This post is the first in a series reflecting on the book “Anything” by Jennie Allen. I’ll be posting on this each Monday throughout February and March. It is also part of a wider series on “Surrender” which is the word God has led me to focus on for 2016. For an index of other posts on this subject, click here.
“God, we will do anything. Anything.”
This is the prayer that Jennie Allen prayed along with her husband- a prayer surrendering everything to God. Her book tells the story of how she reached the point of praying that prayer and how it has impacted her life. She encourages others to follow suit, acknowledging that surrender is costly but identifying it as the path to freedom.
“The prayer held in it a thousand little deaths. In saying, “Anything,” we were handing him everything.”
The first part of the book explores the barriers that keep us from surrendering to God. The chapters I read this week look at three of these: unbelief, pretending and shame.
Unbelief is a barrier because to be able to surrender everything to God we need to see him as he is. Jennie talks about the concept of “plastic gods”– that it is easy to believe in God when life is good without truly knowing him or understanding who he is. There is a particular danger for people who have been brought up in Christian families that they accept the idea of God quite happily, but without really knowing him or seeing his relevance for their lives.
God becomes real when we have to depend on him- when we hold to his promises and see him come through, when we step out and take a risk, trusting him. Then we don’t just know about God- we actually know him and experience his faithfulness.
I am fortunate in this that God became real to me at an early age and that through difficult circumstances I learned to turn to him and depend on him, but that’s not to say unbelief is not an issue. Jennie points out that “every sin, at its root, is based in something we do not fully believe about God.” I know that I struggle to fully trust and surrender to God so this made me ask myself: What faulty beliefs do I have about God that mean I want to be in control, rather than trusting God and letting him take control? I don’t have an answer to that yet, but it is something I am reflecting on.
The second barrier to surrender is pretending. Instead of admitting our need for God we can try to cope by ourselves. After Adam and Eve sinned, they tried to cover themselves with leaves, and we can do the same with leaves of religion, morality or being good.
It is easy to focus on our outward behaviour and looking good to other people. It is easy to look at others and compare ourselves- to judge others and think that we are better than them, to think that we can work hard and be good and it will all work out. We don’t want to face ourselves as we are and we certainly don’t want others to see us as we are, so we hide.
“Pretending to be good halts God’s movement in our life. Legalism or religion helps us feel better about ourselves, puffs us up, gives us the posture to be critical and judgemental and prideful.” Yet Jesus came for the lost and the broken- the people who were aware of their sin and saw their need for God.
This chapter also challenged me. Outward good behaviour was highly valued as I was growing up and there was definitely a temptation to hide and pretend and make things look good on the surface, when I knew the reality was different. It is also easy to think because I try to be good and try to work hard and care for others and do my best that I am doing better than other people and that somehow it’s enough- but it’s not.
“The Gospel of grace fights every piece of pride in us. When God gives us grace, he is also taking something from us. He takes our control.” We are not able to earn righteousness. There is nothing we can do to fix things ourselves. We have to acknowledge our need of God.
Again I am grateful for the difficult experiences that have shown me very clearly my need for God, for the fact that I was able to draw close to him through them, and that I have always found it much easier to be honest with God than with other people.
The third barrier to surrender is shame- because we are ashamed of ourselves or of our sin we can hesitate to draw close to God, fearing his anger or rejection. “We’re afraid he’s the mean teacher from second grade, but instead he is the safest place we’ll ever be.” By bringing ourselves and our sin into the light we can experience God’s love, forgiveness and restoration. Instead of being dragged down by the weight of our sin and shame we can let it drive us to God. Repentance can feel like death, but it is the path to freedom.
“If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1:8-9)
As I reflected on this week’s section of the book and on God’s character and grace I realised that the only suitable response to that is surrender. It is a high cost, but considering everything he has done for us, it is not unreasonable.
Join me next Monday for part 2…
…And you may not all appreciate this, but I have had this song in my head every time I think about the book so I feel I have to share it! 🙂