A few weekends ago I had the chance to chaperone a few awesome student leaders as they participated in a student-leadership conference. This weekend was my first youth trip as a chaperone and not a student, and it certainly did not disappoint. (I only lost one of the kids once so... crushed it.)
During our very first night together, we were given the challenge of all challenges: surrendering all to Jesus over the next few days. And when they said "all," they meant "all." The good, the bad, and the ugly.
This stood out to me and sat heavy on my heart during the remainder of the conference and truthfully, each day since. The concept and importance of surrender are anything but new to me, as those in the Christian circle are always talking about the necessity of "surrendering it all to Jesus." But to be honest, the idea of surrendering even the good especially caught me off guard. I want to get rid of the bad things in my life; Jesus can have those by all means. But I tend to not surrender the good as quickly, with as much willingness. Perhaps I'm not as used to doing this, maybe I don't even understand this idea entirely, but I would prefer to cling to the good of this life with every ounce of strength I have, not give it away.
The reality is, when we come face to face with Jesus, we should be excited to drop everything to follow him with our whole hearts. Perhaps you experienced this joy when you made the active decision to surrender something for the Lenten season. Or maybe, becoming a follower of Christ proceeded a radical lifestyle change for you, as you knew the things you did in your sinful past would not stand in the transformation God was calling you to. Whatever situation you find yourself in, surrendering is a continuous act that all Christ followers must undergo every day. I think a valuable verse for us to unpack today, wherever you are in the understanding of "surrendering to Christ," is found in the book of Matthew, narrating just one of Jesus' incredible teaching moments.
Matthew 16:24-25 says, "Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.'" (New International Version).
Let's talk about this.
Denying ourselves... This really is the first step in surrender. Denying ourselves means denying our human pride, egos, desires, etc. As we reside in a broken world, we inhabit many of the attitudes, habits, and traits of a broken world. These things cannot stand in the Kingdom of God, and Christ instructed his disciples that they must abandon this way of life. However, even though sin entangles the world around us, there are also beautiful moments here on earth. We experience accomplishments, success, promotions, and prosperity, but as Jesus would agree, all of these things cannot compare to the work of God, and his desire is for us to praise his work above our own. This is when we get to practice surrendering the good of this world, and embracing the great, that Jesus Christ accomplished on our behalf.
Take up our cross... This one hurts a little. Sometimes a lot. Jesus acknowledges the difficulties that God-honoring lives can produce. In the days of Jesus, death by cross was the most scornful, shameful, and embarrassing mode of execution. People wouldn't even use the word "cross" in conversation, and would refer to criminals as being "lifted up" or having their arms "stretched wide." But here is Jesus, before he took up his physical cross for our sin and shame, commanding his followers to be ready for this exact suffering. Jesus is warning his followers of the inevitable discomfort they will experience when they deny themselves and agree to be "lifted up" for his name's sake.
Follow him... This is the ultimate desire of Jesus' heart and the message behind everything he said during his ministry. Jesus continues to say that he knows the words he just spoke require much of those who abide, that they will essentially "lose their lives". In many ways, when we surrender all to Christ, we lose so much of our preferred method of living, the habits we are familiar with. But the beautiful thing about Jesus is that when he asks us to empty our hands and hearts, he doesn't intend for them to remain empty. Jesus told his disciples that when they deny themselves of the pleasures of this world, all the good they thought they knew, they would, in turn, find real life for the first time, as God would reveal the abundant life he intended for them all along.
Surrendering is scary. We are taught by this broken world that "losing ourselves" is pretty much the worst thing that could happen. We write books, give TED Talks, and presentations all about "finding ourselves." But as always, the teachings of Jesus disagree. Jesus tells us that it isn't until we are willing to surrender everything we thought we knew to be good, along with all of the messy bad, that we will indeed find life.
I challenge you with this today, as I'm still personally wrestling with this. I believe that Jesus' words to his disciples in Matthew weren't a one-time command, but a lesson to engrave on their hearts, a practice to implement daily. As relentlessly as Jesus is pursuing us, the world is as well. We must make Matthew 16:24-25 our heart's cry each and every day.
We must open our hands to give away, and close them to receive. -Taylor