The call to surrender is a huge buzzword in the church, often threaded through our sermons and conversations, causing it to become a string in our DNA that we simply pass on without a wholesome consideration of its implications. Having grown up in such an environment my whole life, I feel like a pendulum vacillating between radically laying down my life and doubting whether it’s actually pleasing to the Lord. When I read Romans 12, urging us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, I run to the altar to dispose of all my dreams and desires—only to stagger back as I read from Psalm 51 that He doesn’t “delight in sacrifice” nor “take pleasure in burnt offerings.” This is a hyperbolic description, but it paints a good picture of my confusion when trying to understand how I should please the Lord in my life.
A few weeks ago, Pastor Dennis briefly mentioned the idea of “levels of relationship” with Jesus. A baby Christian follows Jesus to be a disciple, later a bondservant, then a friend. I used to relish in the thought that I’m His friend, but when I realized I couldn’t confidently call myself a bondservant, I had to reconsider. So how can I become a bondservant? Again, my brain lights up and identifies “Surrender!” as the right answer. But… haven’t I been surrendering? All the things I’ve let go, all the hours I’ve devoted for His Kingdom…
So, the Lord guided me to 1 Samuel, and enlarged my narrow definition of surrender that I’ve adhered to for so long. In the chapter, the Bible illustrates the rise of Israel’s next great leader and prophet, Samuel. After Hannah dedicates her son to the temple, Samuel seems to do nothing but “minister to the Lord.”
1 Samuel 2:11 – Then Elkanah went home to Ramah, but the boy ministered before the Lord under Eli the priest.
1 Samuel 2:18 – But Samuel was ministering before the Lord—a boy wearing a linen ephod.
1 Samuel 2:21b – Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.
1 Samuel 2:26 – And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men.
1 Samuel 3:1a – The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli.
Needless to say, Samuel did a lot of ministering. As I read these verses, I imagine a teen just sitting in the temple praising, maybe meditating, all the time, but a deeper look into the Word reveals that ministering is a deep state of the heart more than actions.
Google defines minister to be “to attend to the needs of someone.” According to the Blue Letter Bible, the dictionaries define a minister to be a “servant” or an “attendant.” Joshua was a minister to Moses; Elisha a minister to Elijah; Paul a minister to the gospel. And this is further exemplified in 1 Samuel 3, when the Lord first calls Samuel. After some misunderstandings, Samuel realizes the Lord is calling him in the night and replies, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” (1 Sam 3:10). The common theme that resonates from these definitions and examples is, simply, availability. When one is a servant, he has no other agenda than to fulfill the will of his master, so his mind and body are fully ready and accessible.
Then contrast Samuel’s behavior with that of Eli’s sons, who served as priests, but disobeyed the laws and manipulated the sacrifices that were being made. “But even before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the person who was sacrificing, ‘Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw,” (1 Sam: 2:15). Although it may be extreme to make such a comparison, reading the way they treated these sacrifices pointed to the ways I often orchestrate or try to control my own “surrenderings” to the Lord. Yes, my life is marked with surrender, but I concern myself with whether I’m missing out on certain breakthroughs or blessings. I choose to give extra hours to the prayer room, but in the back of my mind, also start planning my rest of the day so I’ll be able to finish other responsibilities in time. I surrender legitimate pleasures of the world, but then become so distracted by its difficulty that my mind and emotions are no longer available to Him. Although at first glance the sacrifice may have been made, I’m in actuality closed off and busied with performance, not relationship. Eli’s sons completed the sacrifices in the temple, but their hearts were much more focused on the sacrifice than on the God they worshiped.
Would I be able to confidently tell the Lord to speak whatever, because I am available to listen and obey? Or would I have to filter through what I am willing to sacrifice and present the Lord with a multiple-choice listing? Samuel postured himself to minister to the Lord even though “in those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions” (1 Samuel 3:1). Here I am obsessing over what I must give to God, what it will cost me, how much it will hurt; while Samuel is positioned for obedience—even without prophetic words or visions—because he is fixated on the Lord.
The call to be a minister, or servant, of the Lord really isn’t about the sacrifice of the actions; it has no definitive appearance. We can no longer afford to be married to a structure or form of ministry and call it surrender. Rather, we need a locked gazed onto Jesus, a heart so engaged with the glory of the Son—that the mind, body, and whatever else left simply find their unique, authentic ways to attend to One who is so worthy.