Each year between Christmas and New Year, I excitedly pull out my planner and begin to dream about what might be. As I think and pray through the year ahead, I find things that I will look forward to, new places to visit, time with friends and family, and new challenges. I talk with God about what He is inviting me to participate in this year, and I investigate new Bible reading plans and other spiritual practices that will help me engage with Him. By the time I return to work in the New Year, I have a way forward and a list of things that I am anticipating.
This year, amid the resurgence of COVID, I have found it challenging to have the same hopefulness that usually denotes my approach to starting a new year. With infection rates and curfews again dominating the news stories, it is hard to get excited about a new course that may or may not go ahead. And my hopefulness that, once fully vaccinated, I might be free to re-engage with the world has evaporated.
This new year as I have sought God amidst the uncertainty, instead of dreams and direction, I have heard the whispered word 'Surrender'.
Surrender is not a word that we are very comfortable with, in the 21st century. It sounds like failure, and we are a success-focused world that is uncomfortable with failure. So, what is God asking when He whispers 'surrender'? While the word surrender is not used in the New Testament (and only seven times in the Old Testament, all of which refer to military surrender), the concept of our surrendering to God is throughout scripture.
Lexico.com defines surrender as to 'stop resisting to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.' While God is not 'an enemy or opponent', I think this still holds that surrender means 'stop resisting... and submit'.
Submit (surrender’s best friend) is another word that we in the modern world have trouble with. Lexico.com says it means to 'accept or yield to a superior force or to the authority or will of another person.' Submission and surrender are often seen as forced upon us by someone with more power regardless of what we want.
Scripture paints a different picture of surrender and submission. The Hebrew word aba (translated submit in Psalm 81:11) means to be willing or to consent, which places the power in the person submitting. Its Greek equivalent hypostasso confirms that surrender/submission to God is not forced upon us but something that we choose to do. Both aba and hypostasso carry the idea of yielding - choosing to let something or someone else be first.
So, God is asking me to choose to yield this new year to Him. The reality is that I am not in control, I cannot make the year turn out the way I want, but I can choose how I respond. I can either whine and complain about how it isn’t fair that I am still isolated and alone and that God should not ask that of me, or I can surrender, resting in my knowledge that God is full of grace and so His plan for my year is full of grace as well.
I can choose surrender because I know that I am doing so to a God who loves me, who has a track record of sacrificing for me (John 3:16) and who has promised to be present with me in every circumstance that I face (John 14:16-17). Paul affirms this pattern of submission in the context of love in Ephesians 5, where he calls wives to submit in the context of a relationship where their husbands are committed to loving them sacrificially.
Surrender/submission where there is no love quickly becomes abuse, but since I know I am loved, I can safely choose to submit to my God even when I cannot clearly see the consequences of my surrender. I’ll admit there are still parts of the surrender God is calling me to this year that I am fighting, where my fear is winning out, and I am failing to yield fully. Surrender is not a single action but a daily choice to place myself in my loving God’s hands.
Part of the submission process for me is learning how to still dream and plan but hold those dreams and plans lightly, to recognise that disappointment is likely but not the end of the world. I am learning to not only have one plan for the year but also have backups. I can plan for a course I hope to run, but I can also prepare to not be able to run the course and use my time and energy differently. I can dream of spending time physically present with good friends, but I can also dream of the fruit in my relationship with God that comes from long seasons of solitude.
These backup plans are part of my process of surrender, they are me saying I cannot control what is going to happen, but I am going to prepare as best I can for what might occur. Surrender does not mean that I abdicate my responsibility, but that I stop seeking to force my will over God’s. When Jesus calls us in Matthew 6:33 to seek God’s Kingdom, He calls us to surrender the seeking of our own kingdoms where we are the ones seemingly in control and instead submit ourselves to God’s kingdom, to His way of living and His plans for our lives.
Amid the uncertainty of 2022, I am learning that there is security in surrender to the only One who is certain and sure (Proverbs 19:21). And with David, I am learning to cry out
But I am trusting you, O LORD,
saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
Psalm 31:14-15a (NLT)
Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash
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