Monday, January 24, 2011

I Surrender

I follow two NFL teams—only two—the Dallas Cowboys and the Kansas City Chiefs. Both are done for the season, so I don’t have any more dogs in the fight for the championship. And since I’m not all that big of an NFL fan in general, I haven’t been paying much attention to the playoffs. I did catch a little of the Bears-Packers game on Sunday. When I turned it on the game was in the third quarter. The Packers were up 14-0, but I quickly learned that the story of the game was Jay Cutler, the Bears quarterback, who was on the sideline with a mysterious knee injury. No one, not even Cutler, seemed to know just when the injury took place. That left the Bears with a washed up second-stringer and an inexperienced free agent to carry the team, neither of whom could get much done. Now I’ve had a mysterious injury like Cutler claims to have so I kind of understand, but apparently the rest of the NFL is not all that understanding. There were some pretty vicious tweets by other NFL players accusing Cutler of more or less faking the injury to avoid the pounding he was taking by the Packers. The basic accusation is that he quit. He quit on his teammates. He quit on his coaches. He quit on his fans. I have no idea as to the extent, or lack thereof, of Cutler’s mysterious injury. But a good number of observers believe he essentially waved the white flag and surrendered.

In most venues, surrender is a dirty word. It’s a dirty word in war. A friend of mine was General McAuliffe’s aide during World War II. He was with McAuliffe at Bastogne during the famous Battle of the Bulge. You probably know the story: the Nazis had the American troops surrounded. The Nazis sent a messenger to McAuliffe demanding an American surrender: “Surrender or die.” My friend, Col. Dowis, said McAuliffe talked over this surrender proposal with the officers in the room and decided on a one word answer: “Nuts.” McAuliffe wasn’t about to surrender. He considered the whole idea nothing short of crazy, nutty. And you also know the rest of the story: after taking an unmerciful beating and suffering many casualties from both the Nazis and the weather, the U.S. Airborne broke out of Bastogne (with some late help from Patton’s Third Army), and effectively ended Germany's last ditch attempt to turn the tide of the war. Surrender is a dirty word in war.

Surrender is a dirty word in fighting. Whether it’s a couple of kids wrestling in the yard, the stronger demanding the weaker say “uncle” as a sign of surrender, or whether it’s a professional boxing match when one fighter has to throw in the towel, surrender is always the last option, the dreaded outcome, and one of the most difficult things a fighter might ever have to do. Surrender is a dirty word. It's one of those words that gets stuck in the throat when you try to say it.

And you know why. Surrender is largely viewed as defeat, as weakness, as quitting. And nobody much likes a quitter. Armies have been destroyed and fighters have been killed because of a stubborn unwillingness to surrender to superior forces even though the outcome was inevitable. Surrender may have nine letters, but to many it’s a four-letter-word.

Maybe that’s why it sometimes strikes people strange that in the spiritual realm, surrender is the only path to victory. Giving up, letting go, waving the white flag in the face of God’s superior wisdom and strength is how a person wins in matters spiritual. When God called me to the ministry, I described my experience as "accepting" God's call, but most preachers describe their call as “surrendering to preach.” When God knocked Paul off his high horse and called him to faith in Christ, the Lord asked Paul, “Why do you kick against the goads?” In other words, why do you fight against that which you know is true and right? Why do you fight a battle you can't win? And when did Paul find victory in that experience? When he surrendered. We even have a hymn that speaks to this. It’s called I Surrender All—not some, not a little, not this or that, but all—I surrender all. I surrender my willfulness. I surrender my right to run my own life and call my own shots and be my own god. I surrender my time and my talents and my treasure. I wave the white flag of surrender. I lay them down at the feet of Him who laid down His life for me on the cross. And you remember that Jesus did that after a night of praying, “Father, I’d rather not drink this cup of the cross. If there’s any other way, could we do that instead? Nevertheless, Father, not my will but your will be done.” There’s a word for what Jesus did in that prayer. That word is surrender.

Are there things you need to surrender to the Lord today? Has He been nudging you and pushing you and calling you to lay some things down or to take some things up that will get you in step with His plans for your life? Until you wave the white flag, you’re going to be at war with God and in yourself. You want peace? Then surrender. That’s the key to victory in the spiritual life.

It’s one of my favorite stories. I don’t know where I first came across it, but I’ve told it a lot over the years. It's about two monks—one old, the other a novice—walking together one morning in the monastery. The novice turns to the saintly old monk and asks: "Tell me, Father, do you still wrestle with the devil?"

"Oh, no, my son," he answered. "I'm much too old and wise for that! Now, you see, I wrestle with God."

"With God?" the young novice exclaimed. "But Father, do you hope to win?"

"No, my child," said the old monk. "I hope to lose."

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