How old were you when you first learned that being a follower of Jesus involved more than a prayer for forgiveness—that, in fact, following Jesus would require you to surrender your entire future to God? I was about 7, and I was afraid. I was afraid to surrender my life because I was certain the moment I uttered the final syllable of that prayer, God’s voice would thunder, calling me to get on the next plane and go to a faraway country I couldn’t pronounce. At the same time, I was afraid not to pray that prayer because of the preacher passionately screaming at me to surrender my life and because of what God might do to me if I didn’t. So, picture a 7-year-old fervently praying, “Dear God, I give you my future.” I had no idea what that would mean, but in spite of my fear, I meant every word.
I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve learned that love, not fear, is the only adequate motivation for the type of surrender God seeks from His children. I’ve learned that God doesn’t do things “to us.” His actions in our lives are always, ultimately “for us.” I’ve also learned that, regardless of how it felt at the time, surrender was simpler at 7 years old than it will ever be again.
There are reasons that it’s simpler to surrender our future when we’re young: We can only see so far ahead.
For myself at age 7, in my most distant future imagination, I could see all the way to my first day of college. Surrendering all those years already scheduled with education to God seemed like a safe prospect. The harder thing for young me to figure out was why God would want in on the years of studying I had ahead of me.
We only imagine the most extreme difficulties.
When I was 7, the only way I could imagine that my prayer of surrender could go wrong was if God sent me to the foreign mission field. The scariest thing I could imagine then was being sent away from home. I didn’t know it was possible to be lonely without ever leaving home. I had no idea the prospect of daily repeating mundane tasks for a lifetime could be far more intimidating than the prospect of faraway, exotic adventures. That I might someday consider it a challenge to be content with a life close to home never occurred to me.
We aren’t committed to any plans of our own.
At 7, my future was a concept. Oh, I had plans—new ones every day. I wanted to be a grocery store clerk, a doctor, a pharmacist, a teacher, a restaurant owner, a singer and a mother. When my mind was that open to the possibilities, surrender was a lot less threatening, but I grew up and began to make and get attached to real plans of my own. As I did, my prayer changed from, “Dear God, I give you my future” to, “Dear God, please give me a) and b) and c) and please, please, don’t screw up my plans."
Now, here I am living beyond the future I could imagine at age 7. I am none of the things I wanted to be back then, and my life is nothing like I imagined it would be. In some ways, my life isn’t even what I wish for in this moment. Sometimes, I desperately want to pull out a, “Dear God, please give me …” prayer, but a mental transition is necessary once we learn what Jesus’ model prayer for His followers really requires:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:9-13).
The prayer Jesus modeled for us begins by acknowledging God’s greatness, in light of which our complete surrender to His will only makes sense. The prayer ends with us acknowledging our complete physical, relational and spiritual dependence on God. I have no problem with these acknowledgements, but the surrender between them (no matter how much sense it makes) takes me back to a place where I realize maybe I haven’t come so far from my 7-year-old self. I’m still afraid, but not of any preacher or foreign mission field. This time I’m afraid of being called to a lifetime of contentment right where I am, and when I try to picture myself 10 or 20 or 30 years from now persisting in the same endeavors I face now, I’m not ready to surrender to that possibility.
But maybe we can’t surrender our entire future now. After all, we are promised nothing beyond this moment. The future is not ours to hold on to, so how can we let go of it? Maybe the best we can do is daily declare our desire to surrender our lives to God every day for as many days as we have. And, in pursuit of fulfilling that desire, we surrender to what He calls us to do in this moment, at most, this day. We are totally dependent on Him to accomplish even that.
Rachel Decker has written a number of contributions for RELEVANT magazine, most on the subject of television. Check out her blogs at RachelDeckerSpeaks.com and Head-Over-Wheels.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rdeckerspeaks.