Will Hotchkiss was a missionary in Africa in the late 1800s. On one occasions he described some of the conditions that he and his colleagues faced in the early days of their work. They lived for more than two months on beans and sour milk, facing attack from man-eating lions and watching their friends die. But he said, ‘don’t talk to me about sacrifice. It is no sacrifice.’ He spoke of the joy of his ministry and then added, ‘I can never think of these forty years in terms of sacrifice. I saw Christ and His cross and I did this because I loved Him.’
I want to talk to you about surrender because I want you to be happy. I want you to give your all to Jesus because I want you to be blessed. I want you to take up your cross because that is the way to experience life in all its fullness.
- God wants to control your life for good
From the moment we are conceived our hearts were in rebellion against the loving rule of God. King David explains, ‘Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me’ (Psalm 51:5). Our natural state is one of enmity towards God. The apostle Paul says, ‘The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so’ (Romans 8:7). I am assuming that you are born again, which involves not only accepting Christ as your Saviour but enthroning him as your king. Through the internal work of the Holy Spirit we have been brought to a place of surrender. The white flag has been raised. We have conquered by love. We have gladly placed our lives under the generous rule of our gracious Lord.
But there is a struggle! Although we have a new heart, and the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we battle the impulses of the sinful nature every day. Something within us recoils at saying, ‘thy will be done.’ The world, the flesh and the devil shout at us, declaring that God’s rule is unreasonable, that he wants to stifle our joy and that he does not know what is good for us. That is a big lie! Our God is committed to the good of his people. Indeed, there is no real loss in handing over your life to the loving rule of Christ, quite the contrary. Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes, ‘for those of us who are followers of Christ, any resistance to the will of God will keep us from enjoying an abundant life and will create barriers in our fellowship with God … Surrender is the source of freedom and fullness.’
Your sinful nature seeks to enslave you. Beware of the sin which so easily entangles (Heb. 12:1). Refusing Christ’s command to forgive enslaves you to bitterness. Over-eating doesn’t deliver the comfort it promises; it makes us feel deflated and helpless. Living to please people will leave you insecure. If your let you tongue speak without restraint you will leave a trail of broken relationships all around you. Keep people at an arm’s length and you will never experience the joy of being reconciled. Avoid leaving your comfort zone and you will remain weak and immature. Escape to a world of sexual or emotional fantasy and you will experience emptiness rather than intimacy. Get absorbed with endless television viewing and the real world will pass you by. God wants so much more for you! You were saved to be free—a slave who is free!2. God wants you to be a slave who is free.
In the Old Testament there were occasions where poverty-stricken Jews were forced to sell themselves into the service of their fellow Jews. But this was very different from our understanding of slavery. There were rules to ensure their well-treatment and they were to be freed at the end of six years. However, there was an unusual provision for those who loved their masters and wanted to remain on as their slaves. ‘If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything … But if the servant declares, “I love my master … and do not want to go free,” then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the door-post and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life’ (Exodus 21:1-6).
This slave was making a voluntary, lifetime and irrevocable commitment to be owned by the master that he loved. Such enslavement pictures the attitude of Christ and the call for us.
Jesus gladly subjected himself to the rule of the Father. From all eternity he who is co-equal with the Father and Holy Spirit placed himself under the authority of his Father. As he entered our world, his glory veiled, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant [literally ‘slave’] being made in human likeness, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). He said, ‘I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me’ (John 6:38). He explained that the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). Amazingly, when he returns in glory he will serve those who love him. ‘Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will make them recline at the table and will come and wait on them’ (Luke 12:35-37).
We too want to become slaves of our loving master because we love him. We serve, ‘in view of God’s mercy’ (Rom. 12:1). Christ has rescued us from sin and death, and poured his love into our lives. Our obedience to him is actually his gift to us—for we can only serve him in acceptable manner because we are forgiven and his Holy Spirit is now working in and through us. The psalmist implores us to ‘serve God with gladness’ (100:2). ‘In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome’ (1 John 5:3). God loves a cheerful giver, who sees the privilege in such service (2 Cor. 9:7). Jesus teaches us to abide in him that his joy may be in us and that our joy may be complete (John 15:11). ‘The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed’ (John Piper), for it honours God when we take delight in doing his will (Ps. 37:4). At the end of a life marked by tremendous suffering, the pioneer missionary Hudson Taylor said, ‘I never made a sacrifice.’ He counted it all as joy!
Jesus endured the cross, ‘for the joy that was set before him’ (Hebrews 12:2). He was motivated by future reward. Similarly, God woos us to obedience with gracious promises. He responds to the outworking of the grace of obedience with lavish rewards. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal’ (Matthew 6:19-20). ‘Love your enemies … and your reward will be great’ (Luke 6:35). ‘When you give a dinner or banquet … invite the poor … and you will be blessed … You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:12-14). ‘Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him’ (Heb. 11:6).
My problem with the so-called Prosperity Gospel is not that they promise rewards to those who give but that they promise the wrong rewards. The motivate people saying, ‘give to my ministry and God will grant you financial prosperity,’ but the New Testament warns of those who see godliness as a means of material gain and that ‘the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil’ (1 Tim. 6:10). They say that it is never God’s will for you to suffer, but the New Testament tells us to rejoice in our many trials makes our faith mature (James 1:2-4).
Finally, remember that surrendering to God isn’t simply about the great and noble sacrifice. It’s about gladly honouring God in a thousand little ways. One preacher explained that while we think of giving our all to God being like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table—“Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.” The reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there. We probably will not lay down our life as a martyr, but we can take up our cross with a million acts of joyful surrender.
Not being resentful when no one else offers to help tidy up, is a little act of surrender. Letting love cover of multitude of sins, rather than making a big deal about someone being rude to us, is a little act of surrender. Looking out for those who have no one to talk to after church is a little act of surrender. Listening well, rather than daydreaming as they talk to you, is a little act of surrender. ‘Realising that every act of obedience is significant in God’s economy and that it is for Him will add a sense of purpose and joy as we bring our sacrifices and offerings’ (Nancy Leigh DeMoss).