The Key to Our Joy

My best friend growing up was Canadian-American, with a feisty, strong Scottish mother who peppered my childhood with various helpful witticisms, bromides, and proverbs. One such—“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.” And another—“Just because there’s snow on the roof doesn’t mean there’s no fire in the furnace.” I’ll leave the meaning of that one to your sensual imagination, ladies. Another she shared with me, which has remained close to me all my life, says something to this effect: “Freedom lies in obedience and surrender.”

Now, I spent my fair share of years living in and seeing the world and God from a legalistic framework in the past, so I will admit I misinterpreted this idea at first. I used to see my obedience as a get-out-of-hell-free ticket as a child. Then I saw it as my duty, my obligation, to appease the God I loved but didn’t quite trust as a young adult. Now, this “surrender” is, firstly, coming from a free heart in communion with God—from a deep-rooted, storied, rich and textured and painful relationship.

In knowing God on that level, and in learning that He really is trustworthy, I am also exercising self-respect and self-love when I surrender myself to Him: if all of God’s desires are for the good of my soul and my heart, if I can really trust in Him for that with no exceptions, then it is loving myself to cultivate surrender to Him, His Spirit, and His vision for my life and the world around me. 

So how does freedom lie in surrender? Christianity is full of these little paradoxes. Jesus loved to drop those in peoples’ laps when they came to Him looking for yes or no answers. We must lose our lives to find them (Matthew 16:24-26). We must become poor to be truly rich. (Matthew 5:3). And Paul says in chapter five of his letter to the Galatians that “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Yet Jesus in Matthew 11 says this: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

We exchange one yoke for another. We exchange a cruel servitude to self for a servanthood that would lay itself down for another even unto death—in freedom. We who bear the image of God can be liberated from servitude to self, if we surrender ourselves. 

This paradox is tricky, like all the others. You have to sit with it, stare at it, dissect it, wrestle with it. At the heart of each Christian paradox lies the beautiful, frustrating reality that what Jesus is telling us when He says that He will give us rest if we take His yoke upon us, or that we must lose our lives to find them, is that we will never have true joy if we do not lay ourselves down for something or someone.

The key to our joy lies in realizing that we belong to others, and others belong to us. It is we who turn this into a law that is impossible to obey: it is we who treat the Christian concept of surrender and obedience like a get-out-of-hell-free card. While we run around in circles, chasing our tails trying to win God’s approval by good behavior and right thinking, Jesus gently reminds us over and over that we are probably overcomplicating the whole thing. He boils down the Law to this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and this “Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37 and 39)

If the “Law of God” can be boiled down to that—if “His law is love, and His gospel is peace”—then I willingly surrender myself to it, knowing that living life for others will only lead to true freedom and real, lasting joy.

Audrey Assad

Audrey Assad

SInger-Songwriter at Audrey Assad Music
Audrey Assad is a singer-songwriter and a worship leader. Her debut album, The House You’re Building, was released through Sparrow Records in July 2010 and went to be named Christian Album of 2010 on Amazon.com and the Christian Breakthrough Album of the Year on iTunes. She has worked and toured with other artists such as Chris Tomlin, Tenth Avenue North, Matt Maher and Jars of Clay. Audrey has been making musically independently for about 3 years, releasing the records Fortunate Fall, O Happy Fault (Live), and Death, Be Not Proud.

She is also one half of the group LEVV.
Audrey Assad

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  • “We exchange one yoke for another.” Wonderful image!
    It sounds as if your friend’s mother was a follower of the writings of Amy Carmichael (Irish missionary to India). Another of her famous quotes is, “See in it a chance to die.” This “surrender of ourselves” that you describe is also a death. You’ve made it very clear, however, that it is a death that leads to true life. So much wisdom in this post!

    • She probably was. I do also remember reading her autobiography as a kid…she certainly seemed like an incredible woman.

  • Audrey, this is beautiful! Yes, it is a paradox, but like you said we need to sit with it awhile to discover the truth of it. “The key to our joy lies in realizing that we belong to others, and others belong to us. It is we who turn this into a law that is impossible to obey…” So true. We have a way of complicating simple truths. And this I love: “If the “Law of God” can be boiled down to that—if “His law is love, and His gospel is peace”—then I willingly surrender myself to it, knowing that living life for others will only lead to true freedom and real, lasting joy.” AMEN! I also grew up under a semi-legalistic culture and it is so freeing to realize that my relationship to God is not based on how many “good” and “right” things I do or how many rules I follow. It’s based on his love and what Jesus did for me on the cross. My part is to surrender my life to Jesus who will not only meet my needs but help me become the woman I am meant to be.

  • First, I need to say that I am a total fan-girl. Fortunate Fall was a complete lifesaver for me in a dark time, and I recommend it to everyone. I’m very excited to be writing in the same place as you.

    [**screams and waves hands excitedly**]
    [**pulls self together**]

    Second – I love the depth of insight you bring here. It seems to me that all good theology should have paradoxes at its core. For me, this is prompting me once again to hear the call of Jesus’ yoke and not see it as a burden, but light.

    Thanks so much for this.

    • thanks Tanya. It was fun guest-posting. 🙂 Love what you guys are doing here.

  • Love this: We exchange a cruel servitude to self for a servanthood that would lay itself down for another even unto death—in freedom. Amen.

  • Like Tanya, I’m totally fan-girling (see, I’m even making up verbs). But this is so what I needed to hear today: “we will never have true joy if we do not lay ourselves down for something or someone.” I find myself often unable or unwilling initially to do that and it wreaks havoc in relationships. Thank you for so gently showing the paradox of surrender.

  • Yep, huge fan here, too. I have been binge listening to Fortunate Fall lately and am in love with Levv on Tammy’s recommendation. As a former legalist, I know exactly what you mean and live in the middle of the paradoxes. They are so hard to understand, harder yet to live. “The key to our joy lies in realizing that we belong to others, and others belong to us.” So timely. If we would just realize this, living out our faith would be so much easier and so would living in this crazy world. Thank you for wise words I’ll keep coming back to, like I do with your songs.

    • I agree…walking in the sometimes murky middle is so difficult to pull off, but the rewards are great.

  • Jody Ohlsen Collins

    Audrey, this is not a fan page, but I will say I enjoy your music, The House you’re Building is lovely and powerful. I suppose it’s no small coincidence that I ‘happened’ upon this post today. God gave me the word ‘surrender’ this year and it keeps coming up….over and over. It is truly the way to freedom. I think I’ll be learning it still when 2016 rolls around.
    Thank you for this.

    • that’s awesome Judy. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • OldWorldSwine

    Thanks for this meditation, today. Talk about obedience and submission as the path to joy and wholeness is, I’m afraid, “foolishness to the Greeks” in our world just now. The ego is front and center in everything. Don’t know if you’re familiar with the writings of G.K. Chesterton, but the paradoxical nature of truth is a theme in his work. He’s also just a joy to read. Thank you, again!

    • Audrey

      I do like Chesterton, although I am not intimately familiar with all his work—I have mostly just read his essays and parts of Orthodoxy.
      Any recommendations?

      • OldWorldSwine

        If I could only keep one of his books, I think it would be The Everlasting Man. This was the book that the young atheist C.S. Lewis read one day on a train;

        “Then I read Chesterton’s Everlasting Man and for the first time saw the whole Christian outline of history set out in a form that seemed to me to make sense. Somehow I contrived not to be too badly shaken. You will remember that I already thought Chesterton the most sensible man alive “apart from his Christianity.” Now, I veritably believe, I thought — I didn’t of course say; words would have revealed the nonsense — that Christianity itself was very sensible “apart from its Christianity.”

        (My wife and I came to see one of your house concerts in Blaine, MN a couple of years ago, and it’s a fond memory for us).

        Have a blessed Advent!

      • miriam

        A lovely reflection, thank you! Also, I’d recommend Chesterton’s biographies on Aquinas and Francis of Assisi. Those two books (often available together) are a wonderful read.
        peace
        Miriam