When I was nineteen years old, my grandfather was in his final hours of life after a long fight with cancer. He called each of his grandchildren into his room one at a time. I leaned over his fragile frame in order to hear the last words he would ever speak to me. He didn’t have the strength to open his eyes and could barely whisper the six words he spoke.
“Never give up on church.”
I told him I wouldn’t. But in order to keep my promise, I’d need to start making some significant changes in my life…like, actually going to church again. I had been out for a good three years, since my father left the ministry in a bloody battle of a business meeting.
Over time and with conviction, I slowly let my walls down and tried to make good on my pledge to my grandfather. My actions stemmed more from wanting to keep my promise than actually being obedient to what God wanted, but eventually my change of behavior caused a change in my heart and I fell in love with the church in all of her magnificence and her flaws.
I surrendered, slowly and timidly, to the call of unity God has placed on all His children. Surrender doesn’t come easily, especially when we’ve been hurt in the past. When we think about giving into something we used to push away from us, we’re met with an internal resistance. It’s easy to justify our actions that keep us walking the line between self-sufficiency and surrender.
As I’ve spent time talking to other Christians, and some who have even—in their own words—“left the faith,” or “left the church,” I’ve noticed a pattern so common it’s become perfectly acceptable without question. Someone enters into a relationship with a community of faith, and the programs or the legalism or the perceived lack of authenticity turns them away. It’s either too structured to have “organic” community (which is not a Biblical concept, by the way) or it’s so “organic” that relationships never grow because we don’t know how to grow them. So we bail.
I have a friend who’s an atheist but who stays in tune to what’s happening in different faiths. As he looked at the western Christian culture, it was easy for him to see the things that divide us. He bluntly asked me, “How can everyone in your faith be so divided yet claim to follow the same God?”
I truly believe this break in our unity is a strategic plan of the enemy.
Many Christians today have fallen into a culture that tells us we have the right to believe whatever we want to believe and are entitled to be right in our beliefs. And because of the surplus of platforms from which we can speak, never before our generation has a group of people been able to voice their beliefs so loud and clear.
Some see this as progress. I see it as subtle (and at times, not so subtle) expressions of selfishness. Where in our proclamations and defenses of our personal beliefs do we find humility? Where do we find surrender?
In order to have healthy relationships with God and others, we must surrender. To God, we surrender our desire to live our lives for ourselves. Only by dying to ourselves—our human nature—can we truly live in the identity of who God created us to be. In order to embrace the person we are meant to be, we must let go of the person, the ego, we created.
With others, we surrender our need to be right. We surrender our need to be heard. We trust in the paradox of finding peace in serving instead of demanding to be served and complaining about it when we aren’t.
Surrender goes against our very nature to be independent. Surrender indicates we willingly choose to rely on others. We must rewire our thinking to recognize that needing another person (and being the person someone else needs) is not a weakness; it only strengthens us.
(Most of this post was excerpted from my new book “Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable and Consistent Community.” It comes out this fall, but you can get a few free sample chapters here or preorder the book here.)