The Discomforting Comfort of Turning to God

Hebrews 12:14-17

14Pursue peace with all [people], and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.

15See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;

16that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.

17For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

Hindrances to True Repentance
Jacob and Esau were the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah (see Genesis 25:19-34), as well as grandsons of Abraham and Sarah. Esau sold his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for a meal. (The birthright meant eventual headship of the family and a double share of the inheritance.) He also sought for repentance with tears but he could not (allow himself?) get there and was rejected by God. Why? I believe that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews displays deep prophetic insight into Esau’s psyche and identifies specific hindrances to Esau’s repentance. Repentance, is sometimes a last ditch effort to comply with our perception of God’s standards in order to avoid God’s wrath and punishment. However, the above description would more accurately characterize relentance and not repentance. In reality, repentance is one of the grand privileges of the Christian faith. So what is true biblical repentance?

Repentance Defined: not only a turning away from sin, but also a turning to God
In his book The Wounded Heart, Dan Allender records some penetrating yet refreshing definitions: “Repentance is an about-face movement from denial and rebellion to truth and surrender…repentance involves the response of humble hunger, bold movement, and wild celebration when faced with the reality of our fallen state and the grace of God…It is a shift in perspective as to where life is found…It is melting into the warm arms of God, received when it would be so understandable to be spurned.”

These are recorded for us as six specific admonitions:
1. Pursue peace with all people (v.14) – [To run swiftly in order to catch] [Peace — the harmonized relationships between God and humankind, the sense of rest and contentment. The corresponding Heb. word shalom primarily signifies “wholeness:”] Roms 12:18 – If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all [people].

2. Pursue sanctification (v.14) – [Sanctification is to set apart our heart’s and life for God’s purpose.] Esau was rejected by God because he steadfastly refused to serve the purpose of God and instead served his lust for the immediate and the tangible.

3. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God (v.15) – [Exercising oversight] [The merciful kindness by which God; exerting holy influence upon souls; turns them to Christ; keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection; and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues] We are to deposit the grace of God into everybody’s account! Titus 2:11,12 asserts, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all [people], instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.”

4. See to it that no root of bitterness springs up – causing trouble and defiling many (v.15) – [Metaphor for extreme wickedness] [To dye with another color, to stain; to defile, pollute, sully, contaminate, soil] Deuteronomy 29:18-20 defines a root of bitterness as, “walk(ing) in the stubbornness of my heart.” Unforgiveness and unresolved hurt &/or anger combine to create a deadly poison. We must take the time to resolve our misunderstandings and differences. (Matthew 18:15-17 identifies the biblical pattern for conflict resolution)

5. Immorality (v.16) — Proverbs 5:9 tells us that in immorality, “you give your vigor to others and your years to the cruel one” (Satan). Hardly worth it for a few moments of sensual gratification.

6. Godlessness (v.16) — Most followers of Christ think they are immune to this admonition, yet we need to ask ourselves this question: Do I invite the wisdom and counsel of God to accompany me as I move throughout my days? Proverbs 3:6 (TLB) tells us, “In everything you do, put God first, and He will direct you and crown your efforts with success.”

Esau found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears. I want my heart to remain soft and pliable before the Lord through humility, honesty, and integrity – quick to identify, confess, and forsake my sins. I want to live my life in grateful surrender to the plans and purposes that God has ordained for my life. I want to experience the blessings of being in right relationship with the King of kings and the Lord of lords through the privilege of repentance! This concept has come to be know as “walking in brokenness and vulnerability.” It is the counterintuitive way of the Christ-follower – and the unlikely route to joy (a chapter title in Allender’s book).

Romans 2:4 – the kindness of God leads us to repentance

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.