I gave a short talk at the evening prayer service at my church yesterday. I thought I’d share it here as we move into Holy Week.
We’re now in the fifth week of Lent. We’ve been into the three traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving for more than a month. As we are reminded every year, Lent requires some surrender, some “letting go” of those things that hold us back from full communion with God.
With fasting and almsgiving, that “letting go” is obvious. If we give up something for Lent – say, chocolate, or television, we are letting it go, at least temporarily. Likewise, when we give alms, we’re letting go of some of our material goods or wealth for the benefit of another.
But what about in prayer? How do we let go, or surrender, in prayer?
I’m going to propose that surrender in prayer means letting God be God.
Now, that may sound kind of silly; God doesn’t need our permission to be Lord of all Creation. God is who God is, independent of us – independent of me and what I think.
But letting God be God, if we dig deeper into that idea, is a big deal. Because suddenly, we are faced with the fact that we, our needs, and our wants, and our plans, and our vision — and our ego — are not the center of the universe. Life is a wonderful teacher of this truth. Have you ever had something turn out far differently from how you planned it? But we can still cling to our illusion of control, despite being proven wrong, time and time again.
To acknowledge God as God means that we have to surrender our own plans and desires, and even our worries. Maybe especially our worries! Only then will God be God – sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways – but we will never see the hand of God in our lives as long as we insist on trying to control every last detail ourselves.
We can see this principle at work in the Gospels. When Jesus and his disciples came to Nazareth, his hometown, the people were full of their own ideas about of who Jesus was, saying, isn’t this the Carpenter’s son? Don’t we know his Mother? Don’t we know his family? Where did he get all this? Their presumptions about Jesus took up so much room in their minds and their hearts than there was no space for God to get in there and show them something new. And the Gospel tells us Jesus didn’t work many miracles there because of their lack of faith.
By contrast, Jesus healed the centurion’s servant when the centurion emptied himself of all pride and said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, only say the word and my servant will be healed.” This past Sunday, we heard the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus worked that miracle only when Mary and Martha, devastated by their terrible loss, let go of their concern about their brother having been dead four days already, and, showing great trust, had the stone removed as Jesus commanded. And only when Jesus himself let go of everything – his friendships, his dignity, his very life – only then did God perform the greatest miracle of all – raising him to new life again.
If we want to see God in our lives, we need to empty ourselves to make room for faith.
What do we need to surrender to God?
What do we have let go from our lives, to give our faith room to grow, and to let God be God?
He won’t come barging into our lives. We have to make room, and then invite him in.
And we never know the miracles God may do when he’s got the room to work.