Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” ~ Matthew 26:36-41
Have you ever noticed how we tend to speak about surrender as believers? Typically, we talk about it like we know it’s necessary, but that it’s incredibly difficult to do and requires much sacrifice on our end; it requires that we give up our self-proclaimed right to hold on, and be in control. While this cannot be said definitively about everyone and be fair at the same time, this is how I’ve noticed surrender is often spoken about, myself included. But my perspective has recently been corrected regarding what surrender really looks like.
I was sitting with my counselor sharing fears and frustrations, to which she responded:
“Sweetie, you need to surrender to where you are right now, how you feel about it all and then surrender all that to God. Just get real about it with Him and ask Him what He wants to do with it.”
Wait. Surrender to where I am right now? Surrender to how I feel? That goes against everything I had come to believe! I thought I was supposed to fight these feelings and frustrations; label them as wrong or unproductive and struggle against them until they go away. Well, here’s what I’ve come to understand as the truth –
What exactly am I surrendering to God if I can’t even be honest about where I am, and what I’m feeling? Nothing. I’m surrendering my fake, fronting self. I’m surrendering the shell of who I am, while I hold onto the real side of things I won’t acknowledge to myself, let alone God, and therefore won’t allow Him to have His way with. How can God soften a heart that won’t admit it’s hard? How will we see that God meets us where we are if we don’t even admit where we really are? Change can’t begin without awareness. Surrendering to where you are, and how you honestly feel, is simply acknowledging the truth, and truth is what God works with. This doesn’t mean you succumb to it all, and live in it. It just means you acknowledge it so God can work it out in your heart.
The Scripture I opened with is one most of us are probably very familiar with, but I think we often miss something really important within these verses for the sake of focusing on the latter half of verse 39. If you take the very end of that verse, “…nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” all by itself, you end up completely removing it from its true context, and therefore with an incomplete definition of surrender.
Part of surrender – a big part – is the willingness to walk in obedience, but what I always missed is what precedes that:
(v37) …He began to be sorrowful and troubled.
(v38) Then He said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death…
(v39) He fell on his face and prayed…
Jesus was sorrowful and troubled; sorrowful even to death; troubled to the point of falling on His face and crying out to God. And it was in the context of that state – it was from that real, honest, raw place – that He went to the Father. He didn’t hide how He felt; He didn’t dismiss how He felt. He presented His real self to the Father.
And let’s not forget, Jesus knew this is why He came, and He knew how the story would end! Still, He was sorrowful and troubled. Being truly surrendered is what led Him to be obedient to the point of death (Philippians 2:8); ultimately, to claiming victory.
We have the distinct privilege of going to God and knowing that He will meet us where we are, as we are, and guide us to the next step. When we are able to present who we really are to someone and feel loved for all that we are, and in spite of all that we aren’t, something happens in our heart; it softens, it opens and it becomes willing.
This is the example of surrender that Jesus set for us. We’ve made it into something it isn’t; something less…less honest, less sincere and, therefore, less transformational.
That explains why so many of us have “surrendered” something only to still be struggling with the depths of it years later. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes struggles try to stick around, but God doesn’t leave things undone (Philippians 1:6). He wouldn’t tell us to seek Him, and present our requests to Him (Jeremiah 29:12-13 | Philippians 4:6) and then leave us hanging; He doesn’t fail to fulfill His promises and be who He innately is.
There’s another hard truth wrapped up in this, too. When we start thinking that surrender requires sacrifice, that’s evidence that we have lost grip of our reality as Christians. The only sacrifice involved in true surrender is the sacrifice of pride that happens when we acknowledge we never possessed the things we are trying so desperately to hold onto – like control, or our “right” to feel a certain way towards someone (see Jonah 4 for an example of how much of a right we don’t have when it comes to hanging on to negative feelings).
Surrender is not a sacrifice. It is a life-giving activity we have the privilege of choosing to engage in. We gain more in surrender than we could ever possibly lose as it is the exchange of my honest, broken and in-need self for the peace, sustenance and victory we find in and through Christ alone; the One who sacrificed everything on our behalf.
These truths, this picture of surrender, has reignited my prayer life and caused me to draw closer to the Lord in a deep way. I’m not playing poker in relationships anymore – with God or people. All my cards are on the table, seen for all that they are and all that they aren’t.
We have choices in life, and we have responsibilities within what God has called us to, but I’m surrendered to the fact that what happens now is up to God. My job is simply to stay faithful where He has me, and go where He leads.
I choose the peace that flows from true surrender over the pressure that comes from trying to uphold a certain image while attempting life on my own.