Wednesday, March 23, 2011

White Flag

A few weeks ago, the last Sunday I was not physically up to the challenge of church preparation and attendance, I worshiped along with the live webcast of Houston's First Baptist Church.  My closest friend from seminary attends there now, so I look for her at the meet-and-greet time, even though I think she worships with the evening crowd.  While this is by no means a substitute for flesh-and-blood community and accountability, it has been a great blessing to me in this season of narrower boundaries.

Another post has already responded to the day's solid sermon on John 8.  What lingers in my heart and devotions still, nearly a month later, is the incidental inclusion of a bit of sign language in the last hymn.  The pastor, Gregg Matte, shared that one of his seminary professors had been deeply involved in ministry to the hearing impaired and thus knew some American sign language.  This professor shared with his class the signs for the title and refrain of the hymn "I Surrender All."  Pastor Gregg proceeded to share the signs with his congregation and thus with me, participating online from home.  Because the gestures physically express the idea of surrender so well, because I am still using them in my devotions a month later, I pass them along to you.

(For all these, click on the highlighted term for a link to a video demonstration of the sign.)

The sign for "I" occurs a couple of ways, according to the online dictionary.  In the webcast, the pastor demonstrated the version in which the littlest finger of the right hand points upward from a closed fist, held against the chest.  This reminds me that I am smaller and less powerful than I might like to think, that the problem with "I" is that closed-fist grasping at the illusion of control, holding on to my will.  That acknowledgment, for me, is the start of surrender and letting go.

"Surrender" begins with both hands in closed fists (about waist-high) in front of the signer.  The fists open and lift toward the shoulders, as if to convey the cop-show cliche of dropping my weapons and coming out with my hands up.  In other words, my fists graphically represent my surrender.

Finally, "all" consists of one open hand making a single revolution around the other open hand.  It makes me think of another idiom, "the whole ball of wax."

I love that progression from close-fisted emphasis on myself towards openness and completion.  I love and daily need to surrender, to release my grip on God's business, to stop fighting against God for my own foolish way and to wave the white flag.  I need to love extending that surrender to all that concerns me.

Maybe all this simply reflects my Italian heritage.  Talking with my hands is my birthright that way.  At any rate, in the battle to replace grumbling with gratitude and fear with trust, I am finding these three simple signs a means of grace.  When I find my emotions and spirit clenching up in fear and grasping for control, in the better moments I remember surrender and pray with these signs, opening hands and wrapping up the specific trigger of worry in that "all."

The actions remind me also of a prayer I use often, sometimes daily, to recognize areas to surrender and work through entrusting those things and letting them go into God's wise, good, loving (but not tame) control:
Lord I am willing [sometimes just "willing to be made willing" and humbly asking God to do the making] to receive what You give, release what You take, lack what You withhold, do what You require and be what You desire. Amen (Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, 101, addition mine). 
In other words, "I Surrender All."

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, who "did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant"  for a time that we might share the glories of righteousness with Him, in His name I lay down arms and raise the white flag of surrender.  Lord, grant us grace to let go of our own ways more quickly that we might receive the good things You desire to give us.  Amen.


  1. I love Sign and do it for expressive worship. I Surrender All, is one of my favorite songs too! Thanks for sharing.

  2. @Tracy What a wonderful ministry! I'm so glad you stopped by for this particular post. Thank you for fellowshipping here. The Lord be with you.

  3. The Philippians verse at the end is part of the scripture reading my husband and I chose for our wedding. 17 years later and I still think of that scripture often.
    I thought of a good friend who signs for churches as I read this. The Lord I am willing prayer is what struck me though. I mean it and want to mean it. Yet, when I read it and let my mind consider my own worst case scenarios rather than the loving God to whom I'm offering my life, it is hard every single time.
    Blessings to you.

  4. @Amy Philippians 2 would be a wise choice for a wedding; at least, it's valuable advice for a marriage.

    Amen to your thoughts about meaning that prayer and wanting to mean it but finding it hard. I personally need a much grander, bigger understanding of God's loving goodness and a much smaller opinion of my judgment as to what is best.

    A Beth Moore book pointed out to me that when we look ahead to worst-case scenarios, we never imagine the grace, comfort, or provision God might bring if that scenario were His will. When I can remember that, it helps me.

    The Lord be with you, Amy!

  5. Wise words. Thank you. Beth Moore is so right (as usual:)
    I thought of all this again when I read more from my Lenten reading by Henri Nouwen-- "It is hard for me to say, 'I shall gratefully accept everything, Lord, that pleases you. Let your will be done.' But I know that when I truly believe my Father is pure love, it will become increasingly possible to say these words from the heart."

  6. @Amy That's a wonderful word from Nouwen. Must copy that one down. May I have your permission to quote part of your earlier comment in a post I'm thinking about for next week?

  7. I know some signing. The way I surrender all works out is splendid. And I also know of Italian hand talking too :) And I hearted your prayer at the end – the mix of Scripture with prayer. This was so good. Thank you.

    God Bless and keep you
    May His face shine upon you…
    and all of yours.

  8. @Craig Thanks, Craig, as always. Grace and peace to you in Christ.


Thank you for sharing your day with me! Your presence here is a gift. *You* are a gift. Right now I am unable to reply to every comment, but please know I read and pray for each and every commenter. Grace and peace to you in Christ.