What Does Surrender Mean?

“The man or woman who is wholly or joyously surrendered to Christ can’t make a wrong choice – any choice will be the right one.” – A. W. Tozer

In American culture, surrender is rarely seen as a positive idea. It is commonly seen as giving up or losing. But to a Christian surrender is an act of faith: it is the first act for those coming to salvation, and a continual habit of those walking with Christ. To spiritually surrender means to let go of control and trust God with our present and future. Galatians 2:20 says, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

The returning prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 is a picture of what it means to surrender to God. The son gives up on his way of life and runs back to the father hoping to be a servant. His surrender is met with rewards beyond his expectations. He is received with open arms, lavish love, and a new life as a restored son.

Jesus lived a life of continual surrender to the Father. ”So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” (John 5:19). And as He said to the Father when the time came to surrender His life, “I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Luke 22:42).

Walking with Jesus means continual surrender, trusting that the God who made you has a plan for you and loves you. When you surrender to Christ, you aren’t surrendering your God-given identity and uniqueness. We surrender not for fear or threat, but in hope that the One to whom we surrender has a better life for us.  And that hope doesn’t disappoint.

In surrender, God may—or may not—give us what we want. But when we surrender, He always wants to give us Himself. When we surrender, we always receive what is best: the Lord Jesus.

Surrender isn’t about giving up; it’s about giving in to the One who knows what is best for us, to the One who knows us most and has a perfect plan.  Surrender is the only real way to experience His peace. It’s the only way to true joy.

“He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:30).

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is an area of your life that you know you need to surrender to God? 
  2. What might you be giving up if you do surrender that area to God? 
  3. Do you believe that surrendering to God could actually benefit you? How?

Fix Your Eye On The Goal

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.– Hebrews 12:1-2.

There is no way to quantify this fact, but the Hebrews 12 passage of scripture may be preached on more than all others (although there are hundreds of candidates). One reason is the comparison between the Christian journey and a race. The other is because it applies to every believer.  Every believer could testify that there are things in our life that distract, hinders, or tangles us from heeding the call of God.  

But this passage will also help us refocus our attention on Christ. Taking our eyes off Jesus is one of the easiest things we do while keeping our eyes on Jesus is rarely an easy thing. Culture and the enemy are constantly conspiring against our efforts to remain faithful to the Savior. We can allow the cares of this world to push us away from the Lord instead of looking to Him in the midst of our trials and circumstances of life. This was the danger faced by the original audience of Hebrews. Their trials and circumstances were seen as reasons to abandon the race.  

That is why the author of Hebrews reminds us to look to Jesus. As we remember our Savior and His endurance for the sake of the prize, we will be enabled to press on and finish the race. Looking to Jesus, however, does not mean we do nothing ourselves. The remainder of the book of Hebrews focuses on those things that can be done to prepare us for the race ahead. As we follow the commands given by the author, the Holy Spirit will work through us and cause us to cling to Jesus.

When you are running a long distance, it is easy to get discouraged and frustrated that you are nowhere near the finish line. Often you cannot even see the finish line from where you are. But as a runner, you need to keep your eyes on the road ahead. When you start to get discouraged and look elsewhere, you slow down, you begin to doubt you can finish, and you begin to struggle.

But when you keep looking forward to the finish, you remain focused. So whenever you get discouraged or frustrated—feeling like you want to quit—fix your eyes on Jesus. Keep your eyes on Him, and He will keep you right on track to where you need to go.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what area of your life are you successful at looking forward and being faithful? What are some practical ways you can apply your approach to an area of life in which you’re tempted to look backward and be fearful? 
  2. What is one thing you can do to fix your eyes on Jesus instead of safety, security, and comfort? How can this group support you?

 

Having The Heart Of A Servant

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”- Matthew 20:28.

It is not all that unusual to be driving along and encountering a person on the corner of the street holding a little cardboard sign. If you live in a city then you probably have seen people with cardboard signs on a regular basis. The fundamental question is what should we do when we pass by them on the street? 

The fact of the matter is that our hearts should break in compassion for those who are struggling. The Bible is also very clear about helping the poor. We are to have compassion for those who are suffering and show them grace. Proverbs 14:21 says, “It is a sin to belittle one’s neighbor; blessed are those who help the poor.”

Our calling is clear, we need to be gracious. But people with cardboard signs present us with a dilemma. How do we know that the person asking is actually in need? And how do we know if they will use our money the right way? Will they buy liquor or cigarettes?  If I give this person money will it help them for one day or will it help him or her at all? 

We sit in the car weighing the possibilities. Questions fog up our heads. We become conflicted by sometimes equal yet opposite views of the choices in what to do. We could give the person some money. But too often we often find ourselves torn and unable to make a choice. So we choose not to make a choice at all. In other words, our fear of doing the wrong thing stops us from doing anything, which precludes us from serving anyone at all.

We can serve others well when we actively decide to take on the role of a servant. When we study the life of Jesus, we find countless examples where He took on the role of the servant. From choosing to wash the feet of His disciples to the very decision of coming to earth and living as an ordinary human, Christ continually humbled himself for the sake of others and switched places with people in the lowliest of positions. If we want to be like Jesus, we need to remember that, in God’s eyes, everyone else is just as important as us.

By simply taking the position, what can I do today to serve, we’re opening ourselves up to a world of needs, not just the ones that are convenient or fit nicely into the time we’ve allotted to help. But the act of caring might not always require big, dramatic action. Caring for another person might mean going against what’s on the planned agenda or stopping to give a homeless man or woman a few dollars. The more time we spend examining what it means to serve others well, it comes down to having a servant’s heart. Serving others means seeing them as valuable and worthy to serve and be served, simply because God views them that way even if they are standing on a corner with a cardboard sign. 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your definition of servanthood?
  2. What hurdles do you have serving others?
  3. What must you do, beginning today, to acquire an authentic heart of a servant?

What Kind Of Legacy Are You Leaving Behind?

“As the time of King David’s death approached, he gave this charge to his son Solomon: “I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’ – 1 Kings 2:1-4.

As we walk through life, we make an impression on the people around us–we leave footprints where we walk. The footprints that we make in life are our legacy. A legacy is inevitable. You will pass things down to the next generation. Even if you don’t have much materially to leave behind, you will instill character traits, talents, hobbies, skills, and more in your children and grandchildren. But how valuable will your legacy be? 

In 1 Kings 2:1-4, David is about to die.  Solomon was the son of David who would inherit the throne from his father. David’s life was marked by sin and poor decisions he made as a king. As he gets ready to pass the baton of leadership on to Solomon, he encourages his son not to make some of the same mistakes he had made. Despite his failures, David was still a man after God’s own heart. In this text, David passes on words of godly wisdom to his son. History would prove his words to be wise. David closes his final talk with his son by reminding him that if he does all of these things, he will prosper, and one of his descendants will always sit on the throne.

Nobody who leaves a great legacy lives a selfish life. Jesus told us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. The world preaches a different message, but if you understand your eternal inheritance, you will be more generous with your earthly inheritance. Your life will be about serving others with your time, talents, and treasures. He wants us to invest in others for His and their sake.

Be a blessing to others this week. Has a colleague confided that she feels overwhelmed and grieved by her current circumstances? Invite him for coffee and share where you find hope when life is hard. Do you have a friend who is wrestling with her faith? Be a safe space for her to talk through her struggles, gently guiding her to seek out our heavenly Father. Maybe a family member decided that church and God “just isn’t for them.” Prayerfully consider writing them a note of encouragement, letting them know they are always welcome in the Lord’s house.

The greatest legacy ever left on this earth started about two thousand years ago and still lives on today.  Jesus came to this earth and lived a life worthy of praise. His legacy brought freedom and redemption for all the generations to come. Your legacy can change lives, it can change the course of future events, and it can even change the world.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What would you list as the characteristics of a lasting legacy?
  2. Read 2 Timothy 4:1-8: Spend a few minutes thinking about the legacy you would like to leave.
  3. What are some changes that need to take place today to move you back toward a legacy of loving God and loving others?

The Need For Horizontal Relationships

“When I have learned to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.” – C.S. Lewis. 

Many people seem to think of Christianity solely as their own personal relationship with God. That personal relationship with God is essential in true Christianity, but it is also not the whole story. Our goal in life should be knowing Christ above everything and from there letting Jesus affect our relationships. Basically, we should work on our vertical relationship and then let the love of that relationship influence the horizontal relationships we have with those around us.

Jesus told us that the Great Commandment is that we love God. “…‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38) The vertical aspect is indispensable to our faith. We must be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Knowing and loving Him is the primary goal. But Jesus also said “ a second is equally important”:“love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)  Here He reminds us that our faith is not only about our vertical relationship with God, but also very much about our horizontal relationships with others.

As we read the Bible we see God reinforcing this idea that we need horizontal relationships. Face-to-face relationships are so important that God sent Jesus to be like us, among us, as Emmanuel, God with us. And in a prophetic promise of this plan and purpose, He said through the prophet Isaiah: “I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness. I will take you by the hand and guard you, and I will give you to my people, Israel, as a symbol of my covenant with them. And you will be a light to guide the nations. You will open the eyes of the blind. You will free the captives from prison, releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.” (Isaiah 42:6-7)

Christians need to focus on both the vertical and the horizontal if we are to become what God intended us to be. Statistics are staggering of the number of people who don’t have someone they feel they can confide in. In other words, they don’t believe they have people they can be authentic with.

Christianity is very much about loving God — but it is also very much about loving His people. Be a blessing to somebody this week.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is everything in my horizontal life the overflow of a vibrant vertical love relationship with Jesus?
  2. What would my life and ministry look like if I focused on my vertical relationship first and then learned to adapt that relationship to my horizontal relationships?

God is With You…Every Step Along The Way

“ For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” – Zephaniah 3:17

A. W. Tozer once said that ”Always, everywhere God is present, and always He seeks to discover Himself to each one.” God is always there. Psalm 139:7-8 says, “I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.”

God is literally everywhere. He fills all space and time. He is with you every step of every day. Wherever we are, whatever our situation, God is there. When we’re in the hospital or at home, He is there. When the sun is shining or when it’s raining, God is there. God never changes. Jesus is with you—today, yesterday, and forever. No matter what you’re facing. No matter the sorrow past or present, He is here, grieving with us, celebrating with us, growing and filling us with His Spirit, and helping us take steps forward with hope. He never takes his eyes off of us. He never leaves us alone. He never forsakes us. Matthew 28:20 says, “…and be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Deuteronomy 31:8 says, “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

It is a mistake to think God is there for the really big things. He is there in all things. Maybe He spoke to the human resources manager who hired you. Maybe He caused you to pause at an intersection and miss an accident. Maybe He helped you with that calculus problem. Maybe He put you in the right small group that helped you grow. Maybe He was in that glorious rainbow glowing through the dark clouds after a storm.

Whatever you need. Whatever you face. Whatever is on your mind. God is there. You can’t get in a bind that God can not get you out of. You can’t get into a mess that God can not deliver you from. God is always there, despite how we see our situations, despite how we react to our shortcomings, and despite how we feel about our struggles. He’s going to help you. He’s going to strengthen you. He’s going to encourage you.

There is no checklist of solitude or calm required for God’s presence to attend to your weary soul. He is here, now. He is with you always. You are not alone, and you never will be. In your innermost being, He is there. He always has been and always will be with you every step along the way.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How does it feel to know that no matter how you may be feeling, God is with you and completely understands how you feel?
  2.  Since His word is a constant reminder that He is with us through everything, how has it been going for you with spending time in His Word? What changes might you need to make?

Focus On Jesus

“Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”“Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”- Matthew 14:28-31

Matthew’s account of Peter walking on water is one of the most widely known stories in the Bible. How crazy must that have been to witness? But some people criticize Peter because he began to sink. But none of the critics, or anyone for that matter, have repeated his feat. Peter was willing to put it all on the line. He and the other disciples had been straining against the waves and wind all night long when Jesus appeared to them, walking on the water. Peter was willing to literally step onto the water because He was looking at Jesus. That gave him confidence and courage. Peter’s eyes were locked on Jesus and for however long it lasted, Peter walked on water.

You might think that Peter should have enough evidence now that he has walked on water and gotten close enough to Jesus that He could reach out a helping hand that he could trust Jesus to sustain him, but he sank in fear.

No matter how far out on the water a person may be, how much they seem to have trusted Christ with their life, they are still liable to fear.  They are strong wind and high seas away from sinking in doubt. The problem was Peter stopped looking at Jesus. The focus of his attention shifted from Jesus to the storm – he saw the wind the waves and panic and feelings of inadequacy took over. “He was terrified and began to sink” The takeaway is clear: look for Jesus and keep looking to Jesus.  

Peter demonstrated how most Christians respond to fear and uncertainty. First, we are afraid. Then, we sense that God is in control and will take care of us and we are emboldened. We step out in faith. But then as trials and circumstances swirl around us, we begin to take our focus off the Lord and focus on the perils around us. As a result, we start to feel overwhelmed. 

The Christian life is a step-by-step process that requires our focus to remain upon Christ. If we start looking around and becoming distracted by worldly things, we will fall. And often, it does not take very long, sometimes just a matter of seconds, to go from confident faith to overwhelming doubt. In the end, though, God is there for us. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you imagine what it must have been like to walk on water? 
  2. What can we do this week to better focus on Jesus? 

Having A Sense Of Urgency

“Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and head across the lake to Bethsaida, while he sent the people home. After telling everyone good-bye, he went up into the hills by himself to pray.” – Mark 6:45-46. 

“Immediately” is an often used word in the gospel of Mark. The word is designed to convey the urgency of Jesus’ message and mission. God wants us all to have a sense of urgency, not hurry, about living the life He created us for. Jesus modeled this urgent lifestyle flawlessly. He knew that there was a mission that He had been sent to accomplish and that His time was limited to do so. We see this emphasized in John 4 when Jesus refused to stop and eat as He saw the opportunity to minister to a Samaritan village. 

His disciples urged Him, “Rabbi, eat something.”But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest….” So when the Samaritans came to him…because of his words, many more became believers.” (John 4:30-35, 40-41 NIV)

Jesus recognized this as an opportunity to do exactly what God sent Him to do. Jesus was never hurried. He was flexible, present, and sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. His eternal mission was His focus. His apostles were human and as a result, were hurried. They were preoccupied with the cares of life. They were trying to manage numerous tasks and obligations which is why Jesus’ response was so different. 

Did Jesus have a full schedule sometimes? Yes. Were there more people that wanted His attention than He had time to see?  Yes, again. But none of those things drew Him off course. He was never overwhelmed or hurried to the point where He lost His focus and stepped outside of His mission.

Nothing mattered but being in the center of His Father’s will. Thus He was ready to minister to the Samaritans. As a result, an entire community heard the gospel, and by the way, nobody starved in the process. We as Christians can learn that busyness is not a badge of honor. It usually means that our attention is divided across more responsibilities than we can effectively deal with. This is not what it looks like to live with urgency.

We look at a sense of urgency differently today. Urgency is stressful. It’s often addictive as we find ourselves constantly reacting to outside demands. Urgency can temporarily appeal to your sense of worth and purpose and create a sense of “getting things done.” But that is temporary because living a hectic life while constantly abandoning your goals to keep multiple balls in the air can sidetrack you from your real purpose. A sense of urgency comes from a clear understanding of one’s purpose. 

Discussion Questions

  1. What does having a sense of urgency for the lost mean to you? 
  2. What can you do this week to seize the opportunities God gives us?

Discovering Your Identity

” But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12  

Do you ever feel you are right smack dab in the middle of an identity crisis? While everyone around you is pursuing their passions and chasing their dreams, you’re just trying to make sense of who you are and what you’re supposed to be doing with your life. It doesn’t help that you see the achievements of the people around you. For example, one man you know started a flourishing company while a woman you know became a fighter pilot after graduating from college.

Perhaps, this is the reason the internet is bursting with personal development courses. Seeking to reach our full potential, we opt into the “how-to” topics such as: breaking through obstacles to manifest your best life, increasing your confidence and self-esteem, discovering your hidden potential, and mastering life through happiness, health and success. 

It is easy to associate our actions with our identity. But that is not what God does. Our culture may draw a line from our work to our worth, but God has another identity for us, one that’s unchanging and independent of our actions. It’s as His chosen and beloved child. John 1:12 says, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

God’s acceptance of us, and hence our identity, is not defined by our actions. So we will never be a “failure” or “disappointment” when our performance doesn’t match our expectations. The only thing that matters is what our Heavenly Father thinks about us. And that is unchanging. Once we really believe this truth, our identity will be unshakable.

The Bible is replete with examples of people following Jesus. No longer were they harlots, vagabonds, tax collectors, or society’s outcasts. They were chosen by the Lord. They were accepted. And they were necessary. 

You are chosen by God. Remembering whose we are and that He chose us brings the entire picture into a better light. When we acknowledge ourselves as God’s children and understand His great love for us, we embrace grace. We no longer feel trapped by our past choices, our upbringing, or our social status. We are not manipulated into being someone we are not based on the voices around us or the ones inside our heads. We can let all that go because we belong to Jesus. You no longer need to stand on your personal merits or achievements. Your identity is found in Christ alone. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “ But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” 

Just as Jesus called His disciples to identify with Him, He calls us to do the same. Follow Him. Serve Him. Belong to Him. In doing so, we are choosing to find our identity in Him and in no other. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. The only way we grow in our identity in Christ is by seeking the Lord because He is the one who restores and transforms us. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. According to Ephesians 1:4, what truth should be fully realized in order to find identity in Christ?

Do We Need To Be Lifelong Learners?

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” – Philippians 1:6.

Lifelong learning has grown in importance over the last few years. Rather than restricting education to college or formal training, lifelong learners continue to grow knowledge and understanding over time. The idea of lifelong learning should be no surprise to the Christian. Centuries before this way of thinking became in vogue, Jesus told his followers to become lifelong learners of him. He called it discipleship.

Our purpose, as Christians today is the same as in biblical times. We must never stop learning about and from Jesus. Paul said, “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)  Another translation puts it this way, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (ESV)

We will never follow Jesus perfectly, but day by day, month by month, year by year, we learn from Him and become more like Him as He transforms us by his Spirit. Philippians 1:6 is comforting: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished. . .” Yes, we have the great promise of completion, but there is an additional line: “…on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” The loop of learning doesn’t close today or tomorrow but could well last a lifetime.  

The focal point and center of our lifelong learning is the person and work of Christ. All things are in Him, through Him, and for Him. “He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.” (Colossians 1:17).  The heart of lifelong learning for the Christian is not merely digging deeper into the seemingly bottomless store of information there is to learn about the world and humanity and history. The center of lifelong learning for the Christian is knowing God Himself through the gospel word and the written word of the Scriptures. But you can’t say you have a high view of scripture and then ignore it. You need to put it into practice.

Lifelong learning of God’s Word is something God commands us to do, but it is not a burden. Instead, we are to abide in God’s Word in our habits, thoughts, actions, and words in a variety of ways throughout life. Never stop learning. Nourish your relationship with God every day. Keep on growing in His grace—and your lifelong learning of His truth.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does lifelong learning mean to you?  
  2. What can we do to ensure that we never stop learning?