I apologize. I forgive you.
Only five words, but absolutely some of the hardest to say. Rarely spoken even among Christians. Indeed the trend seems to be sharper posturing, entrenching on opinions, polarizing.
The idea of surrender seems foreign in our age of individualism, entitlement, and dysfunctional relationships. Yet surrender is a critical element of Christian discipleship and vitality.
Surrender starts with our Lord, Jesus Christ.
“In your hearts revere Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3:15). Our Master both lived and taught surrender. The foundation of his atoning work was surrender. Philippians 2’s ode to Jesus praises him for not grasping onto equality with God, but emptying himself, taking the very nature of a servant, obedient to death, even crucifixion. What a picture of multi-layered surrender!
We typically see Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane being about surrender to the torturous, shameful death by crucifixion, or about being abandoned by God.
John Howard Yoder captured an even deeper point in The Politics of Jesus. Jesus agonized over the consequences of choosing submission. The way of power – 12 legions of angels to wipe out evildoers (Matthew 26:53) – would establish expected Messianic supremacy instantly. Instead, Jesus chose the path of “revolutionary subordination,” establishing God’s modus operandi of weakness, surrender, and death.
Jesus also agonized for the church (John 17). Choosing the path of surrender would put his followers on that path, living out of weakness, facing derision, torture, and death if they would be faithful to his way.
But he also could predict his church refusing to surrender, grabbing power, abusing. His way is so very hard to follow, as soon seen in the Corinthian church, for example.
Jesus’ path set up an apparent “lose–lose” scenario. He not only relinquished the power to force his followers into surrendered living; when they did surrender, they would suffer loss. God, however, uses this to manufacture the “win.” He alone deserves credit, both for our ability to surrender and for the use of our weakness for his glory (2 Corinthians 4: 11, 12).
We are called to imitate Christ through surrender.
At a basic level, we surrender to Jesus when we say he alone can save us. From there we must practice and deepen it. While there are numerous applications of surrender, I would like to touch on three that seem to be special challenges to our church life today.
Faithfulness. Faith is obedience even when it’s not visible that it “pays” or “works” (Hebrews 11). Today, church advice heavily emphasizes strategy, performance, and “prevailing” effectiveness. I’m happy to point out that the ReFocusing programs available through our conference try to imprint a DNA of surrender for leaders and churches. I’m proud of ReFocusing coordinator Dave Jackson and his crew for the character they are inculcating.
Still, we constantly use language of effectiveness and impact, as though faithfulnens isn’t adequate. I’m concerned when our real values seem to emphasize accomplishment over character, our idea of effectiveness over openness to what God wants to do.
Engaging and listening. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). The easiest thing to do when we disagree in church, be it over theology or ministry direction, is to withdraw from one another. When we withdraw, it creates a gap. Then, at this distance, people misinterpret further communication, cast judgment, and generally nurture the gap.
As hard and time-consuming as it is, sides must engage, communicate, and listen well in order to understand what’s in the heart of people across the gap. Then we can re-establish trust, or provide a platform for meaningful correction. Correction is often needed, but how much better it is when based on adequate prior engagement.
Apologies and forgiving. These are acts of surrender to one another after offence has occurred. I continue to be amazed at the inability of people to admit fault, even when it’s obvious, and the ability to hold a grudge and withhold forgiveness, even when it’s asked for. Jesus taught that having “clear eyes” (as the Quakers put it) is the foundation for answered prayer (Mark 11:25). So why don’t we do it more?
Drivenness instead of faithfulness often causes conflicts and rifts. Reluctance to engage and listen prevents making things right. Polarization creates a vacated middle. Christ came to restore even the severest break (Ephesians 2:11-22). We can practice surrender and we find the crucified Christ is there, helping us. A vacated middle will only impede our kingdom work.