THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
Chapter 3: Unconditional Surrender
For good or bad, a person’s past is their experience. During the course of my life, I had served God and worked hard. I passionately loved my family. The results of all my efforts, however, were not what one would expect. After years of trying to recreate myself into the kind of person others would accept, I found myself in a pigpen of sorts—a bitter place of despair, disappointment and heartbreak. More than anything, I was confused. How in the world, I thought, did a nice girl like me end up in a place like this?
My life experience did not seem to portray God as the God of love I’d heard so much about. I wanted to believe in His love and know that the Lord was watching out for me, but I wasn’t at all sure. In my estimation, it appeared that God wasn’t concerned about me at all! I felt left out, like an unwanted step-child—on the outside, looking in. I didn’t know why God would reject me so, or prefer others over me, but I was convinced that He did.
The root of my grief was that I was offended at God. The Controllers were clearly responsible for the abuse I’dl suffered, yet I suspected that God was in on it somehow. Why didn’t He stop it? Why had He let it happen? Why didn’t He get me out? I felt He had not protected me, and I wanted to know why. In my mind, I attributed my heartbreak and brokenness to the will of God. Perhaps this is what He planned for my life.
When you’re in that frame of mind, God becomes part of the problem. It’s easy to get life mixed up with God.
These statements may seem harsh to some. Perhaps at first glance they may appear disrespectful—but I assure you I mean no disrespect now, nor did I then. I have always had a deep reverence and holy fear of the Lord. Feeling shunned by Heaven, I suspected I must’ve done something to deserve it—although I couldn’t for the life of me think of what that might be. I must be guilty of something, I thought.
I had some hard questions I simply could not get around. I couldn’t ignore my disappointments, either, of which there were many. The years were passing, and I was getting tired. By the time my daughters were teenagers, I thought things would’ve improved—but they had not improved. If anything, they were worse. I had waited for God to come rescue me, or help me, or provide a way out—but in my waiting, God Himself had remained silent. I could no longer pretend that I didn’t have serious doubts.
I began to think that maybe there was no benefit in serving God. A heated anger began to rise up in me, and I could not stop it. This surprised me, because I had never been given to anger. But I’d watched other Christians prosper with good times, good jobs, and what appeared to be good marriages. I saw their children do well. As I became more aware of the futility of my own disappointments, I became increasingly jealous and envious of the blessings of other believers. This sibling rivalry was a big part of my frustration. It appeared that God favored others more than He did me.
I didn’t think any of this was fair because of my faithfulness. Year after year, I had served on worship teams and had given many, many hours in service to God’s house—not to receive glory or profit, but only because I loved God, I loved His house, and I delighted in serving Him. I wanted to be a part of His Kingdom! I served my family as well, raising my daughters in the light of the Word. And what did I get for all this effort and commitment? Well, it appeared to me that I was getting a whole lot less than others got for their effort and commitment. My heart cried out, It’s not fair! It just didn’t make any sense to me that certain half-hearted Christians were getting blessed and living such delightful lives while I suffered. The bottom line is, I became offended.
Finally, I quit going to church. I stopped serving. Like the Prodigal Son, I packed my bags and left.
Of course, I didn’t see it like that at the time. I certainly didn’t think of myself as prodigal. But I absolutely removed myself from the corporate presence of God for a period of approximately five years. I pulled away from God’s people and God’s house, placing between my Heavenly Father and me a cold distance—a space from which I licked my wounds and maintained my offended position. On occasion, I would whisper a prayer or go to church, but for the most part I stayed away and pouted.
Looking back, I’d say I had a heart problem.
By nature I possess no small amount of determination. It’s the most natural thing for me to refuse to concede to defeat. Once I’ve committed to something, I know how to keep on keeping on. And if the going gets tough, then the tough get going. (And that would be me.) I didn’t have to learn this streak of tenacity; I was born with it. I’m surprised that “Never Quit!” was not stamped on my forehead as a child.
This gift of tenacity created in me the talent of problem-solving. I am, by divine design (and by’s life’s challenges), a formidable problem-solver. But when when one’s efforts obviously aren’t working—and haven’t been working for a very long time (in my case, decades)—then perhaps it’s time to back up and reconsider. Persistence for the sake of fortitude is foolish. Most of us have known people who enjoy a challenge for the thrill of the fight, just for the sake of holding out—but I wasn’t ever like that. I was determined to hold out to the end because I sincerely believed I was right. Like the ugly stepsister attempting to wedge three unsightly toes into the glass slipper, I wanted so badly to be right . . . and her words articulated my determination: “I’ll make it fit!”
Sometimes knowing when to quit is the smartest thing you could ever figure out. If what you have been doing isn’t working for you now, and if it has perhaps never worked, then what makes you think you can continue in that vein and expect a different result? If it consistently isn’t working, it is because it doesn’t work. There comes a time to pull your foot out of the slipper and get real with yourself.
One day I did just that, and I got real with myself. As I realized how foolish I had been, the first acknowledgement of a very important fact presented itself to me in prompt fashion: The way I had been living was a futile attempt at life management. It wasn’t working; it never had worked; and it was never going to work. Why?—Because it didn’t work! As I soberly acknowledged this formidable fact—and accepted it—I knew I would have to do things differently.
In light of that fact, I allowed myself to see some other facts that were uncomfortable to view. In my efforts to stay in control, I had overextended (and overestimated) my own strength by a long shot.My life had been falling apart for a very long time, but I hadn’t wanted to admit it. I was never prepared to simply let it all go and say, “I can’t.” I just kept sticking the pieces of my life back together, taking the verbal and emotional abuse like a martyr, polishing my halo from time to time—all the while determined to make it work. To be fair, I must say that I thought I was doing what I had to do. In retrospect, I wonder how long I thought I could keep it up. I most certainly did believe that I was tougher than most (by necessity) and that I could hang in there until—well, I didn’t know. Until things got better? Until something would happen that would bring change? Until I was dead?
Like the Prodigal Son, I eventually ran out of resources. Forced by circumstance to open my eyes and look around, I was aghast to view the situation in the light of reality. As the Prodigal Son found himself in a stinking pigpen, I discovered that my life was reduced to a smoldering heap of ashes. It had all burned to the ground beneath my feet. Destroyed. My false sense of hope in my own self-sufficiency—I can do it myself—crumbled to a mere wisp.
Life brings us moments of clarity—breakthrough moments, when the raw realities of life are illuminated as though by a lightening bolt. When a switch is flipped, and the light comes on. I had that breakthrough moment when the thought occurred to me, “There’s got to be something going on here that I don’t know about.” I could not imagine what it would be—because I was convinced that I was right, remember? But as I stood in my laundry room on that momentous day during a Fourth of July weekend, for the first time ever I seriously considered the possibility that perhaps I’d missed it. That maybe there was something going on I didn’t understand, something God knew about my life that I didn’t. There had to be a missing link, because nothing in my life made sense, and I was no longer willing to accept that.
Just the thought that perhaps I’d been wrong was enough to spark change. Something somewhere fell into place, and a door opened somewhere inside my heart. All my old baggage came tumbling out, and for the first time in my life I allowed that to happen. It was a river of baggage, and it kept coming. I didn’t try to push it back in, nor did I look away. I watched as that old, stinking, rotting baggage from years gone by poured out. And it kept coming . . . and coming. As I viewed the evidence of my brokenness in a flash, I wondered how—and why—I’d ever thought I could fix that mess.
I knew it was true—I was wrong! I’d been wrong all along, and I was shocked to discover it. This revelation hit my broken thought processes hard. How could I have been so wrong when I’d tried so hard to be right? How had I allowed myself to get in this mess?
But I could not look away. And I could not give myself another pep talk, either, to get up and start over. Because, frankly, it was over. There might be another road to take, another time, but this road had run out.
There was only one thing to do. Like the Prodigal Son, I was forced to look once again toward home.
I knew I didn’t deserve to go home. I had been angry with God, and for five long years I stewed in my offense. I was still unsure about God’s love for me, and I had as many questions as ever. My understanding was muddy. But now there was something else—the comprehension that there was something I’d missed. Something God knew about my life that I didn’t. I wasn’t sure what that was, but I had to give God a chance. There was simply no other way, and I really didn’t see that I had any other choice, anyway. I had nowhere else to turn.
With that decision came some declarations. The first thing I said was, “I’m never going to lie to myself again.” That was Truth. Almost in the same breath I made a second statement: “I’m going back.”
I’m going back to church.
I’m going back to God.
I’m going back to serving.
I’m going back to Relationship.
I wasn’t at all sure the Lord would take me back without some kind of conditions. I thought perhaps he would never allow me to serve on a worship team again. Honestly, I didn’t know. But, like the Prodigal Son, after considering the benefits of home, I decided that I was going back however God would take me—if He would just take me back. Humbled, I returned with a servant’s heart.
As soon as I made that decision, it was done! Instant restoration. There was no time lost—no waiting, no penalties, no lectures. Like the Prodigal Son upon his return home, I was transported right back to the place I’d been before I left five years earlier. My position in Christ was secure, and I had the feeling that nothing had changed.
Nothing had changed! Everything felt normal, as though those five years of cold estrangement had never occurred. Like it never happened. I didn’t feel that anything was lost. It was so over, and I was back in my rightful position, where I should have been all along.
It was comforting to know my long period of detachment was over. I felt safe and anchored, certain that I was in the right place. Though I had never doubted my salvation while I was away, I did know that I was out of place, out of position. Now that I was restored, I relished that position, that place of right-standing, as something I had missed and for which I had yearned. I felt such relief.
The invitation from home is to come as you are. Although my life was a mess—although I was a mess—my Heavenly Father received me with open arms. I didn’t know what the next day would hold, or what would become of my life, or what the Lord planned to do with me. (Frankly, I had no idea what He would do with the likes of me.) I still wasn’t sure if He loved me as much as He did others, and I still had lots of questions. But I did know that I was right where I should be.
I was home.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein
WhenI made the decision to return home, I did so with questions unanswered and problems unsolved. The haunting why questions left empty echoes in the corridors of my mind as they continued to challenge God’s love and compassion. I could not understand why He had allowed me to suffer so. I wanted those answers badly; I craved them. But as I made the decision to surrender my life fully to God, I was well aware that I might never get them. So when I say that I turned toward home with my mess in tow and my questions unanswered, know that I went back in spite of those questions.
I had no idea how things would work out since my entire life was a shipwrecked mess. Returning in that condition was a colossal step, as I was conceding to failure on all counts. Not only did I not know what to do with myself, I couldn’t imagine what God would do with me, either—and I was scared to think of what that might be, since I was basically scared of God. If I were to rate my trust level with God at that time, on a scale of 1-10 it would probably have ranged somewhere around 2 to 4.
How could I run to a God I felt I couldn’t trust? How could I turn to the One I suspected had turned His head during my time of need? If I’d thought God had not been fair in the past, what could I expect from Him in the future? While some might consider my concerns too bold, I could not pretend they didn’t trouble me. I’d already decided never to lie to myself again when I entered into Truth, and I wasn’t about to start backing down from that already. I had to be honest with myself, and I had to be honest with God: I had serious questions. I knew He could handle my uncertainties, even if I wasn’t at all sure that I could.
As I managed to push past all the questions, doubt, and confusion, I prepared myself for the worst. I had to face it, perhaps my suspicions about God were right. What if He really didn’t care for me very much?
I decided to accept that perhaps it was true. Maybe God really didn’t love me as much as others. To me, this was a real possibility. I knew the Bible says God is love, but I couldn’t find where it says He loves everyone equally. Maybe, I thought, He loves some people a lot and some people just a little bit. Maybe I was someone that He loved just a little . . . and I decided to be okay with that if it turned out to be true.
As a parent, I know how much I love to bless my own daughters. When I considered (according to my understanding) how God had allowed me to suffer, even while I continued to serve Him, deep misgivings surfaced in my mind. Logically, I thought I had evidence for all my doubt. I believed there was a very real chance that I really didn’t matter much to the Lord. It was in that light that I made the best decision possible: Even if it’s true . . . even if God doesn’t love me as much as He loves everyone else, I love Him, and I’m going back anyway!
Like the Prodigal Son, I returned home without conditions. I didn’t say “Father, I’ll come back if You’ll do this or do that.” I went home however the Father would take me, even as a servant—if he would just take me back.
There are no conditions to your Relationship with God. When you return home, you surrender it all. You come with questions unanswered and problems unsolved. You come with your mess in tow. You come broken and stinking, disheveled and confused. You don’t get to negotiate. You don’t say, “Okay, God, I’ll commit to You if…” There are no ifs. You come soberly prepared to be a servant, even if your life never gets any better and your problems never get resolved. Even if you never find answers to your questions.
I was prepared to be disappointed. Returning home, I expected the worst and braced myself for a lukewarm welcome. Painfully conscious of my own failures, I knew I didn’t deserve anything more than that.
Was I ever surprised! I am delighted to report that on the day I said, “I’m going back,” the Lord welcomed me with open arms. This was a surprise to me, but I wasn’t about to argue. The thought I’d had earlier—that there was something going on with my life that I didn’t know about, but God did—kept bouncing around in my thoughts, and it seemed to change my perspective a bit. It kept me engaged. My eyes were wide open, and I was amazed at this warm reception by Heaven. I’d been offended at God for such a long time—and He wasn’t even mad about it!
God will not disappoint you. Even if everyone in your life has let you down, God won’t do that. Perhaps you’re worried that the Lord sees you as damaged goods—and perhaps you are. (For the record, we’re all damaged goods.) But God isn’t mad at you. He understands you have unanswered questions and doubts—but He isn’t waiting to punish you. His grace is enough to overcome, whatever your darkest hour looks like. He already knows about it, anyway, and He isn’t holding a grudge.
COME AS YOU ARE
When I renewed my Relationship with Jesus Christ I came with all my mess in tow. I didn’t have time to clean up my act, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have known where to start. I didn’t try to make myself presentable, or even powder my spiritual nose. I just came.
The religious view says that you must clean up your act before you can become a Christian. Perhaps you’ve heard it preached that a new believer should be so transformed at salvation that they no longer sin! That kind of theology might work for some people, but for a whole lot of people it just keeps them away. It keeps them away from God, it keeps them away from church, and it keeps them away from a community of Spirit-filled believers who can become for them a source of encouragement and strength.
Genuine Relationship demands you come to Jesus Christ just as you are, with the mess. You don’t try to clean up first. Someone once told me, “I’m going to start going back to church, but I want to clean up my life first.” As though they could!
The best thing you can do is just admit that you can’t. You don’t have it all together, and yes, you’ve failed. When you surrender your life to Jesus, you surrender the mess along with all the rest of you. It might surprise you to know that God insists on this. Actually, it’s part of the deal.
So if everything is a mess when you come, then it’s a mess. Just let it be.
If you are struggling with depression, you come depressed.
If you are addicted to drugs, you come as a drug addict.
If you have become dependent on alcohol, you come as an alcoholic.
If you have serious anger issues, you come angry.
If you are sick with worry, you come anxious.
If your marriage is in trouble, you come with troubles.
If you’ve been rejected, you come heartbroken.
If you have financial problems, you come broke.
If you have struggled with promiscuity, you come needing love.
If you have committed serious crimes, you come guilty.
If you have suicidal thoughts and tendencies, you come with suicidal thoughts.
If you are struggling with overwhelming fear, you come fearful.
If you have health or mental issues, you come sick.
If your life is out of control, you come helpless.
You simply come.
Coming to God with your mess in tow is an act of submission and unconditional surrender. What you are really surrendering is your control, and that’s what scares most people. You will probably feel a bit vulnerable, but that’s okay. Feeling vulnerable is a sign that a Relationship is real. Any genuine Relationship you’ll ever have will subject you to vulnerability, which basically means that when you open yourself up to another person, you take the chance of getting hurt—and the more passionate the Relationship, the greater the vulnerability.
However, you’re in the safest place you could be. You will find that God takes the whole package—you and your mess—without hesitation. God is more concerned with the wounds of your heart than He is about any peripheral things that may be going on in your life at the moment. He takes it all, and He’s not intimidated by your issues. He’s capable.
Come to Him just as you are. You’ll find that He is the ultimate Father, the source of all Truth and love, and He has been watching over you. Waiting for you. He has been waiting for you to return to Him and surrender it all—your brokenness, your issues, your challenges, your mess. Your pain. He knows all about it, and He will receive you just as you are. He loves you unconditionally, and He cares about everything that concerns you.
Come as you are, without delay. With a servant’s heart, surrender with no conditions. And enter into the greatest Relationship you will ever know.
Relationship comes first!