About That Pesky Word “Surrender”

A lot of people have trouble with the word “surrender.” Throughout my years as a pastor, whenever I talk about this idea of ‘surrendering to God,’ there is a regular theme of people asking me to clarify how that works. Like what does that really mean? One picture that might be helpful is the image of sailing. When you’re sailing, you could ask, is “being filled with the wind” an experience or a habit? Is surrendering to God an experience or a habit? Actually, it is both. Catching the wind on a sailboat is clearly an experience. Tim and I had a sailboat on Lake Dillon in Frisco for a few years, and we didn’t really know how to sail, but I vividly remember that first feeling of being seized and carried forward by a mighty power from elsewhere. But my sister’s fiance is really into sailing, and so I know from him that sailing is also a habit. If you don’t put the sails up, pull the mainsheet fast, or adjust the jib, you won’t go anywhere, even if the wind is blowing powerfully.

Sailing is the art of attentiveness & response to an external power. You rely entirely on the external power to get you anywhere. Sailors never imagine themselves to be powering the boat by their own strength. But you also have to respond attentively to whatever the wind is doing, which comes through cultivating awareness, skill, and good habits. 

Being filled with the Spirit involves the same both-and. We pursue the experience of the Holy Spirit, we want it, we desire it, we ask for it – we are looking for it like a sailor looks for the wind. We rely entirely on the Spirit’s power, rather than our own strength, to get us anywhere. AND we also develop habits. We respond attentively to what the spirit is doing in and through us. We pay attention. We develop the capacity to experience the filling of the holy spirit through awareness, skill, and practice. The ancient scriptures mention 3 habits that help us in becoming more attentive to the spirit. 

In Ephesians 5:18-21 we read, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,  always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Here we see 3 habits for catching the wind of God’s spirit. The habits simply are:

  1. Speaking words of life to each other
  2. Singing
  3. Giving thanks

It seems so simple! Almost too simple. Perhaps our educated minds seek to make it more complicated than this, more complicated than it is. Being filled with the spirit is about attuning our lives to an outside power and even a child can do it!

May you surrender to that outside power, and develop the practices that allow you to be filled with the Spirit of love – that is the Spirit of God – today.

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