condition — we want to do what is good, but we’re prepared to do what is wrong if we feel like we have to do it to get what we want.
Most people think the response to this, even if you become a Christian, is try harder. Try harder to be like Jesus, try harder to obey God, or try harder to become a better person.
But any addict will tell you, and whether or not you have an identified addiction to some substance or some behavior, every one of us has a heart that is a little idol factory, and what we call addictions in the biblical times were generally called idolatries. Every one of us is attached to the wrong stuff. Any addict will tell you that you will come to the place where trying harder is not going to work.
By the way, if you’re just exploring faith, this is why surrender is important to you even if you don’t believe in God yet.
Here’s reality — there’s my will (what I want, or getting my way) and there’s doing the right thing (what is good, what is noble, what is courageous, what is generous, what is truthful).
How many of you have ever found that at least once in your life that getting your way is not the same thing as doing the right thing?
If your hand is not raised right now, you’re doing the wrong thing right now.
Even if you don’t believe in God, to live with an un-surrendered will is to cut against the grain of the moral universe.
Good exists even if I don’t want it, whether or not you believe in God.
Reality, including spiritual reality, exists even if I don’t like it.
It’s as though goodness and spiritual reality are like a mighty river, and when I surrender my will, when I say, “I’ll no longer just try to get my way, but I will seek to do what is good, what is honorable, and what is true,” it’s like I’m suddenly moving with a current that’s far greater than myself.
No one has ever lived this, modeled it, taught it, or identified it with greater clarity than Jesus himself.
He expresses it over and over unforgettably with these words:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. [You can discover this if you run the experiment.] For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)
There’s a lot of confusion about what it means to take up your cross and deny yourself. It simply means to say, “My desires and what I want are no longer my ultimate goal. I’m willing to give up what I want in order to do what is good.”
That’s what it means to take up your cross and to deny yourself. — “My life is no longer primarily about getting my own way.”
This first step is the foundation for everything else. — It’s not to exert my will and try harder but to surrender my will.
It’s fascinating. You may know AA got its 12 steps from the discipleship movement called the Oxford Group. More than a century ago it was around.
The first three steps are, “We admitted we were powerless over our problems, that our lives had become unmanageable, and we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity if we would let him.”
Step 3 is — “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.”
These are sometimes summarized in three great phrases:
I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him.
That’s the foundation.
I can’t do what?
I can’t fix myself. I can’t fix you. I can’t remove my guilt. I can’t help that I’m an alcoholic or a rageaholic or a workaholic or a greedaholic or an imageaholic or a judgmentaholic. I can’t give myself a personality transplant. I can’t be the man, husband, friend, father, pastor, person I know I’m called to be. I can’t control my worry or my lust or my eating.
I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him.
Have you prayed this prayer? Have you taken this step honestly?
A lot of people I know in our day are afraid of surrendering to God. They think it means mindless obedience or robotic conformity. It doesn’t. Not at all.
Your will is precious to God.
There was a movie years ago called The Stepford Wives.
In the community of Stepford, the men are mostly high-tech workers. Their wives behaved strangely. They were ecstatic about cleaning house and baking. They gathered to exchange recipes and coo over each other’s clean floors. They had no opinions. They never argued or complained. They lived to make their husband’s lives grander and more comfortable, but they were robots, so it is a horror movie.
Husbands ended up having a movie made about them called The Stepford Husbands. It’s a true story. It was so popular there was another movie called The Stepford Husbands, and in that movie it’s husbands who are unfailingly pleasant and great cooks and love to do laundry. My wife didn’t think it was a horror movie. She thought it was an inspiring romantic comedy.
What these movies show is that in close personal relationships conformity to another’s wishes is not desirable if it’s mindless or acquired at the expense of freedom and the destruction of personality. We all know this.
What these silly movies show that is profoundly true is a world with persons even with all of its pain is infinitely better than a world with no pain but no persons.
The Stepford world would be a world where there is no pain, and suffering is all gone, but it’s a nightmare because there are not persons. There is not meaning.
God does not want robotic conformity or drones or clones. God wants persons.
Kingdom life is personal life. God wants persons with joyfully, creatively, intelligently surrendered wills because God is God, and I am not God, and because it’s precisely my selfish, un-surrendered, self-centered, self-promoting will that is actually my problem.
Here’s how the Big Book of AA describes the problem:
Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great.
That’s the way it seems to me. I want my own little Stepford world where everyone does my will. I want a Stepford spouse with little Stepford children, a Stepford job, a Stepford church, and a Stepford dog, but, of course, this puts me on a collision course with everyone else in the world because they all have their will.
The bad news is I can’t. The good news is God can.
The question is — Have you let him?
This is the foundation.
I’ll tell you one amazing God-can moment.
About a hundreds years ago, a wealthy, gifted, young businessman named Roland was secretly a hopeless drunk. He was locked up countless times. He had enough money to cover it up, but he knew he was headed for insanity or death.
So desperate that he ended up going to Europe for a year to be treated under the care of a quite famous psychiatrist named Carl Jung. He left Jung sober, convinced he was now so self-aware that he had alcohol under control, but he got drunk before he reached the boat to go back home. He went back to Jung. You think about this. Carl Jung said to him, “You have the mind of a chronic alcoholic. I have never seen one single case recover if it’s as bad as you.” Roland said it was like the gates of hell clang shut on him.
Then he said, “Is there no exception?”
This is Carl Jung —
Yes, one. Here and there alcoholics have what are called vital spiritual experiences. They find God. Hope for you will be found there if it will be found at all. — Carl Jung
Roland found God and had a vital spiritual experience in a little fellowship of disciples, followers of Jesus, called the Oxford Group who were devoted to these steps, and that eventually led to a man who became known as Bill W., then Dr. Bob, and then AA.
I can’t. God can.
God can give an alcoholic power to be sober.
Not just that, God can give a greedy, corrupt tax collector named Zacchaeus the power to become the poster boy for generosity.
God can give a frightened failure by the name of Simon the power to become a courageous leader named Peter.
God changed the hater of Peter named Saul into a lover of people named Paul, and Paul said, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
We think of surrender as a weak act for weak people, but the great discovery of spiritual reality seen by Jesus, seen by Paul, and seen by countless others through the centuries and rediscovered by AA is that surrender is the pathway to power.
I’ve felt that. In times when I wanted to snap in anger or withhold in apathy or withdraw and practice my spiritual gift of pouting, a little voice says, “No. Not that way. Not your will.”
I was studying and writing on precisely this step reading the Bible and the Big Book of AA about how you hand your life and will over to God, and I got a text from a man I hardly know.
I didn’t want to get interrupted, but he was asking if I would call him, and a little voice inside me said, “Call him now,” so I did. I just called him right then. This is someone I had met one time. His first words to me were, “I can’t believe you called me this fast. I texted because I was desperate and didn’t know who to talk to. I have realized I am an alcoholic, and I needed to talk to someone, so I called you. Can you help me?”
I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him.
We made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of God.
Of course, our egos will give us lots of reasons why we should not do this —
I might miss out on what I really want (the money or the sex or the pleasure or the reputation or whatever I have to have). If I did that, if I surrender to God, God will probably make me be a monk or a nun or a missionary or a pastor or something awful.
I’d be unable to think for myself anymore.
I would live in chronic deprivation of the stuff I really want if I’m going to have any gratification in life.
I would become a doormat — a weak and dependent personality.
But it actually works the other way around.
If I’m dependent on God, then I’m no longer dependent on money for my security.
I’m not dependent on attractiveness for my worth.
I’m not dependent on circumstances for my peace.
I’m not dependent on my children’s lives for my well-being. Can I get an amen from anybody on that one?
I’m not dependent on your approval for my confidence.
The more I depend on God the more independent I actually become in real life.
Let’s take it a little deeper. In Luke’s version, Jesus adds a very little helpful word to this idea of surrender.
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
People wonder sometimes, “Is surrender a once-for-all deal?”
Well, there has to be once. You don’t drift into it. But then it’s an everyday deal.
Here’s why. Here’s the thing about my will. I turn it over to God, and then I take it back. I turn it over, and I take it back. I turn it over — “Here you are, God.” Then, I take it back.
I think I’m surrendered. I’m an introvert, so I often enjoy being alone. Sometimes I even enjoy talking with God. I’m at home practicing the prayer of surrender — “God, have it all (my money, my energy, my family, my will, my relationships, my time). I surrender it all. Your will be done.” I’m actually quite moved by how devout my surrender is.
Then, my wife says, “Matt, would you please help me with the groceries like you said you would?”
“No! Stop interrupting me. I’m surrendering everything to Jesus, and you’re getting in the way.” “God, I said your will be done not her will be done.”
You see, I think I’ve surrendered my time until someone wants it.
I think I’ve surrendered my money until someone needs it.
I think I’ve surrendered my circumstances until they don’t suit me.
I think I’ve surrendered my will until it gets crossed.
I’m never done learning this prayer, but the beauty of this prayer and part of why it’s the foundation is you can pray it all day long and it will never cease to energize you. It will never cease to fill you up again. It’s kind of like breathing.
Living with a freshly surrendered will is the foundation.
The Big Book of AA puts it like this.
What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent upon the maintenance of our spiritual condition.
That’s just profound truth about the nature of discipleship and following Jesus. That’s why, if I’m doing it rightly with this as a first step, it could never lead to the elder brother ego judgment looking down. — What we have is just a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.
Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities. “How can I best serve Thee — Thy will (not mine) be done.” These are thoughts which must go with us constantly. We can exercise our willpower along this line all we wish. It is the proper use of the will.
This is extraordinary wisdom.
We have wills. Our wills are amazing things.
A psychologist in our day named Roy Baumeister is the guru of research on willpower.
The will is a real thing. You use it when you do things like resist temptation, or when you get creative, or when you’re making decisions, or when you’re doing impression management.
That’s why, for example, it’s kind of exhausting to go on a first date with someone or to go to a job interview. When you get home, you say, “I’m so tired. I just want to be myself,” because it takes willpower to try to get other people to think I’m something different than I actually am.
There is one thing the will can do and never grow tired, and that is surrender.
Our wills get depleted real easily, but you can surrender all day long.
Go home and test this.
Dallas Willard said, “Our wills are made to surrender to God.” That’s simply true.
One of the classic stories in the Big Book is an alcoholic doctor who was not surrendered for so long, and he was convinced that his difficulties were due to everyone and everything except him.
He writes, “You’d drink, too, if you had my problems. You’d drink, too, if you had my marriage.”
It’s not that I didn’t care enough about my wife. I cared too much. I sent her to four consecutive psychiatrists and not one of them got me sober. I also sent my kids to psychiatrists. I remember even the dog had a psychiatric diagnosis. I yelled at my wife, “What do you mean the dog just needs more love? You tell that dumb cat and dog doctor he’s not a Beverly Hills psychiatrist.” All I want to know is why does that dog wet in my lap every time I hold him. (That dog hasn’t wet my pants once since I joined A.A. and neither have I).
Then, he writes about finally accepting his powerlessness and this amazing discovery.
And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation, some fact of my life, unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. I needed to concentrate not on what needs to be changed in the world as much as what needs to be changed in me.
Acceptance is the answer to all of my problems today —
I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him.
Your will be done.
This is the beginning of Practicing The Way of Jesus.
It all begins with the surrender of our lives and our wills as we turn them over to God. That’s the foundation.
Now, this week, if surrender is hard for you, and it will be, and if your will pushes back, and it will push, I want you to know you are not alone. You don’t do this on your own.
People sometimes point out the great contrast between two of history’s most famous martyrs: Jesus and Socrates, the Greek philosopher.
You might know his story. Socrates is condemned to die. He had to take the hemlock. He’s incredibly calm and stoic and peaceful and even comforts his friends.
Jesus is not calm. He was a person of great faith and great courage. Yet, in the garden of Gethsemane he’s said to be in agony. He’s groaning in prayer. He’s sweating drops of blood.
He has friends around him, but he’s not comforting anyone.
I wonder why this scene is so different with Jesus than it is with Socrates.
I was thinking this week getting ready for this message. Through all eternity the Son has willed what the Father willed. Even all through his earthly life Jesus delighted to do the will of his Father. His great prayer was — “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
He loved his Father’s will so much he said to his disciples, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me.” It’s like it feeds him.
In the garden when he was facing not just death, not just death on a cross but what he would call on the cross God-forsakeness and God-abandonment, the weight somehow of the alienation and the death and sin and hell of every human broken soul is crushing him.
In the garden, he tells his Father he doesn’t want that —
Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me;
Maybe part of the pain of Gethsemane was for the first time in all eternity the Son now has to struggle with not wanting the will of the Father.
The Son realizes, “This is what it is to not want what my Father wants and to desire what is opposed to my Father’s desire.”
All of us know this. This is the fracture in our souls — to know what is good and to know what is God’s will for my life and to not want it and then to have to choose God’s will or mine.
This is like the drama of every human life in him, and it’s like all of heaven is holding its breath.
Then, Jesus makes his choice.
yet not My will, but Yours be done.
Then, the next line much, less famous, says such wonderful things about life in his kingdom.
An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. (Luke 22:42-43)
Jesus surrenders his will to his Father, and an angel from heaven comes and strengthens him.
By the way, I believe that angel is still on duty, and he makes house calls.
I want to give you a chance to surrender today. Maybe you’ve never deliberately turned your will and your life over to God, so this can be your vital spiritual experience.
It’s kind of like this. In a wedding there are a lot of peripheral details. There are flowers and music and guests and special clothes and decoration, but what makes it a wedding is a promise, a vow, a commitment.
Kathy and I stood on a platform a long time ago, and the pastor asked her, “Do you take this man?” There was a long pause. I thought of all of the reasons she could say no, but then she said, “Yes, I take this man to be my husband.” Then, he asked me, “Do you take this woman?” It was really quick for me before she changes her mind — “Yes, I take her to be my wife.”
Here’s the question for you today. Do you take this man, Jesus, to be your forgiver and your friend and your Shepherd and your guide and your leader and your Lord?
If not him, who else?
I want to invite you as we start this journey together to make this decision.
Would everyone bow your head and close your eyes for a moment? If you never have before, I want to invite you to pray this prayer.
“God, I can’t. I can’t save my own life. I can’t earn my way to heaven. I cannot transform myself, but God, you can. You can forgive my sin through what Jesus did on the cross. You can enter into my mind, my thoughts, my desires, and my life. You can guide me with your Spirit. You can make me into a new person. I let you. I invite you. Today, I turn my life and my will into your care.”
Just keep your heads bowed and your eyes closed for a moment. If you’ve made that decision today for the first time, I want to invite you to raise your hand really quickly just so I can see you and pray for you.
God, thank you that you are in the life-saving, life-changing business. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
For those of you who made that decision and raised your hands, I want to tell you we’re so glad for you and so excited for your journey with God.
Maybe you didn’t make that decision today and you’re not ready yet. Just keep coming back. Keep learning. Have an open heart and an open mind.
Maybe you’ve done this before, but you need a fresh surrender right now. Maybe it’s a particular area in your time, in your money, in a relationship, in a habit with a desire.
Maybe you want to say, “God, I’m surrendering these next nine weeks. I’m in. I’m devoted. I’m going to follow every day. I’m going to surrender my time to you and come on this journey.”
This week, take this prayer with you into this week. When you wake up in the morning, when you go to bed at night, when you’re agitated, when you’re doubtful, when you’re confused, when you’re bored, when you’re troubled, when you’re afraid, or when you’re stressed, “Your will be done. Your will be done. Your will be done.”
Just make this an experiment of surrender this week.
Alright, now Christian and the team are going to lead us in a final expression of surrender.