In the first statement of the first chapter of the book Follow Me, Jan David Hettinga writes: “The ultimate issue in the universe is leadership. Who you follow and what directs your life, is the single most important thing about you.” In the book, he describes the tension between living in the Kingdom of Self and living in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not a reference to a place with territory and boundaries. The Kingdom of God is referencing the reign of God – God’s lordship.
Often times the Kingdom of Self is the chief competitor to the Kingdom of God. Yes, there are times some external evil is the main problem, but most often it is us. I am what gets in the way of God fully reigning in my life. Jesus taught that a person cannot serve two masters. A person must let go of the Kingdom of Self in order to fully experience the Kingdom of God. The key word that best describes this process is: SURRENDER.
It is impossible to experience the Kingdom of God without surrender. I must let go of me: The things I cling to for value, significance and identity. Jesus showed an example of what surrender looks like when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He was crucified. Three different times He asked God to take away the responsibility of dying on the cross AND each time Jesus said, “Not my will, but yours be done.” He surrendered His own will (and body) in order for the reign of God to be fully present in Him and in this world.
The Locked Door
Several years ago I had a dream or a vision or a mental picture (whatever you want to call it) that had a major impact on my life. I pictured myself walking with God down a long narrow hallway with several doors on each side. We squared up in front of one of the doors. God tried to open the doors, but it was locked. I looked up and read the sign on the door. It said “Career.” For the first time in my life I realized that my career was off limits to God.
Up to that point, God had blessed me with a good career working for a good company. I had always rationalized my job by saying, “God has blessed me through this career and because of it I will be a blessing to others”. And I was. I gave to church, I helped support missionaries and I had financially helped under-resourced people. What I did not realize was a fear that was running in the back of my mind – a fear that God would take it away. So after saying “God you have blessed me through this career so I am blessing others.” I would mentally whisper to myself, “So don’t mess with it.”
Through this picture of a locked door, God was making it clear that I had not surrendered my career to His lordship. Now He wanted the key and He wanted control of that part of my life. So I gave Him the key. I surrendered my career over to God. I didn’t know what the implications would be, but I didn’t want anything to be off limits to Him. Except for my baptism, it was the most meaningful act of surrender in my life.
The Surrendering Process
The surrendering process involves three simple steps:
- Surrender everything you have to God – everything.
- Listen to what God has to say about it.
- Do whatever God says.
Very simple, but not easy. Maybe surrendering everything feels too overwhelming. If so, take surrendering one step at a time and start with one area of your life, or one decision or one day. Journaling has not been one of my strongest disciplines, but for a period of time when I did journal I would start out every entry with this simple prayer: “Dear God, You are Lord of my life, every part of it. I will follow wherever You lead.” There were some days those words were hard to write, but it was important for me to surrender one day at a time.
There are two primary movements to surrendering. The first movement is letting go of something – letting go of self, letting go of control, letting go of a dream, letting go of what I cling to for worth and significance. The second movement is submission to something – trust, faith, God’s promises, God’s love. Letting go of the Kingdom of Self and submitting to the reign and Kingdom of God.
Often times surrendering involves not knowing the outcome. When I gave God the key to the locked door labeled “Career,” I did not know what the implications would be. Was God going to ask me to stay on my career path or instead ask me to sell all my possessions and go live in a grass hut in Africa? I had no idea what was going to happen.
Grief and Surrender
If you have ever done any reading about grief, you will learn that grief is a process and it occurs in stages. The graphic below illustrates what the stages of grief can look like.
Here is the Big Idea: The surrendering process is a grief process. When a person surrenders, he or she will most likely go through the stages of grief: denial, anger, fear, isolation, new strengths, new patterns and hope. Surrendering is a process of letting go of control and giving that control over to God. Grieving is the stages of emotions one experiences after any kind of loss. Both of them are processes of letting go of the old before experiencing the new or even knowing what the new looks like.
Here’s the next Big Idea: The surrendering process is a death, burial and resurrection. It is a letting go of the old even before I know what the new may look like. Going back to my locked door vision, I was afraid of what would happen once I gave God the key to that door. I didn’t know if God would go in the room and simply look around or if He would go in the room and remodel the place. In the middle of the process I felt disoriented, confused and depressed.
Here’s the last Big Idea: The surrendering process is a transformation process. This surrendering business is not just a one-time conversion experience. For Christ followers, surrender is a way of life. In Luke 9:23 Jesus says, “And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” As Christ followers we are called to die to ourselves. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” Surrendering is be a rhythm of life for those living under the reign of God.
The Rest of the Story
Within a couple of months of giving God the key that day, I considered making a career change into full-time ministry. There is no way it would have been an option as long as that door was locked. Within five months God opened up an opportunity for me to make that change. Many people have asked if it was difficult to make the change from an engineering career to full-time ministry. I tell them the change was actually easy. God made it clear this was the direction He wanted me to go. The difficult part was surrendering – giving God the key that day. Once that was done, the rest was easy.
And because I gave God the key that day, I have been blessed in immeasurable ways. I would not have experienced Kingdom living as fully as I have if I hadn’t surrendered. I agree with Hettinga’s declaration: Leadership is the ultimate issue. I believe surrendering is the secret to living in the Kingdom of God.
- What do you have difficulty giving up control of in your life?
- Is there an area in your life that is not submitted to the Lordship of Jesus?
- What step can you take to begin to surrender that part to Jesus?
By Barry Thomas
Barry is Chairman of the Board for The Crucible Project. He has been a catalyst in bringing and growing our ministry throughout Texas. He is a senior operations engineer for Concho Resources in Midland, Texas. Prior to that, he served in ministry for 13 years at churches in Oklahoma City, Chicago and Midland. Barry holds a master’s of divinity from Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn. He also holds bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering from Colorado School of Mines. Barry completed his initial Crucible weekend in August, 2005.
Photo Credit: Alex Brown via Creative Commons