If you’re like many believers, you feel confident you’re past the magic-lamp phase of prayer. You understand surrender. You understand God’s will. And yet, no matter how good we are at surrender, we each hold on to something in our lives.
That one thing we keep holding on to, whether big or small, reveals our lack of trust in God. The big things we hold back reveal what we’re too scared not to control. The small things we hold back reveal what we don’t think God would bother with anyway.
Sometimes we’re holding on to our one thing so tightly that it almost feels as if it’s keeping us safe—like we trust it instead of God. We’re not able to hold on to something casually. If we’ve chosen to give up everything but one thing, its grip on us will steal intimacy in our prayer lives.
True surrender requires intense faith, and if we want to experience the trust that comes from surrendering everything, we can’t hold on to anything. We can’t be partially surrendered. It’s an oxymoron.
So what does it look like to surrender everything?
1. Decide Whether You Can Trust God
If God can’t be trusted with everything, he can’t be trusted with anything. If you believe God sent his Son to die on the cross to pay for our sins so that we’d experience life in heaven with him instead of eternity separated from him, can’t you trust him with your health, your future mate, or your wayward teen?
Salvation in itself requires us to surrender to God. If giving everything to God in prayer doesn’t feel necessary to us, maybe we misunderstand what it means to follow Jesus. To be honest, it wouldn’t be difficult in today’s age of the prosperity gospel, which hits pretty hard on what we get from God without addressing what God requires of us. In Matthew 16, Jesus tells his disciples:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
There is a cost to trusting God, but what we gain is significantly greater than what we lose.
I’m confident you can trust God with everything, but we each need to come to that conclusion for ourselves. If you’ve never done that, don’t wait. What you believe about God—how trustworthy you consider him—is foundational to your prayers.
2. Remember That It’s Personal
Psalm 81 describes God calling the Israelites to listen and submit to him. He had saved his people from slavery and settled them in a wonderful land—and yet they were still ignoring his teaching and following idols. You’re not an Israelite, but you are God’s adopted child. He’s calling us to listen to him, to submit everything to him.
Hear, O my people, while I admonish you!
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
But my people did not listen to my voice;
Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.
Oh, that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
Where are we, like the Israelites, ignoring what God has done in our lives and forgetting that trusting him brings the best outcomes?
This sounds heavy, and it is, but it’s also hope-filled. Don’t Charlie Brown–walk your way to surrender with your head hung low, kicking the dirt as you go. Run to God. I know that may not be easy, but I promise it will be good.
3. Share Your Heart
It’s possible to send up requests to the big guy while still trying to conceal our hearts and hold back what we’re not ready to surrender. But what if we saw praying less as asking for things and more as sharing our hearts with God?
Think about the intimacy of that statement. In that paradigm, we are no longer dissecting what God gets access to in our lives. We’re not deciding what he can handle. We’re not picking what to delegate. We’re spending more time handing over our whole hearts, focusing on him rather than focusing on the issues that weigh us down.
I’m amazed at the amount of time I spend not really praying but reviewing the facts in a way that doesn’t require God’s presence at all. It’s navel gazing, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “self-indulgent or excessive contemplation of oneself or a single issue, at the expense of a wider view.”2
When we instead share our hearts with God, the emphasis is on him, and we stop the excessive solitary contemplation of what we’ll share and what we won’t. We just give God access to it all.
4. Hold the Outcome Loosely
Sharing our hearts is the prerequisite to surrender because we have to acknowledge what we’re giving to God. If we don’t, we get whiplash because we weren’t ready to let it go, and we’ll try to grab it back. When we’ve named what we’re surrendering, we make our requests known to the Lord and leave the outcome to him, staying limber and alert for what is next. When we hold the outcome loosely in our hands, we aren’t placing our open hands, holding something so precious to us, over the pits of hell. Our hands are over the Lord’s hands. If we release something, he catches it. The invisible nature of God makes surrendering feel riskier than it actually is.
We’re tactile people who believe in what we can touch with our own hands and see with our own eyes, so we often want to pull back from what we can’t see. This is why prayer is so important. Yes, God is invisible, but as we pray, we get to see him move. We get to see his invisible hand changing our hearts, our circumstances, and the world around us.
5. Stay Soft
Surrendering isn’t a one-time process. Throughout our lives, we’ll find new things that feel too scary to pass off to the Lord. The best way I know to prepare for them is to stay soft. Do what David did when he said in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
With this prayer, we invite the Lord to make us aware of our missteps. It’s the opposite of trying to conceal things and keeping a death grip on what we want. As we do this, we’ll be strengthening our muscles of surrender and growing in our faith and trust in the Lord. Imagine the prayers we will pray in such a state!
When we throw off the weight of exceptions and fully surrender all we have to God, we reap the benefits of contentment and fully trusting in our Father.
Adapted from Pray Confidently and Consistently: Finally Let Go of the Things Holding You Back from Your Most Important Conversation by Valerie Woerner. Copyright ©2021. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
Valerie Woerner’s mission is to help women live intentional lives that are an outflow of a fruitful, focused prayer life. She is the author of Grumpy Mom Takes a Holiday, Springboard Prayers and The Finishing School and the owner of Val Marie Paper, where she designs prompted prayer journals and other practical products that eliminate distraction and increase focus in prayer. Valerie lives in Lafayette, Louisiana with her husband, Tyler, and their two daughters. Visit her online shop at valmariepaper.com.