I Surrender All?

All to Jesus, I surrender;
all to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him, in his presence daily live
I surrender all, I surrender all,
All to Thee, my blessed savior,
I surrender all.

The well-known and beloved hymn above was written by Judson W. Van DeVenter in the late 19th century. Van DeVenter was a hymnology professor at one of our fellow ABHE schools, Trinity College of Florida.

I recently presented an online workshop in a conference organized by IWS alum Dr. Dave Yauk. In that workshop I quoted this first verse of I Surrender All as an example of things we Christians say/sing with sincere intent, but fail to live up to. It’s not that we don’t want to be who we say we are in worship, or that we don’t want to act like we say we act in worship. But we fail. We don’t freely surrender everything to him. We’re not as passionate as we wish we could be, or as consistent in our actions and behaviors as we know we should be. We fall short.

What is the solution to our inauthenticity and disingenuousness in worship? We need to reverse a common perspective on how we worship. When we shift our focus in worship away from what we do for God, and instead focus on what God has done and continues to do for humankind, we begin to participate in a more biblically, theologically and historically sound worship. This kind of worship, declared Dr. Robert Webber, is the key to the renewal of the church. Worship should be centered on the content of God’s story, the Gospel. We should orient worship toward God as Subject (Initiator) rather than God as Object (Recipient) of our worship. While we do recognize that He is the Object of our worship, we must primarily recognize that He is first the Subject, the Initiator, to Whom we come empty-handed as living sacrifices with nothing to offer but ourselves, and even that falls horribly short.

Worship is not so much something we offer to God as it is an active participation in the life of the Triune God. Through worship God wants us to become conformed to his image through participation. He wants us to be like Christ, which is the nature and teleos of the Gospel. As St. Athanasius indicated, the Son of God became the Son of Man so the sons and daughters of men could become the sons and daughters of God.

In worship we take our part with and in Christ in God’s great work of reconciling to himself the entire created order, trampling down the gates of hell and defeating sin, death, and all the powers of evil and darkness—restoring all humankind and all creation to right relationship with God. This is true worship and the culmination of God’s story in Christ (Gospel), the reorientation our misdirected affections and passions away from our efforts and towards God’s story.

Bob Webber said, “Worship does God’s story.” We are (or become) what we worship. It’s not about our passion, our love of God, our desire to serve. Rather story-formed worship is about Jesus, engendering Christ-likeness. We will never be passionate enough, love God enough, or serve with enough fervor. But there is a man who identified with our humanity, who is just like us in every way. He has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He is the chief worshiper in the Kingdom, making intercession for us right now at the right hand of the Father. He has taken our failures and sufferings forever to the cross. His name is Jesus, and only through him can we love God as we should.

About the author

Dr. James R. Hart has served as President of the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies since 2007. Dr. Hart was a member of the first IWS doctoral class, the Alpha class, and served as Dean of Students during his matriculation. After graduating from IWS, Dr. Webber appointed him as the Dean of Administration, and then Provost in 2006. In June of 2007, he was inaugurated as the second president of IWS. Dr. Hart holds a B.M. in Sacred Music from Oral Roberts University, an M.M. in Trumpet Performance from the University of Tulsa, and a D.W.S. from the Institute for Worship Studies. He was critical to the formation of IWS in Florida and has held administrative responsibilities since its inception in 1999. He is a professional trumpeter, choral director, and worship leader, and a published composer/arranger, songwriter, and author. He has been involved in worship leadership in various contexts around the globe for over 40 years and has taught in the areas of worship, theology, and music in various conferences, colleges, and seminaries. Dr. Hart and his wife, Carol, have three daughters and three grandchildren.