The Practice of Surrender for Overcoming Temptations
Let’s now turn our attention to the practice of surrendering ourselves to God. The first thing to note is that Satan uses fear against us in order to hide from us, the areas of our lives which we have not surrendered to God. If we do not surrender ourselves to God in any area at all, this becomes ammunition for Satan to tempt us away from trusting God in other areas as well. If we are aware of our inability to fully surrender ourselves to God, then we must concentrate on discovering the reason in order to disarm Satan from this tool he has against us. If we are not, then we must discern any lack of surrender we might possess. Neither task is an enterprise we should undertake alone. We must ask Jesus to guide us into our past and to reveal to us areas of resistance to surrender, and for these areas what it is that has wounded us and led us to distrust others, including God. We then are enabled to pray for the healing of this wound and for protection against Satan’s use of it against us.
We must then pray for the grace to surrender ourselves. If our fear is so ingrained we are even fearful of praying for the grace, then perhaps we can back up a step and pray for the grace to want to pray for the grace to surrender ourselves. If even this is too fear inducing, we can keep backing up and praying for the grace, to want to pray for the grace, to want to pray for the grace… to pray for the grace to surrender ourselves. God will take us where we are and work with that for which we are ready at the time. Nevertheless, we must develop the courage to overcome fear and other emotions that are preventing us from fully surrendering ourselves to the only relationship that can ultimately heal us, save us, and give us the joy for which we are searching. Effective discernment of thoughts and emotions is the irreplaceable path forward during this process.
In discerning the source of our thoughts and emotions, it is likely the negative aspects will be a combination of wounds and of spiritual warfare. It would be a mistake to misclassify them as solely one or the other as doing so will make us less likely to be able to overcome their hold on us. We will effectively overcome them to the degree we address them in an integral manner. Moreover, we must also remind ourselves of Satan’s trick of using our emotions against us. He recognizes that if he can reassert the emotion with which we were struggling (e.g. a severe fear of being hurt if we allow ourselves to commit to an intimate relationship), it is likely that we will assume we have changed our minds about a decision we have already made (in this case, surrendering ourselves to God).
Our emotions are made to be very powerful truth tellers, such that we cannot say no to them. For this reason, without adequate awareness and redirection of inappropriate thoughts and feelings, we are likely to change our minds to conform with our feelings rather than to resisting the feelings. But our emotions only know apparent goods, not authentic goods. The truth of the human person and the effects of the fall require we train our emotions to conform to what we know to be true and good, and to keep steadfast when we have chosen the true and good. We must persevere in keeping vigilant about our thoughts and feelings, to reaffirm the good, and to disavow the evil as soon as we become aware of a destructive thought and/or emotion.
In resisting temptation, we should follow the formula found in the epistle of James 4:6-10. Here is the passage:
6 But he gives more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.
James shows the importance of overcoming pride through humility if we are to resist the devil. As we showed above, pride will make us defenseless against Satan. It is the antithesis of surrender to God. We must always begin with humility and then we submit ourselves to God. This is an important step. To try to resist the devil before we surrender falls into Satan’s tactics which leads us into a Pelagian resistance. A fight between an angel and a man by himself is not a fair fight. In such an encounter, the man loses every time. To make the fight unfair in the other direction, we must make the fight between Satan and God. We do this by surrendering ourselves to God. When we do this, Satan will flee. We are then free to disavow the thought or feeling. James makes it clear that we cannot be double minded here, for that is not surrender. What is double mindedness?
Double mindedness is the idea that we would like to have some outcome, but we are not fully committed to it. We are not quite ready to let go fully of our attachment that is keeping us from fully surrendering. Perhaps we like aspects of it. Perhaps we are simply fearful of the death to self that will be required. We would be willing to let it happen to us (if it were painless), but we are not willing to put ourselves into it. One hears about this double-mindedness among smokers who are trying to quit. When someone who has been smoking for years tries to quit, if he is doing it reluctantly (due to pressure from family, pressure from the doctor, etc.), he might like to quit, but he is not committed. In these situations, he may try every gimmick on the market but ultimately, he will be unsuccessful. Those who have quit after going through this “double-minded” process, will tell you that only when they became fully committed to quitting was it possible. And then, they did not need the gimmicks. They admit it was not easy, but when one is ready to quit smoking, one will do it “cold turkey.” When we submit to God and resist the devil, we must do it with full commitment. There are those who find this difficult because they are still building self-mastery and do not seem to be able to overcome their emotions of fear. For such circumstances, there is an approach that might be of help.
At the outset, let us emphasize that this should not be taken to be a “technique” as are those given in eastern methods of meditation and contemplation. Techniques are Pelagian. They are methods we use to control the situation, to have things done by our wills. The attitude of “technique” destroys the humility and docility that is the foundation for surrender to God, and one of Satan’s favorite tactics. Let us consider this approach as a process that takes into consideration the obstacles of fallen human nature and of spiritual warfare. Because we are body-soul unities, it is important to realize that muscular tenseness has a spiritual counterpart, which can be interior anxiety, fear, or other emotions that inclines toward resistance of the will to surrender. Therefore, we should surrender our wills and at the same time, relax our bodies. Satan can use a tense bodily disposition to reassert the “surrender blocking” emotion and so give rise again to the temptation to choose to resist surrendering.
A process of surrender that takes this into consideration is one that also parallels the process of surrender given by human nature’s relation to divine nature. In all things, God first invites us. We then receive Him and return ourselves to Him. However, as we have seen, this return is not with our ego. When we receive Him, we should envision receiving Christ into ourselves. We then envision our stepping aside and allowing Jesus to take our hand in order to lead us to return with Him to the Father. We actively choose to surrender ourselves during this entire process. If we match our bodily breathing process to this action of surrender and relaxing our muscles, then we can simultaneously blunt the opportunities for Satan to reassert the thoughts and emotions which cause us to fear to surrender. When we breath in, we are accepting God’s invitation of love. When we breath out, we step aside and follow Christ back to the Father, relaxing our bodies in the process. This is not meditative yoga, which is an eastern technique of Pelagianism followed by Quietism. Eastern meditation, therefore, is a technique that opens the practitioner to any spiritual being out there, which is spiritually suicidal. The process we present here is one that is always focused fully on Jesus Christ and the Father.
The process of surrendering to Jesus Christ can be particularly difficult when emotions arising from temptations or wounds are intense. This happens when we have made a habit of consenting to them. Recall from our earlier discussions that human nature employs emotions to assist us in pursing goods and avoiding evils. God’s design of human nature did not include our having to learn to say “no” to these affects. Because of our fallen state, saying no is precisely what we must often do. There is an interesting phenomenon taking advantage of the way emotions affect us that can help us more easily to say “no” to our emotions when we should.
One approach that can help you to emerge from the seemingly irresistible compulsion of a particular emotion is to try to look at the effect of the emotion from an outside perspective. This is sometimes called reflexive analysis. The steps to doing so can vary, but one easy process begins by locating in your body where you feel the emotion. Now imagine that you are looking at the emotion as some “thing,” perhaps a box. While you are imagining the effect of the emotion within yourself you will still feel its sensation, but you will begin to feel less of the sense that you are compelled to follow it. The sense of urgency and the anxiety associated with trying to resist it will begin to fade.
Now you envision Jesus next to you, which He is. Ask Him to reveal to you where this unwanted emotion is trying to move you and why? Once you think you understand where it wants you to go, you must disavow the emotion as not originating from your authentic self if it is moving you in a direction you know you should not go. You should also repent of any consent, regardless of how little or how much, you may have made to the thought and emotion you disavowed. The emotion now will likely still be felt but you should have almost no sense that you have to follow it. Finally, you ask Jesus to show you who is the source of the thought and emotion.
Imagine yourself looking at the emotion “box” and try to imagine seeing the person manipulating it, perhaps in front of it. You will likely see nothing, but any residual emotions should disappear at this point. As we said, the temptations will resurface later but following this process will help you to deal with any emotions that may arise if you do not become aware of the temptation early enough. Again, we need to avoid approaching this as a “technique” by which we control things. This attitude will simply feed us back into Satan’s irresistible temptations by another route. Rather, this is a process by which we can more easily surrender ourselves to Christ by means of His grace and His strength, not ours. Surrender is not a one-time event, it is a life-long process of ever deepening realization of areas within our lives of which we have not yet surrendered to Christ, followed by the process of handing it over to Him.
Within this process, do not be surprised to find that the temptations to resist continue to return repeatedly. This is simply Satan’s tactic in which he wants us to believe that we cannot keep resisting and surrendering. He tells us that we should not have to do this. He falsely offers that if we just give in to his temptation and to withhold our surrender to Christ, this unending process can finally come to an end. If we give into his false promise, we return like a dog to his vomit (see 2 Pt 2:22). Falling for Satan’s lie, we return to the familiar misery we were trying to escape. Satan is effective at convincing us to fear surrender and to fear healing. He does so by relying on our fear of the unknown and our preference for the familiar, even if the familiar is spiritually and emotionally killing us. If we continue to struggle with this, the element of spiritual warfare should be addressed directly. An important aspect of spiritual warfare of which we need to be aware is called deliverance prayer.