What are the barriers holding us back from surrendering to God? As I have explored this over the years, I have found that I am the biggest barrier. It isn’t my environment, or my posture, or even scheduling, it is me; or more accurately, my past and how it has affected the building up of walls around my heart.
But first let’s look at what surrender is not. It is not running away, caving in, or giving up. At least not in the sense we’re thinking of in relationship to an enemy of some sort. We often think of surrender as waving the white flag and allowing ourselves to be taken prisoner of even enslaved. That is not what we are talking about when we talk of surrendering to God.
Surrendering to God is giving our life over to him; this is more than words, but it is a willful intent of our heart to allow God to speak into any area of our lives; even in those dark, secret places that no one even knows about. The anger you feel in rush hour traffic, invite God into that. The desire to overindulge in a meal or beverage, invite God into that. Invite him into everything, your workout, your classroom, your workplace, and even your bedroom. God is everywhere present anyway, so why the hesitancy?
The hesitancy is indicative of the barriers mentioned in the first paragraph. These barriers come in many shapes and sizes but I will touch on the four biggies I’ve identified in my own life. They are fear, pride, time orientation and lack of will.
This is the biggest of the four. While we may not recognize this at first, we fear handing our life over to God. The reasons are multifaceted. For instance, what is God going to do with us? Is he going to bring some sort deep-seated pain to my consciousness, like those repressed memories of childhood abuse? Is he going to call me into something I don’t want to do, like move far away or apologize to a co-worker? Is he going to reveal in stark HD color the sins that are dominating my life?
The answer is maybe, and maybe not, but God knows what is best for us and won’t bring us to places we can’t handle (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). Fully surrendering to God takes courage, it takes courage to allow God to use us according to his purposes; it also takes courage to allow God to bring painful things into our thinking. He knows that if we don’t eventually deal with repressed soul-pain, that pain may very well become the center of our identity; how many people do we see in the media or even in our own lives that wear their “victimhood” as the primary essence of their identity? It is a miserable existence that God wants to save us from.
Pride says I can do this on my own, I don’t need your help. I’ve struggled with this because of past experiences. And, as mentioned above, if I don’t allow God to deal with these past experiences, they will eventually define who I am.
When I was in Junior High School in the mid-seventies I was bullied. It wasn’t cyber-bullying through the Ethernet but was instead a gang of four boys that beat me up and did other things to humiliate me in front of my peers, even the female peers. It was devastating. No one came to help me so I eventually had to take matters into my own hands. I was too small and out-numbered to fight physically, so I fought back with wit and humor. I even did a stand-up comedy routine in a school-wide talent show. It was a huge hit and from that time on I was popular and no longer bullied; it was uncool to beat up the funny guy. This is a nice little success story but it built into my thinking that I had no one to rely on but myself. Therefore, why would I suddenly start relying on a God I can’t even see?
Plus my Northern European heritage ingrained a strong do-it-yourself drive. Still, I long to draw close to God and he has shattered these barriers in my soul by bringing into and through several bouts of helplessness in my life. Through these bouts, all health-related and all physically painful, I have spent much time in deep prayer and relying on others, such as my dear bride and close friends (and sometimes nurses and paramedics) in helping me with basic needs and tasks. Now I know I cannot do this alone and am grateful that there is a loving God that I can see via the love and compassion of others.
I’m a future oriented person. That is I am constantly thinking about what I’d like to see in the future for me, my family and for ministry, and then I go about the work it takes to get there. In other words, I’m a dreamer. This can be a good thing as long as the dreams align with God’s call on my life. Dreamers can also be profound visionaries, they can see an immediate problem and then look beyond it into what a solution could look like.
Future orientation also allows for easy distraction. It doesn’t take a lot to launch into some mental tangent because of some stray word someone spoke or a headline on a TV ticker or just plain old daydreaming. It is also hard to sit quietly in prayer and focus on God. My mind is constantly chattering about something and it seems nearly impossible for me to truly rest in the Lord. I sense Jesus encouraging me to just rest in Him but the chatter….the incessant chatter…keeps on yacking. I have been labeled as an intense person by many people over the years. For some reason this hurts me, I don’t intend to be intense, in fact, I’d like to be seen as one of those ancient, serene monks that are quiet and wise. But I am nowhere near that. What’s more, in every massage I’ve ever had the therapist says the same thing, “You need to learn how to relax.” Duh! I actually politely respond that I know that but I am a work in progress. Truthfully, I have been working on this for nearly four decades and I feel I am no closer to success than when I was 12. I have paid a psychological and now a physical price as well.
Wah, wah! Big baby. Bottom line is I still pursue Jesus in as quiet as a state I can achieve, and you know what, He always accepts me, pats me on the back and allows my tears to fall and the tight ball of tension that is my body to collapse in the safety of a Savior that knows me and still loves me.
Lack of Will
Not a lot to say about this. It’s like a fitness program where people talk a lot about it but never really get started doing it. It’s hard work, it takes time, and it takes discipline, something our culture strives to avoid. Similarly, lots of people talk of wanting to draw close to the Lord but they really don’t want to for the very reasons described above. It takes work and courage, and in our instant, have-it-now culture, we’d rather just have a quick fix, just click on the electronics or take another pill of spend another wad of cash and I’ll feel better; for a while anyway…..
To begin surrendering to God requires us to overcome these four categories, except we are destined to failure if we don’t first acknowledge that God can help us through this (see Philippians 1:6, 2:13, 3:12-16 & 4:12-13). We stand against the fear by recognizing that God has his best intent for us, he does not intend to harm us but heal and strengthen us.
Let pride go before you truly become helpless. It helps to remember that it is through Jesus Christ that we are saved and not of our own works, therefore, what’s the point of pride in the first place if the only eternal destiny we achieve on our own is hell (see Ephesians 2:4-10). Satan was booted out of Heaven and many worldly kings have been brought low because of pride (see Isaiah 14:12-21 & Ezekiel 28). Pride may produce short-term results, but in the long run it will keep you from truly experiencing God and may very well keep you from experiencing any real closeness with anyone.
If you are a present oriented person you are better suited than most for surrendering to God. Past oriented people need to ask God to help them realize that the past is over and God will clearly reveal to us if there is anything that needs to be dealt with in the present or near future. Future oriented people need to recognize that the future is really undefined. While God knows what the future will bring based upon the choices we make, we don’t know the future so we need to trust him that as we follow his leading our future will glorify him and will be a blessing to us.
And finally, if you don’t have the will to seek God, then pray for the will (see Psalm 119:32). Sometimes this takes intentionally forcing yourself to set time aside to pursue God. To start a running program, you need to set a time to do it every day; same thing with pursuing God. Or, just admit you want to pursue God and then stop talking about it.