Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27)
Surrender to God cannot be achieved merely on a theoretical basis. It must have something concrete behind it.
Like obeying our parents as children, obedience must always have a specific matter behind it, something they have told us to do. And on the specific and concrete matters of life do we surrender to God.
We have a problem with a theoretical Christianity. Charlie Brown of Peanuts once said, “I love humanity; it’s people I can’t stand.” Just as the concrete realities of unpleasant body odors, the sights and sounds of societies, the unkind words that proceed from mouths, slovenly habits, insensitive and selfish actions make us as individuals more difficult to love, so the command to take up our cross and follow Christ is made difficult not by the theory of the idea but by the specific nature of applying it.
Oswald Chambers wrote:
There is only one thing you can consecrate to God, and that is your right to yourself (Romans 12:1). If you will give God your right to yourself, He will make a holy experiment out of you. God’s experiments always succeed. The one mark of a saint is the moral originality which springs from abandonment to Jesus Christ.
In Streams in the Desert we read:
There is a good deal of mere mental and logical sanctification nowadays, which is only a religious fiction. It consists of mentally putting one’s self on the altar, and then mentally saying the altar sanctifies the gift, and then logically concluding therefore one is sanctified; and such an one goes forth with a gay, flippant, theological prattle about the deep things of God.
The great daily need in our lives is to learn the benefit of difficult challenges, and to use them to put real teeth into what it means to surrender to God. Again, from Streams in the Desert:
So few are willing to undergo the suffering out of which thorough gentleness comes. We must die before we are turned into gentleness, and crucifixion involves suffering; it is a real breaking and crushing of self, which wrings the heart and conquers the mind.
Your Cross to Bear
True abandonment must have something specific to abandon. True surrender must have something specific to surrender. A cross to bear must have something specific about it. We will only know complete surrender as we deal with actual concrete circumstances in life. So God allows these things to come into our lives so that we might grow through them. But the specific cross or the concrete circumstance we deal with is always the more minor and transitory issue. The great matter is that I learned to surrender my heart to God.
Again, like a child learning to obey his parent – the specific matter of obedience is not as important as the child learning to trust and obey his parent. And in the same analogy, what to a child might seem like a very significant matter, such as going over to Johnny’s house to play, later as the child matures is understood to have been completely unimportant. It was the trust and the discipline of obedience that were the weightier matters.
Taking the Cross to Calvary
Crosses must be concrete, but be careful! Some limited thinking has taken this teaching of Christ and made it only about carrying our burdens. People speak of their “crosses to bear” but they never get to Calvary. They stay right there on their own via dolorosa complaining about how hard their life is. This idea misunderstands the original meaning of Christ’s words. Cross were not burdens to bear in Jesus’ day. They were instruments of cruel crucifixions. To take up one’s cross was not to merely endure a trial, but it was to carry it to the place where you were nailed to it and left to die.
Do not use the unpleasant things in your life as tokens to carry with you. We all do our share of complaining, but there is something much better to do with our problems than complain about them. Let God use them as He intended and let them be cross you carry all the way to Calvary. You may pray, “God, this person (or situation or circumstance) seems an incredible burden to me. I feel all alone in my misery, abandoned by those who should support me, and unnoticed by others. But if in this circumstance I can learn to surrender to you, then not my will but your will be done.”
Some people just get bitter through their problems. Those who get better through them learn this matter of surrender to God. If we do surrender, then we give God the opportunity to do something God-sized in our hearts, to truly change us inwardly. David prayed, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2). That rock is the place where in the midst of your challenges you surrender your heart to God.
A Fellow Missionary’s Testimony
A missionary colleague of mine several years ago shared this personal story – I will leave names out, both the missionary’s and the foreign land in which he served.
For several week he had been dealing with the difficulties of trying to get government permission for a children’s home, and was returning to his home after spending a very frustrating time in that nation’s capital. It had been a long day of dealing with crowds, strange odors, and corrupt public officials, as well as the frustrations of travel.
The final leg of his journey home was a twenty minute taxi ride, with a rather chatty driver. The driver asked him what he did for a living and the missionary told him. Then the driver asked him how he liked living there, and the missionary the “proper answer,” and said that they loved living there and that they loved the people there, even though that was not what he was feeling at the moment.
Then the taxi driver asked, “What do you love about us?”
The missionary was struck by the question and he said to me that at that moment he could not think of a single thing he loved about the people. It troubled him that he really did not like the people or the place.
After he got home he went to his study to pray and confessed to God that he really did not love the people. God seemed to say to his heart, “I did not send you because you love them, but because I love them.”
Those frustrations and difficulties led the missionary to take that cross and go to Calvary and die to himself. This gave God the opportunity to put in the missionary’s heart something infinitely greater than the missionary’s love – God’s own love for the world. We will never be able to be true channels of God’s love until we learn to lean upon Him in faith and surrender.