Surrender is a big word. The world views it as defeat; as failure; as a concession. But that’s the world. What the world thinks of anything should not matter whatsoever to any true disciple.
I never go for half measures, if I can help it. As a general rule, I have a tendency to be a little All or Nothing. Sometimes that can be a good thing, sometimes it displays a boyish immaturity in me. There is always a balance to be found with all things, especially matters of the heart. And, I should qualify that remark, when I speak of the heart, I am not talking of love, but of the will.
For many years, I had thrashed around like a fish in the bottom of a barrel when it came to the things of the heart, of the will. As a believer of Y’shua (Jesus’ Hebrew name) I had built the foundation of my discipleship on what I thought was the solid rock of the patriarch Jacob wrestling with God until he received a true blessing from God. You can find the account in Genesis chapter 32. I felt it was mine to wrestle with God over just about everything. I actually thought that was what He wanted from me. He might of expected it from me, but I am pretty sure now that He never wanted it. Of course, in Jacob’s situation, it is easy to understand. He wanted God’s blessing. He wasn’t prepared to cross the ford at Jabbok without it. If you know the story of Jacob, you will be reminded that he had received both birthright and blessing. In the Old Testament scheme of things, the birthright and the father’s blessing were pretty much all you needed. But that was the world view. Jacob knew that if he was to fulfil the words of the blessing that Isaac had said over him, he was going to need God to make sure it happened. Without God doing the work, anything that is promised us is doomed to fail.
I have to tell you that wrestling with God is not for the feint-hearted. I have wrestled many times with God, pleading and manipulating to get what I thought I was due. In the end, through the hard roads of experience, I have finally learned that what was actually due to me was eternal damnation and separation from God (which, thankfully for me, Y’shua took the punishment due to me in my place. Praise God). It didn’t matter a jot what people had said over me when I was a young believer. Like with all of God’s covenants, it was always going to come with conditions. I wanted to have the outcome without having to adhere to the conditions.
Of course, God’s conditions are basically always the same: To be obedient to His word, in whatever form it comes to you. Now, I find it easy to see that, because I am in the process of having my will broken. Before, I would lay claim to every promise I could think of in order to persuade God to rain blessing down upon me. This blog; the Cornerstone; are both examples of this in action. I have purposed to reveal all the painful parts of this journey here on these pages as well as the parts in which we can rejoice. The victories, if you like. But the greatest victory, I can testify, will never come from wrestling with God. The greatest victory is found in surrender.
You may ask exactly how I came to this conclusion. Through wrestling, of course.
Now, I am not a fan of professional wrestling, but there generally comes a point when the weaker opponent has to submit and give in. With God, there is no opponent who can withstand Him. Not one. That might sound obvious to you, but for those like me who have this built-in instinct for survival, it can be easy enough to think that persistence will win the day. It doesn’t. Ever. God is incalculably much more patient than even our understanding of what patience means will ever comprehend.
Please don’t let my talk of persistence never winning confuse you when it comes to prayer. Earnest, faithful, and persistent prayer will always be answered by God…providing it is prayed from a place of humility. We must learn, thoughtfully, that God is just. I mean, just stop and think about what that means for a moment. If He is just, which we know He is, how can we expect Him to answer any of our prayers if our hearts or motives are not right in His eyes when we ask? We would soon complain if God answered the prayers of an unjustified non-believers, wouldn’t we? Yes, we can boldly come before the throne of grace (as it encourages us in Hebrews 4:16), but only through humility. The word to pray, in the root Hebrew, means to make oneself low, or to crouch. And rightly so. He is God, the maker of all things, both seen and unseen. Humility is right.
In James’ letter he explains that ‘The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much’. [James 5:16b NKJV]. He was talking of Elijah, one of the greatest servants of God ever known. But, even Elijah, with all his greatness knew that to be deemed as righteous before God requires trust in God. And he also knew, it requires humility, because Elijah may have possessed the faith to make it rain, but he knew he needed God to make it happen. We can all learn a vital lesson from Elijah when it comes to having prayers answered. I myself, this week, have understood a little of how this works. Take a look at the account of Elijah and the drought on all Isra’el. You can find it in the first book of Kings and chapters 17 & 18. Notice how Elijah appears out of nowhere. Most prophets have genealogies to show their heritage. With Elijah we find a man that God raised up for the very purpose of God. God needed someone to take on Ahab and Jezebel. He knew that Elijah was the man for the job because He knows the hearts of men. At Elijah’s word (because it was in line with God’s will and purpose, and because Elijah was righteous before God) no rain fell on Isra’el for three and a half years. How do we know that Elijah was righteous in God’s eyes? Because he tells us so in verse 1 of chapter 17. He stood before God. To stand before God means we must first be humble before Him. If we are humble before God, He will raise us up. See James 4:10.
Then, whilst God withholds the rain, He tells Elijah to go, firstly to a brook where he will have his needs supplied by ravens, and then secondly to a poor widow. Elijah obeyed. His continued obedience ensured that the rain didn’t fall. If Elijah hadn’t continued in his obedience to God’s word, you can be sure that the rain would have come, and God would have raised up another to take down Ahab and Jezebel. So, it’s not just humility before God when we ask. It requires continued obedience in the wake of our prayers being answered.
Of course, what follows is a Battle Royale atop Mount Carmel when God reveals His arm to the people and the servants of Baal are humiliated and then killed. Again, another aspect comes into play in Elijah’s prayer life. He believed that if he stepped out in faith before God, and was both humble before God and expectant that He would act, then the people would see the glory of God and repent of their unfaithfulness. It worked. Remember that we follow this same God. Elijah’s example for having prayers answered is still valid because, unlike all the pagan gods, our God, the Living God, never changes. He is the same today as He ever was, and ever will be.
The best part, however, of Elijah’s example, is that once he knew it was time to ask God to bring the rain, he dropped to his knees. Too often, we expect God to act without our persistence in prayer. Sometimes He will draw us to Him by making us keep coming to Him in prayer. He delights to hear our voice. Take a look at Elijah. He knew God would bring the rain. But it took Elijah seven times, on his knees, head down, before the first small sign of rain was seen. Now, Elijah was great amongst God’s servants. Still is. He didn’t die. If he had to seek God in that way, how much more will a stroppy boy like me have to seek Him in order to get my prayers answered?
You might think that I have wandered from the path a little with the example of Elijah. After all, what did it have to do with surrender? Maybe nothing. But, for me, the example that Elijah sets us in doing God’s work shows me that surrender is a big part of our walk if we expect God to answer prayer.
This is going to be just the first part of a mini-series on surrender. It is a work in progress for me. Like Paul who said “Not that I have already attained or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” [Philippians 3:12 NKJV]
I have not yet attained that which I aspire to. But it is within the reach of all of us who would follow Y’shua. I have learned that to surrender is better than to wrestle. It is much more effective. Please don’t take my word for it. Apply it to your own life. If you want God to answer prayers in the same heavy duty way that He did for Elijah then submit to Him. He will lift you up. Humility first, then faith and then obedience. Someone once told me that partial obedience is actually disobedience. I know this to be true. Start with humbling yourself before God. Self-examination of all of your ways, of all of your motives will always bring you to the foot of the Cross. Paul said that he dies daily. It is good advice. It describes his own willingness to surrender his will before God. When we surrender our own will, I am learning, then we accept God’s will all the more.