For many of us, surrender conjures the image of waving a white flag in defeat. For Jennie Allen, surrender is the beginning of a life of purpose.
In the re-released edition of her book Anything, Allen not only explores the idea of a life lived fully surrendered to God, but she also explores it in the context of community with an added study guide.
We spoke with Jennie about her book, what it looks like to surrender and why community is an important part of the process.
What was the moment that initially led you to write this book?
The specific moment was actually reading the blog of Katie Davis, who is in Uganda and now has a ministry that reaches so many people. But at the time, she just had a blog and had adopted some girls off the street in Uganda. I found her blog and I was absolutely wrecked.
My husband and I had planted a church in Austin, Texas, and were sacrificing for the Gospel and for Jesus by anybody’s terms. Yet, I think also competing was this desire to please people and to live everything in a way that I was hedging my bets. There were other competing values. What I read with Katie was there was no competing value, it was just serve God, serve people and love Him.
That night, it was just me and God duking it out in all these things I held onto and considered important. I wanted them to die. I didn’t want the competing desires. I wanted to just please God.
For just a minute, I felt like I could picture the end of my life and being before Him, and I thought, “What’s going to matter?” I knew I was holding back on the gifts He had given me and controlling them. I didn’t want to speak to too many people and face judgment or criticism, and all of that was an idol.
Ultimately, I was still completely full of pride. It wasn’t about God’s glory, it was about choosing things that presented a good image to the world that I lived in. I had to say, “This might be completely messy and I might face judgment everywhere, but I have to use my gifts.”
Why are you re-releasing the book?
First of all, this was such a life message for me. It’s a journey and a story of how I went from what I would call just this typical Christian mindset and life to more of an engaged and passionate and surrendered life in Christ. Everything I’ve done since and everything I will ever do will be built on this moment in my life—because it was the moment where, for me, people shrunk and God got bigger.
I’m such a believer that God’s supernatural work in every one of our lives is unique and He calls each of us to a different type of surrender. We’re not all called to go overseas to Africa. We’re not all called to go into ministry. We’re not all called to adopt. We’re not all called to go into the marketplace or serve a nonprofit. It’s diverse and beautiful.
I think what I wanted to do was give a tool for people to unpack their own journey of surrender, rather than just say, “Here’s my story.” I wanted there to be a tool, a part of this process that they really got to unpack what it was God was calling them toward and away from.
Your book includes a study component. Is that meant to be done individually, or in groups?
It’s both: You’re doing the work by yourself and you’re reading the Scripture and spending time with God and hearing from Him. But I think if that ever stops there in anybody’s life, you’re going to miss God’s design, which is that we need each other.
The idea of the Church is that we would live communally as a body and serve different places for the glory of God and for the good of each other. So I think to move into a conversation about these things is essential. We have to have other people that are going to be in this fight with us. Any time you’re processing big things like surrender, obedience, holiness, it takes a team.
What do you hope that people will discover or experience as they read this book and walk through the study?
I hope they’ll feel freedom.
When I finally did say, “OK, I’m in, I’m going to quit controlling my life,” this whole freedom came over me. I had never understood the verse that says, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free.” I would read that verse and I would think, “That sounds nice.” And I had no idea why I didn’t experience it. There were other gods competing for the God in my life. When all of those other god’s kind of fell away and died, it actually set my soul free. I felt this peace, and discernment and passion and joy and excitement for whatever God had.
One of the biggest struggles I had was just living. As a pastor’s wife, people actually care how you spend your money, what you do with your kids’ school and they have opinions about things in your life. I had felt that pressure and it was just doing me in. Within the next day or a couple days, I got an email from a girl saying that she was leaving the church and it was specifically because of me. It literally was, at the time, one of my worst nightmares come true. I’m sitting there reading the email and I’m waiting to feel what I would normally feel—which is this spiral into trying to control things and, “Let me make this right.” My normal franticness didn’t come.
I was so surprised. I remember just sitting there and absorbing this peace like, “Hey, you know what, I’m OK.” Now, I definitely apologized and I tried to make right, but I also left it and didn’t let it define me—and I didn’t let it define my actions going forward. I was like, “God, this is what life change looks like. This is what you’ve been talking about when I read verses about freedom.” This is the intangible thing that changes and shifts in your soul when you truly love God more than anything else on earth. That’s what I hope happens for people is that they would experience that shift.