Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly – the best of everything, the highest honors – because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch, because he embraced the company of the lowest. He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many, he took up the cause of all the black sheep.
– Isaiah 53:12 MSG
When Jesus died on the cross, God was starting a transaction. He was saying, “I know you have a lot on your shoulders. I know it’s heavy. I know it’s hard. Here, I’m willing to buy it all from you. I’ll buy the pain, the suffering. I’ll buy the difficulty and the heartache. I’ll take all of it. I’ll take it all. You just have to let me.”
Surrendering is completing that transaction, and giving up our life to God.
Now, this is a bit easier when things are tough, when finances are low and friendships are hard and life hurts. That stuff we don’t mind letting go of so much. The thing is, Jesus didn’t just die to take our pain and our bad days and our sin. He bought us in full. He’ll take all that bad stuff, but He wants the rest, too.
You surrender for the first time when you recognize your need for a Savior and begin to follow Jesus. Then you just have to keep doing it over and over. As you recognize areas of your life that you are holding control of or trying to handle on your own, you give them up to Him. That’s the secret to the Christian walk; it’s not hard. You just have to give up everything.
To some this might seem like a prison sentence, giving up everything and living for Jesus. But it’s just the opposite of that. Imagine if you never had to make another major decision in your life. Imagine that every time a big choice came along – like where to work or who to marry or how to spend your money or anything – there was someone you could go to and ask “What do you want me to do?” and you knew that whatever He told you would end up being the best possible choice you could have made. And you would know it’s always the best possible choice because Romans 8 tells us…
We are assured and know that all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.
– Romans 8:28 AMP
When I was praying about surrender, God led me to Psalm 23 to show me a bit about himself and our relationship with Him. Here is what He showed me through it.
1. The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack.
This is an analogy. If Jesus is our Shepherd, then we are what? We’re all just a bunch of sheep. And sheep can be dumb sometimes. Sheep wouldn’t survive long without the Shepherd. Here’s an example from the very deep and spiritual…BBC News:
Friday, July 8, 2005 – Turkish Sheep Die In “Mass Jump”
Turkish shepherds watched in horror as hundreds of their sheep followed each other over a cliff, say Turkish newspaper reports.
First one sheep went over the cliff edge, only to be followed by the whole flock, according to the reports.
More than 400 sheep died in the 50-foot fall – their bodies cushioning the fall of 1,100 others who followed.
Simply put, we don’t always know what is best for us. Like a flock of sheep, we need to depend on the Shepherd to make it through life. Thankfully He is a Good Shepherd and while He is watching over us we will lack nothing. And if you lack nothing that means that the Shepherd has provided everything you need.
2. He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters, he refreshes and restores my life.
Jesus doesn’t stop at merely providing for us, but He leads us to where the best will be found. He told us He would do this in John 10:10-11:
I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows). I am the Good Shepherd.
3. He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him – not for my earning it, but] for His name’s sake.
God is exceedingly good. He provides for our needs, and He does so abundantly, but He doesn’t stop there. He calls us to follow Him, and He doesn’t just point and say “go that way, see you later.” He Himself comes alongside of us as our guide to teach us how we are to follow Him. He shows us how to do even that.
4. Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
Most of the time when we think of the “valley of the shadow of death” we think of tough times life throws at us. But really, it sounds a lot like everyday life to me. We live in a world full of darkness where the enemy is prowling around trying to kill us. But we don’t have to fear him or anything, because we know that God is with us Himself as our guide (verse 3).
Also, it doesn’t say we walk in the valley of death, but the valley of the shadow of death. And we all know a shadow can’t hurt you, stop you, or even slow you down a little. Jesus conquered death a long time ago.
Plus, where there’s a shadow there’s light somewhere.
I always wondered why a “rod” and “staff” would be of comfort to someone. What are they, even? I did some research and found out.
The rod was the shepherd’s weapon, a means of protecting the flock. It was a club he could use to beat or throw at potential enemies like wolves or other animals. The rod is a symbol of protection.
The staff was a long sort of pole. If a sheep began to head in the wrong direction, the shepherd would use it to gently nudge the sheep back onto the right path. It was a means of guidance.
So, although we walk through the valley of a shadow of something that our Shepherd has already conquered, we know that He walks beside us and is more than equipped to protect and guide us.
5. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.
We talked about God’s provision earlier, and are reminded of it here again. He provides for us in the most desperate times, and does so abundantly. When I think of this verse I picture a banquet table, a feast. We’re not talking about Easy Mac on a rickety card table.
In the time and area when this passage would have been written, the climate would have been hot and dry. Athletes would coat their skin in a light layer of oil to cool themselves off and keep themselves from perspiring excessively. It was a way of being better fit for the race they would run.
Oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit whom He has given us. In this way, God has poured His Spirit over us to enable us to more fully engage in the race He is calling us to.
In light of everything we’ve seen here – that God is our abundant provider, our protector, our guide, and that He is leading us and giving us His Spirit – it’s easy to see why verse six gives such a positive outlook on life:
6. Surely only goodness, mercy, and unfailing love will follow me all the days of my life, and through the length of my days the house of the Lord [and His presence] shall be my dwelling place.
Now, how does this all relate to surrendering?
I believe that much of the time we hesitate to surrender because we don’t trust that God will take care of things or provide for us. Instead, we try to handle things on our own.
My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own wells, broken wells that cannot hold water. – Jer. 2:13
It’s like we look at God and what He is offering us and we say, “Your water isn’t good enough. I’m going to find my own.”
When you think of it, it’s kind of silly of us to think that we can make a better decision than He can.
On the one hand you have me, a mere human who doesn’t know what will happen in 20 minutes, much less tomorrow. And when I think back on all the bad situations I’ve gotten in or the tough times I’ve gone through or negative consequences I’ve seen, most of the time I got there because of a decision I made, or from being selfish, or from doing something that I knew He didn’t want me to do. And as a result I ended up going down a road that God never intended for me to go down.
On the other hand you have God: infinitely wise Creator of the galaxies, who stands outside of Time and sees all our past and all our future, and like Romans 8 says, is working out everything into a plan that is for my good.
So, who would you trust more to make your major life decisions? The sheep or the shepherd?
I believe He led me through Psalm 23 to show us just how capable He is. He will protect us, He will provide abundantly for us, He will lead and guide us. He will take all of our burdens. You’ve just got to want to give them to Him.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
– Matthew 11:28-30