Surrender as a Tipping Point

Malcolm Gladwell published his best selling book The Tipping Point in 2000. Tipping points are “the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable.”[1] Gladwell defines a tipping point as a sociological term: “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”[2] The book endeavors to explain and describe the “mysterious” sociological changes that mark everyday life. Gladwell says, “Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do.”[3]

I’ve been considering the tipping point relative to the concept of surrender. From a big-picture perspective it seems we all surrender to something. It may be ambition, it may be a vice, it may be a philosophy. It reminds me of the Bob Dylan song, Gotta Serve Somebody[4]:

You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Surrender is inevitable. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of to what – or to who?

In 1 Kings 20:1-3 Ben-Hadad, king of Aram (Damasus), sent Ahab, king of Israel, a very audacious demand:

“Now Ben-Hadad king of Aram mustered his entire army. Accompanied by thirty-two kings with their horses and chariots, he went up and besieged Samaria and attacked it. He sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel, saying, “This is what Ben-Hadad says: ‘Your silver and gold are mine, and the best of your wives and children are mine.'”

Verse four gives us an excellent initial definition of surrender:

4The king of Israel answered, ‘Just as you say, my lord the king. I and all I have are yours’” (emphasis added).

While surrender might be a life-long process – where’s the tipping point?

For the last several years I have been particularly drawn to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel chapters 5-7. In particular, I see the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-11 as a very specific spiritual formation pathway – each one a stepping-stone, or even a prerequisite, for the next. The word beatitude comes from the Latin word meaning “blessed” and, more specifically, the word refers to the potential for us to know exalted joy, or true happiness.

The first beatitude gives us some insight into surrender – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Being poor in spirit acknowledges a desperateness of soul that is weary of living in it’s own strength and longs for the refreshment of God’s mercy and grace.  I see becoming poor in spirit as a main ingredient of a life surrendered.

What I believe Jesus and the first beatitude is teaching is that surrender can be defined, or described, as admitting that by myself, left to my own devices, I am completely powerless and that I need something beyond myself to set me free.”[5] The Message translation says it so well, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”

Recovery folks seem to get this, but church folks seem to have a hard time with it.

I find that aiming to live in the brokenness and vulnerability that the Beatitudes invite us into is the counter-intuitive route to a deep and abiding joy. (There is a difference between happiness and joy, but that’s for another blog.)

Following is an overview of how I see one unfolding into the next…

Blessed are the poor in spirit… To enter into God’s kingdom, we are invited to admit that we have come to the end of ourselves and are in need of God’s help and care. (The first steps of surrender.)

Blessed are those who mourn… As we are honest about our own sinful predilections there will be a transforming grief, or repentance, that surfaces – not only for our own lives, but also for the injustice, greed, and suffering that grips our world.

Blessed are the meek…Grieving over sin and suffering places us in a humble posture that helps us become life-long learners (disciple means learner).

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…To be hungry and thirsty is the desire to be empty of those things that don’t reflect God, and initiates a deep longing for wholeness in our lives.

Blessed are the merciful…As we receive God’s mercy we begin to give mercy – to ourselves and to others.

Blessed are the pure in heart… Mercy cleanses our heart and restores purity to our lives.

Blessed are the peacemakers… Purity gives way to a personal serenity and peacefulness. Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the absence of anxiety in the midst of inevitable conflict – and when others encounter it, they want it too.

Blessed are the persecuted… Living life from a kingdom of God perspective will place us in conflict with those that oppose it (sometimes it’s “religious” people!).

Finally, Andrew Murray, a 19th century South African author, revivalist, and pastor, emphasizes that it is God who actually accomplishes our surrender:

“God does not ask you to give the perfect surrender in your strength, or by the power of your will; God is willing to work it in you. Do we not read: “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” [Phil 2:13]? And that is what we should seek for — to go on our faces before God, until our hearts learn to believe that the everlasting God…will come in to turn out what is wrong, to conquer what is evil, and to work what is well-pleasing in [God’s] blessed sight. God…will work it in you.”[6]

Here we have a refined description for surrender: Go on our faces before God, until our hearts learn…

So, where’s the tipping point? While surrender is a lifetime journey there is usually a dark night of the soul that captures our attention – and if we’re honest we catch a glimpse of our poverty and we find ourselves on our faces beginning to learn. In our surrender the dark nights become the fuel that leads to that deep and abiding joy.

Augustine of Hippo, the 4th century church father described what may have been his tipping point: “All my empty dreams suddenly lost their charm and my heart began to throb with a bewildering passion for the wisdom of eternal truth…My God, how I burned with longing to have wings to carry me back to you, away from all earthly things, although I had no idea what you would do with me!”[7]

God is good.


[1] Walsh, Bryan. “A green tipping point.” Time Magazine. 2007-10-12.

[2] Gladwell, p. 12

[3] Gladwell, p. 7

[4] Slow Train Coming (1979)

[5] Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Holy Hunger: A Memoir of Desire, Knopf (1999)

[6] Absolute Surrender, Moody-Press: Chicago (1895), p 8.  This text is in public domain and can be downloaded here: http://www.jesus.org.uk/vault/library/murray_absolute_surrender.pdf

[7] Confessions III, 4.

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