The Spiritual Discipline of Surrender

As Christians, we are active-duty soldiers in a great spiritual war (Eph. 6:10-18). The trouble is, many of us are fighting on the wrong battlefield, with the wrong weapons, against the wrong enemy. We concentrate on our earthly problems instead of the eternal picture; attack with our own skill and cleverness instead of the power of God’s Word and Spirit; and focus our fire on troublesome circumstances, other people, or even God Himself, instead of the flesh and the devil.

We think of spiritual disciplines as things requiring determined action on our part, but perhaps the hardest discipline of all is the one that requires us to do the least. While a Christian must never surrender to the true enemy, repeated surrender to God is an essential element and practice of the Christian life. Particularly when we come to realize that we’ve in fact been fighting against His plan, His will, and perhaps even His direct orders.

There are six steps to every true surrender.

1. Admit defeat to yourself first. History records many accounts of soldiers so committed to their cause that they kept fighting to the end even when offered the chance to surrender. Many died with the belief that their army was winning when in fact the battle was already lost. That’s how it is when we convince ourselves we can continue in a self-destructive way of life and get away with it. Cecil B. DeMille said, “We cannot break [God’s commandments]. We can only break ourselves against them.” Surrender is recognizing a losing battle before we break ourselves fighting it.

2. Stop. Even a soldier who stops fighting may choose to flee rather than be captured. To surrender means to give up both options, to stand still, to abandon all active attempts at evasion. If we claim to have surrendered our lives to God, but keep on without pause in the same old frantic activity level, we are only giving lip service to His being in charge. The Sabbath was instituted so God’s people would regularly stop long enough to pay attention to Him, to get to know Him instead of simply knowing about Him.

3. Let go. The physical motion of surrender is the same the world over: “Drop your weapons and raise your hands!” Any soldier or police officer with any sense makes sure that a prisoner’s hands are empty and in full view–where any attempt to strike out can be quickly countered–until the prisoner is completely secured. On the spiritual level, most of us have a clenched-fist attitude toward at least one thing we desperately want to keep: a relationship, a job, a comfortable habit. When God commands, “Drop that and lift your hands to Me,” are we prepared to comply, in faith He will fill our empty hands with better things?

4. Transfer control. Prisoners of war generally have more sense than to demand a cup of gourmet latte before their captors even ask their names and ranks. Yet we Christians often want all the benefits of being God’s children and all the best of the worldly life; and we not only want it, we consider it our due. We pray for a job, but won’t take the one God calls us to because it pays only $50,000 a year. We ask God to change our spouses, but pout when He says that the first step is changing ourselves. We whine first because we aren’t sure we’ll get enough to eat, then because we’ve eaten manna for too long. The whole essence of surrender is accepting that someone else is now in charge: someone else will now decide where you go, what you eat, and how your time will be allotted.

5. Come quietly. It’s almost a cliché, the arrest scene where the prisoner is ordered not only to come along, but to come quietly. There are prisoners who ignore their right to remain silent and protest the unfairness of it all until their captors need every drop of self-control to refrain from punching them in the mouth. A person who does that hasn’t really surrendered; he’s like the little boy who growled at his father, “I’ll sit down on the outside because you told me to, but on the inside I’ll keep standing up!” With God, the order to quiet down is more than a means of ensuring we behave ourselves; it’s a means of helping us to listen, to hear God as He draws us closer to Him and instructs us on the better path for the future.

6. Wait and see. Most prisoners of war have a long and uncertain wait for release. Likewise with those of us who are where God generally sends His people in their early stages of surrender–in what various Christian writers have called “the cave,” “the land between,” or even “the pit.” We’re frequently nervous, uncomfortable, feeling trapped without hope of escape, and wondering why God doesn’t just fix everything now that we’ve given Him permission. His best work, especially in people, takes time. Premature release into the situation we desire might find us unprepared for it–and on a quick path back to the same miserable spot we were in before we ever thought about surrender.

Think about it now. Realize that surrender to God is not only a discipline. It should be our way of life.

Leave a comment


  1. Jerrie

     /  January 18, 2013

    Katherine, once again you went straight to the heart of the matter. I have shared this with those I care about. Thank you.

  2. Katherine, you speak with wisdom.

  3. RebeccaAarup

     /  January 19, 2013

    Brilliant post.

    • Thanks, Rebecca! Would you mind telling me how you found this post, and if you plan to subscribe to the e-mail list?

      • RebeccaAarup

         /  January 23, 2013

        I did a search for “spritual warfare” and this blog was in a list of many others who tagged spiritual warfare in a post. That’s how I found it!


     /  November 19, 2017

    For 3 years I have asked God to help me surrender..I am at that break I finally figured out I have an eatting disorder since 13 I am now 36. God is helping me. I typed in surrender to disapline. My now almost husband is helping me be disciplined. I told him help me. God gave me this man and God and my fiancee are doing just that. Thank u cried while reading.


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