Surrender to Love

“We must open our spiritual eyes and see that we are in the river of God’s love and that our staying afloat and moving along are God’s responsibility. All we have to do is surrender.”


I recently finished David Benner’s book, Surrender to Love.

This is what it’s all about guys. When we get this, we can get everything else. When we miss this, we miss the point and have lost the plot.

The truth is that God is crazy in love with you. And he wants you to be part of the most incredible relationship with him imaginable. But before that can happen, you must experience his love. And this requires a willingness to surrender your fears, your illusions of control, your efforts to be a good person. It requires coming to the end of yourself and being willing to trust Jesus.

Only then can you follow him out of love and gratitude instead of duty, drudgery, and religious routine. Only then can you know him as he wants to be known and make true progress on your spiritual journey.

Below are the quotes I found most helpful. There’s a lot here, so consider saving this post and setting aside a daily time to work through it this week. If you want to go deeper, there’s always the book.

May God’s love fill, transform, and lead you as you enter into the new year.

“Christ does not simply want our compliance. He wants our heart. He wants our love and he offers us his. He invites us to surrender to his love.” 10

“If it is anything less than a response to love, Christ-following is not fully Christian.” 10

“In spite of the trivializing influence of romantic and sentimental views of love in Western culture, love is the strongest force in the universe. Gravity may hold planets in orbit and nuclear force may hold the atom together, but only love has the power the transform persons. Only love can soften a hard heart. Only love can renew trust after it has been shattered. Only love can inspire acts of genuine sacrifice. Only love can free us from the tyrannizing effects of fear. There is nothing more important in life than learning to love and be loved. Jesus elevated love as the goal of spiritual transformation. Psychoanalysts consider it the capstone of psychological growth. Giving and receiving love is at the heart of being human. It is our raison d’etre.” 10-11

“Imagine God thinking about you. What do you assume God feels when you come to mind?” 15

Think for a moment about how Christ-following develops if you assume God looks at you with disgust, disappointment, frustration or anger. The central feature of any spiritual response to such a God will be an effort to earn his approval.” 17

“Perhaps not surprisingly, Christians who assume that God is preoccupied with sin tend themselves to adopt the same focus.” 18

“What a different relationship begins to develop when you realize that God is head-over-heels in love with you. God is simply giddy about you. He just can’t help loving you. And he loves you deeply, recklessly and extravagantly – just as you are. God knows you are a sinner, but your sins do not surprise him. Nor do they reduce in the slightest his love for you.” 18

“Clearly I never need to fear returning to him – no matter what I have one or not done – because God’s love has nothing to do with my behavior.” 20

“When God thinks of us he feels a deep, persistent longing – not simply for our wholeness but, more basically, for our friendship. This possibility lies at the core of our own deepest desires. It also lies at the core of our deepest fulfillment.” 23

“We miss the point when we simply try to do what [Jesus] tells us to do. And we miss the point when we merely try to follow the pattern of his life. His life points us back to his own Source. His life is intelligible only when it is understood as the personification of divine love.” 25

“It is the experience of love that is transformational.” 26

“Ask Christians what they believe about God, and most will have a good deal to say. However, ask the same people what they know about God from direct personal experience, and most will have much less to say….Any authentic spiritual journey must grow from a direct, personal experience of God.” 27

“If God is love, he cannot be truly known apart from love..One cannot observe him from a distance and know him…One can encounter divine love only up close and personally.” 28

Verses to experience God’s love: Psalm 23, Psalm 91, Psalm 131, Isaiah 43:1-4, Isaiah 49: 14-16, Hosea 11:1-4, Matthew 10:29-31, Romans 8:31-39.

“One of the things that block us from gaining freedom from fear is that most fearful people don’t think of themselves as afraid. Unless their fears are focused on something external (such as snakes, heights or crowds), most people in bondage to fear fail to recognize the true nature of their inner distress.” 37-38

“Fearful people live within restrictive boundaries. They may appear quite cautious and conservative. Or they may borrow the horizons of their life by avoidance and compulsion. They also tend to be highly vigilant, ever guarding against life’s moving out of the bounds within which they feel most comfortable. Because of this, fear breeds control. People who live in fear feel compelled to remain in control. They attempt to control themselves and they attempt to control their world. Often despite their best intentions, this spills over into efforts to control others. Life beyond control is unimaginable, even though their efforts at control have only very limited success.” 40

“A familiar Christian hymn states that as I come to God, ‘nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.’ How deeply I resent this fact. How desperately I want to be able to contribute something to the deal – my faith, my effort, my love, my belief. But the bottom line is that Perfect Love meets me where I am and asks only that I open my heart and receive the love for which I long.” 46

“It is the things in ourselves that we refuse to face that have the greatest potential to tyrannize us.” 49-50

“Motivation counts because God wants our love and friendship, not just the right behavior. If he simply wanted compliance, he would have created a race of automatons.” 57

“Relying on the will to make things happen keeps us focused on the self. Life lived with resolve and determination is life lived apart from surrender. It is living with clenched-fisted doggedness. It is living the illusion that I can be in control. It is the rule of life lived in the kingdom of self. [In contrast]… Christ is the epitome of life lived with willingness. ‘Your will be done,” he prayed in what we call the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:10). And more than just in prayer, he lived this posture of preferring God’s will to his own. Christian spirituality is following Christ in this self-abandonment. It is following his example of willing surrender.” 58

“Obedience that is the grudging fruit of willful determination does not give God any more pleasure than it gives a parent. Nor does it bring us the vitality and fulfillment for which we long. All it does is reinforce our egocentricity and make us more rigid and more proud. Obedience that flows from a surrendered heart is totally different. Rather than willpower and resolve, love is the motive for what we will and what we do. This is the pattern of genuine Christian spiritual transformation. Such transformation always works from the inside out. And love is always its source, motivation and expression.” 58-59

“We must open our spiritual eyes and see that we are in the river of God’s love and that our staying afloat and moving along are God’s responsibility. All we have to do is surrender.” 63

“Too often people see Christianity in terms of rules and morality – a system of obligations and prohibitions. This entirely misses the point of Christ-following. Christian obedience is more like what lovers give each other than what soldiers give their superiors. Lovers demonstrate their love by doing what each other wants. And so it should be with Christians and their God.” 64

“We should obey God because he has won our hearts in love. If he has not, our focus should not be so much on obedience as on knowing his love. For once we get that solidly in place, obedience begins to take care of itself.” 64

“Apart from love, obedience is simply an act of obligation. As a response to love, duty becomes an act of devotion. God wants our devotion, not simply our acts of duty.” 64

“God turned out to be much more like a lover than an authority figure.” 66

“Considering how easy and natural floating is [an analogy for receiving and resting in God’s love], I am amazed how much energy I expend treading water. The lie I seem to believe is that my efforts are keeping me afloat, perhaps even keep me moving through the water. The reality is that all they do is tire me out, hold me in the same place and deprive me of the joyous discovery that I am supported. It is no wonder I long for rest. Trying to stay afloat and move through the water on my own energy satisfies my willful sense of independence, but it leaves me exhausted. And I never seem to get where I think I should be going. Then, in exhaustion, I momentarily surrender. I relax. I allow my full weight to be supported by the Spirit. And not only do I float, I flow with the current. My thrashing about in the water made me oblivious to its presence and force. Now I begin to know what I was fighting. To fail to go with the flow is to try to push the river. But the river – God’s Spirit – does not need any help.” 67

“So unlike the message of self-improvement gurus who offer the small extra bits of help we think we need to finish off our personal renovation projects, Jesus offer is abundant life based on death and rebirth.” 72

“Turning toward Jesus is the heart of repentance, because this is the only real possibility of turning away from sin. Turning toward Jesus also makes clear that repentance must be an ongoing matter. It must become a way of life.” 75

Anthony of the Desert said, “Every morning I must say again to myself, today I start.” 75

“Love is transformational only when it is received in vulnerability. It is not the fact of being loved unconditionally that is life-changing. It is the risky experience of allowing myself to be loved unconditionally.” 76

“Jesus did not come to encourage our self-transformational schemes.” 77

“To know that I am loved, I must accept the frightening helplessness and vulnerability that is my true state. This is always terrifying.” 78

“What we need is a knowing love that is deeper than belief. It must be based on experience. Only knowing love is sufficiently strong to cast out fear. Only knowing love is sufficiently strong to resist doubt.” 79

[Such experiential knowing of God’s love] results from meeting God in a contemplative state. It comes from sitting at the feet of Jesus, gazing into his face and listening to his assurances of love for me. It comes from letting God’s love wash over me, not simply trying to believe it. It comes from soaking in the scriptural assurances of love, not simply reading them and trying to remember or believe them. It comes from watching his watchfulness over me and listening to his protestations of love for me.” 79

“The goal is, as stated by Paul, that we might know the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, and so be filled with the utter fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19).” 79

“Our natural inclination is to bring the most presentable parts of our self to the encounter with God. But God wants us to bring our whole self to the divine encounter. He wants us to trust him enough to meet Perfect Love in the vulnerability of our shame, weakness and sin.” 81

“For love to transform us, not only must we meet in vulnerability, we must also long enough for it to penetrate our woundedness.” 83

“The deep human longings for surrender to perfect love can never be satisfied by anyone other than God.” 84

“The point of the spiritual journey is not simply to be received back into the welcoming arms of love of the Father but to become like the Father. God wants to make his life ours, his heart ours, his love ours. He wants us to be – like him – characterized by love.” 89

“Love is the acid test of Christian spirituality. If Christian conversion is authentic, we are in a process of becoming more loving. If we are not becoming more loving, something is seriously wrong.” 90

“The reason nothing changes is that the focus in still on me – my failures, my remorse, my discouragement, my effort. Love requires leaving all this behind – all my pre-occupation and all my willful striving.” 90

“Christian conversion is not merely encountering love. Nor is it developing new ideas or values about love. Nor is it committing myself to be loving. Christian conversion involves becoming love. But like all becoming that occurs on the Christian spiritual journey, becoming love involves death. We want a spirituality of success and ascent, not a spirituality of failure and decent. We want a spirituality of improvement, not a spirituality of transformation. But the way of the cross is the way of the decent, abandon, and death. This is the foolishness of the gospel.” 91

“Love is the fulfillment of everything that makes us human. The ability to care deeply for others and to place their interests ahead of our own is the capstone of psychospiritual development. All psychological and spiritual problems represent, in one form or another, an impediment of love. All movement toward genuine wholeness represents growth in love.” 96-97

“Growth in love is not an accomplishment but the receipt of a gift.” 100

“In spite of how it might sometimes appear, Christian spirituality is not a set of beliefs. Not is it a list of prohibitions or obligations. Nor is it a spiritual self-improvement program. Christian spirituality is a journey toward union with God. First and foremost, therefore, it is a relationship.” 105

“Relationships that involve genuine intimacy require time and shared experience. Knowing a person, rather than simply knowing about them, demands spending time with that person. It requires listening to them, not simply talking to them. And it involves simply being with them, passing time that is uncluttered by words and activities. These same qualities of relationship hold true with God as well. Studying about God’s character does not necessarily produce friendship with God. Talking to others about your ideas about God does not produce intimacy with God. There is no substitute for simply spending time with God is Christian spirituality is your journey. Tragically, we too often spend our time working for God rather than simply being with Jesus. Like Martha, we are sure what God wants from us is our kingdom activities and efforts. But as Martha was scurrying around serving Jesus, her sister Mary sat at his feet, gazing into his face – and Jesus said Mary had chosen the better part (Luke 10:38-42). Instead of working for God, she had learned to do God’s work. What Jesus wanted was her friendship. Service would come out of this but should never replace it. The same is true for us.” 106


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