It doesn’t matter if the journey is an actual physical journey, like traveling New York City to Los Angeles, or a metaphorical journey, like transitioning from being a salesperson to being an engineer, there is always the first action that sets things in motion.
Without a first step you will never be able to complete the journey.
The girl who wants to play the violin needs to set aside time in her life when she drops everything else in order to practice the violin. Only by taking that first step to practice the violin will she be able to master the instrument enough to perform before an audience.
The student who wants an A on his research paper needs to put time into reading and taking notes on the subjects he is going to write about. Only by taking that first step of taking his research seriously is he able to lay a foundation that is able to yield him an A.
The boy who wants to play basketball needs to put in time to shoot baskets, do dribbling drills, and run lines in order to have a good grasp of the fundamentals of the game. Only by dedicating time to learning the basics can he hope to play well in the game.
There is a foundational act the precedes growth and mastery of a subject.
This reality also applies to our Christian spiritual formation.
Dallas Willard wrote:
“Those who are not genuinely convinced that the only bargain in life is surrendering ourselves to Jesus and his cause, abandoning all that we love to him, cannot learn the other lessons Jesus has to teach us. They cannot proceed to any thing like total spiritual transformation. Not that he will not let us, but that we simply cannot succeed. If I tell you that you cannot drive an automobile unless you can see, I am not saying I will not let you, but that you cannot succeed even if I do.” (Renovation of the Heart, p. 66)
Our intentional spiritual formation in Jesus has a clear starting point, and that is our choice to surrender to him.
It is important to understand that surrendering to Jesus is more than declaring that we believe he is God’s Son who rose from the dead.
To surrender to Jesus requires us to lay aside what we believe life is all about, our habits, our beliefs, our politics, and follow him. We follow him, even if he leads us into hardship and death.
If we don’t surrender our lives to Jesus, it is impossible for us to experience true spiritual formation. Spiritual formation in Christ requires that we trust him more than we trust ourselves.
Jesus told the apostles:
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”
Matthew 16:24-25 (NLT)
The only way to experience the eternal life that is the result of spiritual formation is to surrender to Jesus, and that requires us to follow the way of the cross.
If we are still preoccupied with trying to create the life of our dreams, we will not follow Jesus wherever he leads. Instead, we will question him and hestitate to obey, only following when it makes sense to us to follow.
This is why Jesus’ demand for surrendering is necessary, because without it we will not follow him.
When we surrender to Jesus we are declaring that we believe Jesus will give us life, even in those moments when our obedience seems to take us in the opposite direction of life. The trust that is developed from our choice to surrender is crucial to our spiritual formation in Christ.
On the journey to become the person God created you to be, don’t neglect the first step.