In a ward testimony meeting, a good brother said that he was thinking about the new year and having a conversation with God. As he considered his plans for the year, God presented him with the key question: “What are the terms of your surrender?”
What a vital question for all of us: What are the terms of our surrender? In other words, what conditions will we impose on our surrender to God? What limits will we put on His influence? Are we willing to give ourselves fully to Him—to make an unconditional surrender?
I suspect that we all put limiting conditions on our surrender. “I am willing to do anything you want—except serve as scout leader.” “I love Thee completely—but please don’t ask me to get along with my husband.” “I want to please Thee in every way—but I hate to waste my time with home teaching.”
This reminds me of the surrender rituals at the end of most wars. It is common for the vanquished to put conditions on their surrender, conditions that essentially mean that they are not surrendering. They know they cannot win but are not really willing to surrender. They want things their way. Often we do the same with God. We know we cannot flourish without Him, but we only want Him to run our lives on our conditions.
Three Levels of Willingness
I think I have discovered three levels of willingness to surrender. There is the area of obedience—that area where we already do as God invites. “I attend church gladly.” “I teach my classes joyously.” “I love to serve in the temple.”
Most of us have too much in a second area, that of rebellion—areas where we actively resist God. Maybe we figure that, if we go to church, we should be able to watch televised sports the rest of the Sabbath. When our conscience pricks us, we smite it. Maybe we watch movies or use language that we know to be wrong yet we justify it to ourselves. We know we need to forgive but we nurture grudges and resentments toward certain people. We know that lustful thoughts hide out in our minds and hearts, but we do not evict them.
Between our areas of obedience and rebellion is a vast wasteland that I call the area of neglect. In this part of our lives we do not actively sin but we do not actively repent and move towards greater godliness. We treat home teaching as a check-list item and only do the mere basics. While sitting in sacrament meeting, we feel inspired to help Sister So-and-so, but we never get around to it. We know we should spend more time with family members, but we postpone it to a better time. We believe in missionary work, but are reluctant to share the gospel with those we know. We are content to stay at our current level of spirituality and resist asking God what we should do to bring us closer to godliness.
There are many things we know we should do or not do that we simply ignore. These acts may not be terrible sins, but they are termites in our foundation gnawing away at our structures. For those of us who consider ourselves active in the church this may be the biggest area of danger. We lull ourselves into complacency believing we can remain in our comfort zones. Thus we limit the Lord’s ability to bless us and help us achieve growth.
We want to surrender to God—but we want to write the terms and specify the conditions.
Sometimes this holding-back is due to a lack of trust. We figure that He is “the sort of person who is always snooping round to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, MacMillan, 1960, p. 69). Satan loves this lie. If Old Scratch can convince us that God is a solemn, miserly old guy, no one will trust Him. No one will turn to Him for help. Satan does not want us to know that God is the most gracious and joyous person in the universe.
Placing conditions on our surrender is frequently a manifestation of some measure of pride. “I know what’s better for my life than You do!” In contrast, “when our heart is in the right place, we do not complain that our assigned task is unworthy of our abilities. We gladly serve wherever we are asked” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Pride and the Priesthood, Nov. 2010 Ensign, p.58).
Or we may resist surrender due to fear. We are afraid that He will ask something of us that will stretch us beyond our current abilities or comfort level.
Fortunately God is very determined. He has given most of us mortal lives that will span decades so that we have unnumbered opportunities to learn that joy comes in choosing His way—in total obedience and complete surrender.
His Arm is Stretched Out Still
When we feel invited to surrender some of our rebellion or neglect, we may initially feel insecure and anxious. Rather than skitter away to the supposed safety of self-sufficiency or inaction, we can call on God for help: “Lord, I want to be better. Help me with my unbelief and hard-heartedness.”
The same Sunday that the ward member talked about terms of surrender, I had an unexpected joy. I was passing through the almost-empty foyer when I saw a young woman who is pregnant out of wedlock. She has had a very wild couple of years. She has been distant from God and her family. She seemed very sober as I approached her and asked how she was doing. She began to cry. “I just met with the bishop.” “Did he have bad news for you?” “No.” She battled the tears. “He told me that I may be ready to start taking the sacrament again.” I began to weep with her. A girl who had no interest in God a few weeks ago now appreciates the sacred gift of redemption. It is when we discover our brokenness that we come to appreciate the Great Healer.
We may resist God for years. We may stake out areas of our lives where we forbid Him to enter. Yet He will patiently knock at the door. Though we may resist Him, the challenges of life will wear us down and may open us up.
God wants full and unconditional surrender from each of us. There is only one reason He wants such surrender: Because He knows that those are the conditions for receiving the blessings of eternity. Surrender is the path to joy and godliness.
I conclude with President Benson’s stirring invitation: “May we be convinced that Jesus is the Christ, choose to follow Him, be changed for Him, captained by Him, consumed in Him, and born again I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen” (Ezra Taft Benson, “Born of God,” Ensign, Nov. 1985).
You may be interested in Brother Goddard’s YouTube videos about the atonement or his books such as Soft-Spoken Parenting, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, and Between Parent and Child (the Ginott classic which he revised). For more information about his books and programs, visit <a href="http://www.
<hr class=’system-pagebreak’ ></a><hr class=’system-pagebreak’ ></a><hr class=’system-pagebreak’ ></a>familycollege.com/”>www.FamilyCollege.com or www.DrWally.org
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful contributions to this article.