The second season of "American Idol" crowned a winner named Ruben Studdard. Due to his fame from the show, he had various record deals and somewhat limited success. But his genre specialty post "Ameican Idol" was gospel music due to his strong, smooth vocals. His version of the gospel classic, “I Surrender All” had some slightly different lyrics and seems to even have an extra verse compared to most versions.
I surrender all to You I'll do whatever you want me to Nothing else I'd rather do With my life, Lord I'll serve you every day Even when things don't go my way Lord you can trust me to never [stray], oh
What always struck me about this version was the addition of the line: “I’ll serve you every day, even when things don’t go my way.” For some reason that seemed like quite a high standard. I don’t want to think I treat God like Santa Claus, and yet I do have a resting position that is constantly evaluating how I feel and how well life is going for me.
One’s personal definition of surrender often evolves over time. When my children were little, my grip was so tight on their lives and circumstances that very little was truly surrendered. As the years go by and you watch devastated parents bury their precious children, cancer rampantly appear with no explanation on why some get it and survive and some don’t, and marriages collapse left and right around you, you find yourself beaten into a submission that fully gets we are in control of next to nothing most of the time. That’s initially not a fun realization, but if you stick with it, there can be peace at the end of the tunnel.
That acceptance that only God is in control and bad things will continue to happen on this earth (as well as beautiful and miraculous moments) can help us to loosen our grip on all we use to measure “how good” our life is at any given moment. I love the passage in John 6:64-69:
64 But there are some of you who do not believe.”(For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Somewhere over the years of listening to “I Surrender All,” I began to resonate deeply with Peter in this passage – “Lord, to whom shall we go?” As hard as life can be (and overseeing Congregational Care at a large church gives me a front row seat to a lot of brokenness and heartache), where would I go? Seriously. I don’t have an answer. No Plan B here. As Paul says, if the Gospel isn’t true, then we are to be pitied. But if it is true, we have nothing else so lean in hard even when life is miserable. I’m banking on it being TRUE.
Surrender doesn’t mean you like everything life brings you. God is so gracious to let us wrestle and question our circumstances. My personal line to add to the song would be:
I surrender all; I may complain and also grieve, but even so I will not leave.
Surrender only means that ultimately, I’m trusting in God’s plan over my own and if I end up with him, then I come out okay. Scott recently preached a moving sermon after a tragic death in our community expressing what this surrender looks like in a believer’s life. Ask yourself if you are judging God and his perceived goodness by your circumstances or are you clinging to God’s goodness as you deal with your circumstances? That doesn’t mean I can’t be angry or upset when life is hard. But true surrender rests in the fact that regardless of what this life brings, my relationship with God remains. That’s what I cling to the hardest. That awareness that my only true option is Jesus makes it a little less scary to weather all the heartache and disappointments.