I had a great-uncle who died a number of years ago and loved to tell this story: He was an engineer in his working days and he attended a convention of engineers once. They were all excited about their latest projects, like building a skyscraper in Los Angeles, or an academic building at a university. They were all excited about the great things that they were building. My great-uncle was the kind of person you might call stubborn, he was on a different page than everybody else. He stood up in the middle of the conference, and announced to everyone, “You’re all talking about this great stuff you’re doing, and I’m not impressed. Not one of you could make a blade of grass.”
Grass doesn’t grow by human effort. You can fertilize it, water it and trim it. But that doesn’t make it grow. The growth is a complete miracle from our perspective. The farmer doesn’t make anything grow. The farmer allows stuff to grow. The mother doesn’t make the baby grow, but instead allows it to grow, through care and feeding. A mother can get in the way of the growth. There are things she can eat or drink, or drugs she can take, that would be very damaging for the baby. But no matter what she does, she cannot make a baby grow. That growth is a miracle: a miracle of God. When grain grows it is a miracle. When grass grows it is a miracle.
And so it is with spiritual things. Spiritual life doesn’t grow by human effort. Spiritual growth is a miracle. No matter how hard we try we cannot make ourselves grow spiritually any more than an engineer can build a blade of grass. This is where surrender comes in. We cannot make ourselves grow spiritually, but we can surrender ourselves to the miracle-working power of God.
I realize the word “surrender” comes with baggage, it can easily be misunderstood. Some people don’t like the word because they think of it in military terms. To them surrender sounds like someone is not free anymore. They are stuck in prison, or have been sent to a slave labor camp. In those terms surrender doesn’t sound like fun. But the military sense is only the root meaning of the word surrender. In the spiritual sense surrender is not about a power differential. Surrender is not about somebody bigger forcing you to do things their way. When a lot of people hear the word surrender they think, “God is going to force me to do it His way.”
But force and coercion is not what surrender in the spiritual sense is about, rather it is simply opening the channel to God’s blessings. Surrender is allowing the power of God to flow into our lives. It is allowing the miracle to occur. Just as a mother has the capacity to harm her baby, and just as the farmer has the capacity to ruin a field, so we all have the capacity to block the miracle when it comes to spiritual growth. And surrender is all about opening the channel of blessing.
Recently my wife and I were visiting Volcanos National Park in Hawaii. There we learned the story about Kilauea Iki, the smaller of two large craters on the outer slopes of Mauna Loa. In the 1950s this crater was 800 feet deep. Then in 1959 a great fountain of lava burst forth. At its most spectacular this fountain of lava reached an altitude of 2000 feet in the air and singed people’s hair at a distance of more than a mile. The constant lava flow began filling up the crater until the lava lake was only 400 feet from the rim of the crater. At that point an interesting thing happened, because the fountain was coming out from the side of the crater rather than spraying in from the top. When the lake reached the level of the opening of the fountain, the lava poured back into the fountain and clogged it up. Because of that the fountain stopped and that means that today you can walk on the hardened surface of the lava lake (which still flows beneath). You can even walk right into where the hot lava was coming out in 1959. It’s safe today and the floor of the crater is cool. Why? There is no danger because the flow of lava has been stopped.
That is sometimes what we do to ourselves spiritually. By hanging onto beliefs or practices the flow of blessing from God stops. Not because God wants it to stop. But because we block the channel, and then the miracle of spiritual growth does not occur. If we can recognize when that is happening and work with God to remove the blockage, the power of God can once again flow freely into our lives. That’s what this series of blogs is all about.