We see this first in the garden. Eve chooses to take knowledge, take the apple. And this becomes a pattern repeated in the narrative of God’s world. Eve sees the fruit, desires the fruit, and takes the fruit. Later, the sons of God see the daughters of man, desire the daughters of man, and take wives from among the daughters of man.
Later, we see Lot seeing the land of Sodom and Gomorrah, desiring it, and taking it.
Yet in the same passage, we see God telling Abram to lift up his eyes to see the land of Canaan. Although not told to desire it, it is what God has promised and what God originally told him to leave to find. Certainly, Abram would desire to see the fulfillment of the promise. But here, Abram is not told to take it, but that God will give it. Abraham will receive it. Abraham must, indeed, surrender to the promise in faith. For Abraham will die not having seen the promise, as Hebrews tells us, as did none of the patriarchs.
And supremely, we see Jesus refuse the temptation of Satan, who offers the kingdoms of the earth. The language harkens back to the garden. Satan calls upon Jesus to look upon the kingdoms as something desirable. Jesus, as the Messiah, desires the nations, His inheritance. Satan offers the kingdoms. Yet Satan lies; although they are his to offer (notice that Jesus does not dispute this), he says they were “delivered to him.” As though he received them. He took them by deceiving Eve and through her gaining the dominion given to Adam. And his offer is not one for Jesus to submit to, but to take. Submission means waiting for God to deliver the kingdoms to Him. The spirit of the evil one is to arise himself; the spirit of Christ is to be humbled to be exalted.
So what does it mean to surrender to gain knowledge, to gain truth? And how do we as a church surrender to receive?
We must all come to surrender to the past, the present, and the future.
We surrender to the past when we name rightly the past. We live in the story that God is telling of us, or we are the story God is telling. Until we name the past and make peace with the past, we are never free of the past’s dominion over us. As long as we try to fight against the truth of what has been done to and by us, until we can rightly grieve for those pains and rejoice in those redemptions, we will not be at peace.
At church, this is why we tell stories of rescue. Our stories are often those that speak of coming, often painfully, to first know, then name, our own pasts. In so doing, to find that Jesus walks through us with that past, bears our wounds, and brings healing. Our stories of rescue are tearful and joyful submissions to our pasts.
We surrender to the present when we rightly name where and who we are. We cannot name the present without knowing the past. To submit to the present, we must acknowledge the evils and the goods in others, in ourselves, in our city, in our world. We must not hide from the story God has us in. We must find where God has us in his story.
At church, this is why we have CityVision stories from those fighting to push back the darkness (as our friends at Frontline say). They name the present for us, the evil that is present and the good that is fighting to push it back. But these stories, too, are stories of submission because the present evils can only be named insofar as we see them as Christ does and the present goods can only be seen insofar as we believe and follow the Christ who submitted to evil to shatter darkness with light.
Submitting to the present does not mean acquiescence or passivity. Joshua is told to go into the Canaan to conquer what they have already received in promise.
Submitting to the future means living in hopeful expectation. We know the promise is there; we are not told when or in what ways we will see the promises fulfilled now or in our immediate lives. As I wrote about hope and the hurt of hope deferred, we desire and groan and long for the good, and we know all will be right and all must be well, yet we do not know when we will see the dawn. Submitting means moving forward in love, believing and hoping all things, looking for where God is at work.
At church, this means celebrating what God is doing in our city, hoping for what our church, what the church, may do as God uses us. At church, this means moving forward where God leads. Doug and Bobby and the finance team and others have put intense time and effort into the movements needed to get the church building. They submitted to the future, to what God is doing, knowing God had not promised the building, but knowing God called them to be faithful.
At church, this is why Doug and Bobby ask us to pray impossible prayers, which calls me to pray far beyond what I often will because my hard heart often will not submit to the goodness of God.
I’m thankful for a church that calls us to joyful, active submission, one where we are called to know ourselves in God and be known by others that we might see others come to find themselves in Christ.