Monday, May 2, 2016

Chips, computer time, and Absolute Surrender

All my life, I have tried to completely surrender to Jesus. Every time I would sing, “I Surrender All,” I hoped it would finally be the time when I really, really meant it. I would pray and ask God to help me to really surrender this time, really just give up all of who I was and everything I had to Jesus. But I never seemed to be able to do it, or at least be sure that I had actually done it. It got to the point where after years of trying and failing to surrender, sometimes I wouldn't even join in the song because of this, in case I were actually lying and not truly surrendering everything. I would go to camp and someone would get up and speak about how they were miserable until the day they finally surrendered everything to Jesus, and then peace and joy reigned and everything turned around. I repeatedly declared my intentions to surrender, made attempts to surrender, tried to “yield my members” tried to “give up” and “depend on God,” and it all just seemed so abstract, so nebulous, so unconnected to any tangible action. 

Somehow, just by changing to use the word “submit,” it has translated all of this vagueness into something concrete, actionable, and understandable. 

What does it mean to submit? It means that if God asks me to get up at 5:00 in the morning, instead of allowing my sleep-dazed brain to hit snooze and roll over, I submit to God’s agenda. Submitting looks like putting my feet on the floor, turning on the light, and taking measures to prevent myself from falling immediately back to sleep. Submitting is a real thing that I either do or don’t do. It’s recognizing a higher authority and conforming myself to the wishes of that authority. It’s a thing that plays out at the micro level, the individual decision and task level. It is easy to know how to submit.

Submitting is the thing that I am bucking when a scenario like this one plays out:
  • I’m sitting at my computer, it’s 7:30 PM, and I’ve decided to go to bed at 8:00 PM so that I can get up at 5:00 AM and still get 9 hours of sleep. Brilliant. Then I will be obeying God AND not being sleep deprived. Absolutely brilliant. I'm on board with this plan for sure. Well, I should start wrapping things up now so that I’ll actually be in bed turning the light out by 8:00.
  • An hour later: Oops—whoa, how’d that happen? It’s 8:30 already. Goodness, don’t even know what I got so absorbed in there. Now it’s past my bedtime, but no worries, I probably couldn’t have fallen asleep that fast anyway since it’s so much earlier than I usually go to bed. Now I’ll do just this one last thing and then go to bed.
  • An hour later. Gracious, now it’s 9:30. Great. Now I’m going to be cutting into my sleep to get up at 5:00. At this point, I probably won’t find the wherewithal at 5:00 in the morning to actually choose to get up. But I really am serious that I need to go to bed now. 
  • An hour later: What in the world? How is it 10:30? You know what though? I was doing something that I’ve been putting off for a long time, and it was good that I got it done, and besides, it was ministry-related, so yeah, I might be acting foolishly and cutting into my sleep, but sometimes you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do, right?
  • An hour later: OK, seriously this is ridiculous. If I don’t go to bed now, I will be sick. It’s 11:30. Goodness, I’m exhausted. Why do I do this to myself? (Finally went to bed.)

Now, in that scenario (which is just one real example out of many), I was given 5 opportunities to submit, and each time, I refused to submit. The final time, I did take the action of going to bed, but it can’t really be called “submission” because it was me going to bed on my terms, in my timing, not me going against my own inclinations to actually submit to God’s contrary (and higher) plan for me. I can look at that scenario and say to myself, “Oh, me submitting would have actually looked like me shutting my computer at 7:30 and immediately and cheerfully going to get ready for bed.” It would have been me going lower, subduing my own plans, ideas, and actions to be subject to God’s. 

Submitting requires humility. And when I started to see everything in life in those terms, I suddenly discovered a mounting pile of evidence that showed me just how unsubmitted I really was.

Here’s another case in point:

  • It’s lunch time, and I open a bag of chips. It’s a bag that has 5 servings, so technically it should last me 5 days. I absent-mindedly munch away until I look and suddenly discover that I have definitely eaten more than half the bag of chips. OK, that means I have had probably at least 3 servings. Time to stop. This is the voice of my conscience, which is in alignment with the nature and principles of God (e.g. moderation & self control). 

This is my opportunity to submit.

  • “Just one more chip, though.” 

The act of reaching my hand into the bag one time to get one chip is a refusal to submit, which (if we call a spade a spade) is an act of rebellion, an act that will distance me from God, an act that involves turning off my brain and shutting my ears to the conscience, resulting in me being a little more deaf and a little harder of heart for subsequent occasions. But I do it, not just once, but again, and again, every 5 or 10 seconds or so, reaching in the bag, pulling out “just one more” chip, crunching it between my teeth, telling myself it’s not that bad because I’m actually not full yet, and going on to do it again, and again, and again.

This is not a conscious willfulness or deliberate stiff-necked rebellion. It’s something I’m doing without analyzing it at all, because my mind is engaged elsewhere, reading a book or taking a class or typing in between bites. I’m not thinking about the chips at all. I’m just eating them.

  • My hand dives into the bag, fishes to the bottom, and comes up empty. “What? Gone already?” Well, now I must stop, because there aren’t any more. 

I have indeed consumed 5 whole servings of chips, which at 150 calories and 9 grams of fat per serving turns out to be a nice load of 750 calories and 45 grams of fat. Good going. 

Notice that the end of the story was still that “I stopped eating the chips.” But even though the ending is the same, it's a completely different story to stop out of submission to my authority than it is to stop out of simple disappearance of the chips. “There weren’t any more, so I stopped” doesn’t require submission to anything but cause and effect. “There was half a bag left, and I stopped, even though the thought of having another chip still appetized me” requires submission, going low, yielding, surrender. To submit is to surrender my will, my way, my idea, and give God His way. 

Surrender, submitting. It’s the same thing—I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.

When I began to see all the little daily choices of my life in this light, I came to realize how very little I was ever even remotely submitted to God. Do I ever do anything but precisely what I want to do? I wondered. And by focusing on the little tiny steps of submission (like leaving the last few chips in the bag, or closing my computer down), I was also led to the bigger principle.

“What if I was so completely submitted that my default response in every situation would be to submit rather than to buck that thought and go my own way?”

I think this is what I would now see as the “Absolute Surrender” that up until now has just been this nebulous Christianese phrase in my head that I didn't know how to tie down to any tangible action (except for the fervent request that it would happen to me).

Fortunately, submitting to God is within the reach of both the smallest child and the oldest philosopher (though it tends to be far easier for the little child than for the philosopher). One doesn’t need any special equipment to do it. It doesn’t require special skills or years of theology or deep secrets of hidden knowledge. I know exactly how to refuse to eat a chip. I know exactly what I need to do to turn off my computer and get ready for bed. I know exactly how to get up in the morning when the alarm rings rather than put my head back on the pillow and pull the covers over my head. So what I am being asked to do is technically easy.

And this thought that it is easy has brought me much-needed perspective and pulled me up short when I was tempted to protest that “I just don’t know how to do it! I’ll be this way forever.” No—the deepest, most entrenched sins in my life can go, just the same way that I stop eating a chip.

I can submit. I can make myself low. I can humble myself and give God the place of authority He deserves. 


  1. Wonderful thoughts. I was so encouraged by this, and I definitely want to remember what you said, "And this thought that it is easy has brought me much-needed perspective and pulled me up short when I was tempted to protest that “I just don’t know how to do it! I’ll be this way forever.” No—the deepest, most entrenched sins in my life can go, just the same way that I stop eating a chip." Thank you so much for this post!

  2. Hey I don't know if you remember me or not but I appreciate all of your time and effort. I am going to pray tonight for you. I don't know If I'm allowed to use your name on here or not, but you know who you are. Sorry for being difficult at times. (Most the time) I have all of the information saved that helps to remind me of good things and truth in dark times.

  3. wow... your examples are pretty much exactly what God's been teaching and I've been slowly grasping. Now the other part I'm learning is about not legalizing everything, and listening for what He is actually saying.

    ~Praise God


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