We have all, at some point, sang the words “trust and obey.” We can tend to think these words sum up the Christian life. We focus on willful acts of obedience as a means to draw closer to God, not realizing that God wants us to surrender our hearts to Him. God wants us to submit our hearts and will, and not just be compliant in behavior. Obedience is demanding; we are tempted to believe that perfect obedience is achievable if we just put our minds to doing the hard work.
Doing all that God asks is not something we ever do on our own. God did not design it to work that way. He intends for our failures in obedience to lead us to surrender. God wants our sin and failures to make us aware of our need for Him. Paul demonstrates this for us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.
Trying to do everything in our own strength leaves us and our kingdom of self in control. We remain in control and our willful ways of doing life remain unchallenged. The whole point of the kingdom of God is to overturn the kingdom of self.
Obedience is a good and virtuous thing, but our well-being does not depend solely on obeying God’s commandments. To obey is to submit to the authority of someone. If we obey the laws of God we submit to the authority of God. But God does not want just behavioral obedience; He wants obedience of both conduct and the heart (Romans 6:17).
God is patiently in the business of wooing us as we learn to do what He desires and surrender to His love.
Obedience that flows from a surrendered heart, rather than willpower, demonstrates that love is the motive for all that we do. This is the pattern of true spiritual transformation. It works from the inside out. The core of surrender is giving up our will to God’s will. Jesus does not command us to surrender or wield authority over us; He welcomes us with a love that invites us into intimacy. As we surrender, we discover that it is like we are in a river of love floating along doing nothing. Apart from surrender we are always gripped by some degree of fear. When we are not surrendered we are thrashing around in the water trying to stay afloat on our own.
When obedience is separated from love it becomes an obligation. When obedience is a response to love it becomes an act of devotion. God’s desire is for our devotion.
God gave Moses a list of ten items of obedience. Jesus took that list and summarized it into two – love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30). This is the signified will of God; in this Christians seek to obey, well aware that they can never do this on their own. God’s signified will drives us all back to Him as we encounter our inability to do what He desires. Surrender to the will of God for His good pleasure is to trust in God’s love.
The surrender to God’s will and desire starts in our hearts and expresses itself in our behavior.
When we have problems with obedience or surrender it is often viewed as a problem of the will. Christians are known to try over and over again to “surrender all” to God, each time with more resolve for success. This is to miss the aim of surrendering to the love of God and allowing obedience to be an outflow of that love rather than an obligation to a command. Problems of surrender and obedience are problems of knowing and trusting God’s love. They are problems of the heart.
Surrendering to His love is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, making His love and nature our own. When we know and trust that God is for us, nothing can come between us and that perfect love that surrounds and supports us regardless of our efforts.
Maybe your efforts of obedience are wearing you down and you are tired of fighting. Remember the Apostle Paul was a man who persecuted Christians. How did he learn willing surrender? He had an encounter with Perfect Love. Read and listen to Paul’s words in Romans 8:31-39 about the great love of his life and allow your spirit to be refreshed and renewed by an encounter with Perfect Love.