One of the hardest and most significant days of 2017 (and my whole life probably) was my birthday that year. I was so unsure of how to approach my grief and hope and longing with the LORD. I didn’t trust yet. I didn’t trust Him enough to let go of all my fear and actually believe Him. I wanted to have bold faith, to walk in fearless obedience, but my heart looked a lot more like the Israelite sojourners fearfully headed to their promised land, crying out, it would have better for us to die in our slavery than to be brought to this HUGE problem that requires enormous faith.
But I fought hard against the temptation to fall into the darkness of self-pity. Through the tears and anguish, as I got ready that morning, I began to pray, “Lord, show me what to think, how to feel, what to do.”
And that’s when I started thinking about Jacob wrestling the Lord through the night as he awaited the threat of his brother’s approaching army (see Genesis 32).
I didn’t see the connection at first (I had never understood that story). But that was the only scripture coming to me and it had stayed with me all morning. I decided to go read the story, and there I found a powerful invitation from the LORD. “Wrestle Me,” He said, “and don’t let go unless I bless you.”
Now, I had no idea, at first, what to do with this. I was having a hard enough time understanding praying persistently, but wrestling God and refusing to let go, this seemed downright wrong. I couldn’t understand. Wasn’t I supposed to humbly accept God’s will?
I couldn’t seem to get over the fact that God seemed pleased that Jacob didn’t let go even after getting his hip thrown out of socket and hearing the man of God say, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” And to this Jacob replies, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And so God blesses him.
Now my relationship with God had never looked anything like this. I couldn’t imagine, continuing to wrestle with God once Jacob realized who he was dealing with, and I especially would not have refused to let go after having been told to “let go, for the day has broken.”
I started to think how much of my relationship with God was defined by “surrender”. But there was no surrender happening here with Jacob… and this pleased God? Hmmm.
The more I thought about this, the more I tried to recall verses about surrender. And you know what? I couldn’t. I could think of songs and books, and lots of conversations among Christians that have held the theme of surrender, but I could not think of a single Bible verse about surrendering to God. So I decided to do a search throughout the Bible. I searched many translations, using Bible software and never once could I find a verse where the word “surrender” was used in reference to our relationship with God. The word occurs a mere handful of times (it varies depending on the translation) and always in reference to giving up and giving in to an enemy force that has overtaken someone. This domineering force is never God in the Scriptures. To my utter surprise I discovered that “surrendering to God”, (at least the limp, non-active posture it evoked in me) was not actually a biblical idea.
Now, of course there are many verses dealing with “submission” to God. But submission and surrender are words that hold very different connotations. In my imagination, surrender is a type of giving up, a hands off and a step away from whatever the problem is. Submission, on the other hand, is a coming under God’s authority and an aligning of wills from a position of humility and action. Submission is a stepping closer and a working with God from under the covering of Hs authority.
This realization blew my mind. Just this simple word shift from “surrender” to “submission” has changed the way I daily interact with God. It has changed the way I pray and move and act.
Three times that day I caught myself facing the difficult in my heart and saying to God, “Lord I surrender this to you.” And essentially tried to hand it off so that I didn’t have to deal with it anymore. But each time I caught it, and asked God, “or do you want me to submit rather than surrender? Okay, then Lord, show me where you are working and leading here, how can I align my will with yours?”
When I surrender something, I try to hand it off and walk away only to face it again and again, because the problems aren’t going away. When I submit, I begin to move in action and purpose toward victory from under the authority of the One who is covering and leading me.
I think my understanding of surrender produced some weird version of humility where I keep an unnecessary distance between God and I, bowing my head and saying “your will be done not mine” over and over again as I back away and duck out of sight. This is not the relationship God desires with me. When Jesus’ prayed “your will be done and not mine,” it was not a prayer prayed from the distant unknowing of what God’s will was. Jesus knew exactly what God’s will was for him that night. When he said, “Your will not mine,” there was nothing passive about that statement, rather it was the bravest moment of submission the world has ever seen.
Submission understands humility much better. The humility of submission does not come through distance but through familiarity and understanding of authority and power that is only increased through intimacy. Submission is always a coming under and moving closer. It is an agreement of wills and an acting upon them from your respective position. I cannot know God’s will unless I step in close enough to hear it.
So back to Jacob. Jacob did not surrender because he knew, this man he was wrestling and his blessing was the only hope he had of surviving the the army of 400 men the next morning and saving his family from certain death. Somehow, at some point in the night Jacob became aware of who he was dealing with and he knew that this man had the power to simply speak a blessing and his situation would be altered. He submitted to this man’s greater power and authority by not letting go, but depending fully on this man’s blessing.
And so a new pattern of victory and humility was created in my heart that day. A pattern of living as if Jesus really is my only hope. I began to wrestle Him and it was different than the tormented, confused kind of wrestling I had been familiar with. This was a wrestling that was beginning to trust in the power and love of my God. This was a wrestling that was growing determined to see victory. This was a wrestling that would not let go until I saw the glory of God.