Four reasons why I believe we should surrender our self-image to God
1: We need divine truth to shape our self-image
(Since) you are precious and honoured in my sight…
– Isaiah 43:4 NIV
There are so many beautiful words in the Bible to describe how God sees us. In fact, the very first recorded descriptive thing that God said on seeing His creation of humanity was “very good”. He shows His passionate love for mankind all throughout the Bible, and though He recognises our faults, He still sees us as amazing and is crazy about us enough to send Jesus to die in our place…
We all have ideas about who we are, we all have some kind of image of ourselves in our head. The question is, does that image of ourselves really reflect who we are? Sometimes we struggle to see ourselves the ways that God sees us; we can hold on to an image of ourselves that is neither right nor healthy. Some people think of themselves as much less important or much less worthy or much less precious and honoured than is true of them. And some people consider themselves to be more important than other people or more worthy or holy or righteous… The things we think and the words we speak of ourselves, are they true – or do we have a picture of ourselves that has been conjured up by other ideas, possibly ideas imposed by other people or society or the media or our pride or other influences aside from God?
God does not lie, and the declarations of His affection for us that we see throughout the Bible are true. The beautiful words that He speaks over us, the things that He thinks of us and the things that He says about us are all true. Why is it important to see ourselves as God sees us? Because “…the truth will set you free”, John 8:32 NIV. We can find wonderful freedom in acknowledging and believing God’s truth about us.
I’m sure we all know people who see themselves as horrible sinners, cruel and detestable people who never get anything right. Although it is important to recognise our sin, God will never see us simply as a product of the evil in our lives, and He does not want us to categorise ourselves with words like that. When we surrender to God the way we see ourselves, this means letting go of any self-loathing mindsets: we recognise that we ARE sinners but that by the blood of Jesus we have been made perfect and are being made holy (Hebrews 10:14, NIV).
2: Our purpose is to glorify God, our Maker
I love what Paul writes about us in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (ESV). The NLT puts it in even stronger terms: “We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” If we are God’s masterpiece, then the good things He planned for us long ago must be to show His glory, show the competence of the Maker – we are made to show off how great God is. Not by anything we do, but by BEING His children, carefully designed, beautifully crafted and well loved. We are His workmanship, His beloved creations, and He does not make mistakes. This is amazing! So why on earth do we let other influences convince us that we are anything less?!
If we do not acknowledge and appreciate the masterpiece or the workmanship of God, then we may be unknowingly encouraging others to scorn it too – and one who scorns the masterpiece scorns the Master; one who disregards the workmanship disregards the Creator. To respect the Master we must respect His work, and since God created us carefully and purposefully, we must respect ourselves as the outstanding Creation that we are. This means not dismissing, scorning, disregarding or thinking less of ourselves – nor living as if we created ourselves and are worthy of praise by our own effort.
When we surrender to God how we see ourselves, He can begin a transformation work in our mindsets which frees us from the “having to try to appear great” attitude that plagues our modern Western society. We learn to receive our affirmation from God Himself and from His truths rather than from how we think other people might see us. Allow me to take this even further and dare to suggest that when we surrender to God our self-image, we invite others to see our Saviour when they look at us. “He must become greater; I must become less”, John 3:30 NIV.
This act of surrender can be painful, as it might involve breaking down some of the mindsets or principles that we may have lived by for a long time. But it is liberating.
The liberation that we can find through this surrender to God of our self-image is shown in the way we no longer need to strive to make others like what they see in us; we are no longer afraid of other people judging us. We recognise that we are living for an audience of One, One who loves us and will never despise us, One who is fully committed to help us grow and flourish in His presence. We have His attention, and He rejoices over us with joyful songs (Zephaniah 3:17)!
3: In order to love God and love others from the right perspective
Surrendering to God the way we see ourselves requires humility: we must be willing to lay down the idea that we are (and should remain) the centre of our world and the most important character in the story of our lives.
I find that when I am irritated about something a person has done or said to me I have to mentally put my own life in the right perspective and surrender my own identity before God, reminding myself of the importance and needs of others and of how much God cares even for that person who has annoyed me. Through knowing and acknowledging God’s love for ourselves and our identity in Him, we can learn to love Him and love others with the right perspective. May we surrender to God the way we see ourselves and let Him teach us to love ourselves in a healthy and godly way, and see the potential that He has put in us – that we may respect and love others in a similar way.
4: In order to live life to the full, the way He wants us to
Be who you are in God, and let God be who He is, in you.
– Deborah-Lynn Wilkinson
As we have already considered, when we know and accept our identity in Christ, God can bring us the freedom to live in a way that pleases Him. We see throughout the Bible that in God we can do things so much greater and higher and beyond what we can achieve in our own strength. So to be free to live in who we are in God is no small concept! Actively letting Him shape our identity this way also allows Him to shape our motivations. This can lead us to more freely let God be who He is, in [us]. Acknowledging ourselves as His people, His beloved creations, His workmanship for whom He has planned great things, gives God opportunity to show His magnificence and His glory through us, letting Him work in us and change us. We let His light shine through us for all to see, because we live for the purposes that He set out for us long ago.
We cannot learn to see ourselves the way He sees us without His help. As fallen humans in a fallen world our vision is distorted and our eyes are clouded – we need His eyes to be able to see ourselves how He sees us; we need Him to teach us. We need to surrender to God our self-image, and allow Him to show us how to see ourselves, in the light of His truth. This surrender gives Him space to shape our mindsets and attitudes so that we can live according to His word.
Some thoughts as to how we can prayerfully live out this surrender
It’s all well and good saying that we should surrender to God how we see ourselves – but it is often easier said than done. There is no magic formula that will suddenly enable us to completely let go. Surrender is a continual journey, sometimes a painful one – and sometimes we have to actively change things in our lives to accommodate it. For example, if a person wants to lose weight and says to God “I surrender my weight to You”, then continues doing no exercise and repeatedly eating unhealthy food without making any effort to change or even think about these things, what good would the words of surrender be? I am not trying to imply that we must do it all on our own or strive by our own effort to change our mindsets – but there are some helpful things we can put in place in our lives alongside the words of surrender that we pray.
Deliberately bring any unhelpful thoughts and views before God
In the case of surrendering our self-image to God, we can make a conscious effort to recognise and reject the false words that may be spoken over us or even that we may speak over ourselves. We can try to recognise the things in our lives that cause us to develop these attitudes, and openly bring those things before God in prayer. Sun Tzu in The Art of War (about 500 BC) famously said, “Know thyself; know the enemy; fear not for victory.”
For example, if we are prone to jealousy and comparing ourselves to other people, then we can be honest with God about this and ask Him to help us overcome this destructive habit – rather than trying to hide it from God or overcome it in our own strength. If we are constantly putting ourselves down or suffer too much from the common British false-modesty, we can ask ourselves why it is that we do this – and God can help us to think differently. If a person repeatedly says either to themselves or to others things like “I’m fat and ugly”, those words can soon begin to control their entire self-image – and they can then fail to see themselves as a beloved and precious child of God, made in His image for His glorious purposes. God desires that we see ourselves as first and foremost His creations, His children, His agents.
When we surrender to God our views and opinions of ourselves –surrendering to Him the ways we view every aspect of our being (including our character, our appearance, our talents, our calling, our sin, our life….), we actively allow Him to teach us how He wants us to see ourselves. When we need a transplant of some body part, we have to give over our broken or diseased body part in order to make space to receive the new and functional part – and I believe the same applies here. We give over to God our thoughts and ideas about ourselves, every part, and then He can give us His eyes, planting His views and concepts of who we are inside us. He trades our ashes for beauty: and He trades our flawed opinions for His truth, both about who we are now and of the potential that He has for us.
Seek help from a partner or close friend or relative
Sometimes we don’t even notice ourselves saying or believing negative things about ourselves. I have found that I become more self-aware regarding the things I say about myself and the way I view myself when my husband points it out to me. For example, after doing something thoughtless or saying something tactless I would often realise my mistake and then say something like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m awful – I’m so tactless and thoughtless and silly’ – and my husband would correct me, reminding me that I am not an awful or tactless or thoughtless person, and should simply apologise for the mistake I have made rather than claiming to be that thing (in this case, an awful, tactless and thoughtless person). Perhaps I would never have noticed those attitudes in myself if not for my husband pointing it out and correcting me. Why not ask someone you trust to help you in this way.
Be ready for opposition from man
I mentioned earlier that this surrender of one’s image to God frees us from bondage to the opinions and judgments of other people, because we are able to focus solely on the way God sees us. In surrendering our image to God, we must accept that sometimes the world WILL judge us, people WILL hate us, we WILL be persecuted in some way for His sake, as Jesus warned us (e.g. in John 15) – but that what really matters most is not what others think of us or say about us or do to us but what the Lord of our lives thinks of us. Surrendering our image and our self-image to God can free us to live life in all its fullness, following Him and holding nothing back. And since our affirmation is in the One who is crazy about us, we can rejoice. He holds our identity in His hands and we do not need to do anything to try to protect it or decorate it: He is our identity and He is our life’s purpose.
A potentially helpful activity…
I met a girl once who had cut the word worthless into her arm, and she believed it. The attitudes that tempt people toward self-harm and the like are so damaging and incredibly disrespectful to God’s creation, His masterpiece – and all these attitudes are is lies about self-image. ‘I’m not strong enough, I’m unable to cope, I’m bad company, I never get things right, I’m worthless….’ This is not what God says of His people.
Instead, we should recognise that we are beautiful in God’s glory; holy by His grace; filled with His light; His chosen creation; called for a purpose; strong in His strength… So may we surrender to God the words we speak over ourselves and the words we choose to receive from others. This is not just a matter of teenage name-calling or having a cruel boss at work, but a reality that continues throughout every stage of life – negative words are spoken over more or less everyone, on a regular basis. Even adverts in the media try to convince us that we can never be strong or attractive or productive unless we have whatever it is that they are trying to sell. God calls us strong; He calls us, as His beloved creation, very good (Genesis 1:31).
An activity that several people I know have found useful is to write down a list of the negative words or phrases that have been spoken over them or even just things that they believed about themselves; then write down a list of related (possibly opposite) positive words that God says about them. Why not try it? Speak out loud those positives: the voice anyone is most likely to believe is one’s own. It is healthy to keep in mind the things that God says about us and His promises about us as His children, His creations, His friends.
Specific elements to prayerfully ponder
I invite you to prayerfully surrender to God your self-image. Let us briefly consider a few specifics: respect for the body, gifts and talents, and personality.
Surrender to God the way you see your body
May we surrender to God our self-respect, and let Him teach us how to see our bodies: let it belong to Him (Romans 12:1-2), and let our attitude to it be shaped by Him. He lives within us, and He cares about the way we see our bodies (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19). As a child I was very confused as to why we were supposed to ‘dress up’ and put on our Sunday Best for church: if God sees us all the time and hears our prayers wherever we are, why must we put on a specific outfit to try to please Him? I believe that God is not so concerned whether or not we dress smartly in His presence, at church or elsewhere, but whether we consider and present our bodies in a way that will bring Him honour. For example, if we dress in a provocative way in order that people find us sexually attractive, what sort of message does this portray – and what does this imply about the way we think about our bodies? If we give our bodies no attention whatsoever and fail to keep clean, are we really showing respect for the body that God has created for us? If we constantly refer to our bodies in negative terms, calling ourselves ugly or any other put-downs, perhaps God might like to shape and change our mindset so that we think of ourselves in a healthier and more beneficial way… So may we surrender to God the way we see our bodies, and allow Him to shape our views.
Surrender to God the way you see your gifts and talents
May we surrender to God the way we see our talents and abilities – our “usefulness”. Sometimes people can feel like they are no good at anything that could be of use to God or to other people. And sometimes people take the opposite extreme and let one particular talent overtake their whole life, even becoming an idol to them if it becomes a higher priority than God. When we surrender to God the way we see the abilities that He has given us, He can bring a balance to our understanding and can enable us to see ourselves and our talents from His perspective and for the purpose of His Kingdom. Thus we allow Him to use us and use what He has given us.
Surrender to God the way you see your personality
And may we surrender to God the way we see our personalities. Most of us have things that irritate us about ourselves, or things we dislike in some way about our personality – either small insignificant things or big and seemingly life-consuming things. And some people have unhelpful and damaging mindsets or attitudes that they dismiss as “part of my personality, part of who I am” – but that perhaps God might like to change. Let us surrender to God the way we see our personalities, and allow Him to shape our views and enable us to see ourselves the ways in which He sees us.
A Testimony and a Prayer
God can do great things in our mindsets and attitudes when we surrender to Him the way we view ourselves – and this can change our whole lives. A friend of mine testifies to this in her own life:
My journey with the Lord has been a very slow and gradual one; I couldn’t really ever pinpoint a specific born-again moment. Brought up with some odd Church rules, but I always felt loved by the Lord.
But I didn’t like the way God made me, completely different from the rest of my family: for years I was convinced I was adopted. Mum and dad are very sociable, warm and friendly, my twin sisters very extrovert and outgoing, my other sister very open, very affectionate and loving, magnetic personality, everyone wanted to be her friend. Me – deep, serious, introverted, awkward, melancholy, found it hard to make friends, often felt disliked and disapproved of around my relatives, (like Mr Bean when he got on the train to disapproving stares in ‘Mr Bean’s Holiday’!), the odd one out, foot-in-mouth disease…
I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin and didn’t know how to deal with the way God had made me, so I developed survival strategies – sneaky, scheming, jealous, envious, two-faced, manipulative, critical, possessive, rejoiced at other people’s misfortunes, back-biting, a gossip, flirtatious, cynical, proud, self-righteous, superior. All the worst character traits you could think of.
But still, at different times in my life, God would repeat in that still, small voice, “I love you, the way I made you.” Obviously He didn’t love the way I lived my life most of the time, with my ‘strategies’ of dealing with who I was. But I’m beginning to realise that I’ve been focusing on the wrong person – myself – and comparing myself unfavourably with everyone else, when I should have been focusing on God; rejoicing in Him, believing in Him and believing that He could do all things through me if I just let Him, surrendering to him and dropping my coping strategies and schemes. Like being able to wipe the slate clean, a blank canvas, start again from scratch, like being born again, really! So maybe this is my born-again moment!
It’s a new start, finally accepting the way God made me, that He made me different and that, even though I sometimes don’t feel comfortable in certain situations, instead of adopting my old ‘coping strategies’, I’m going to offer those difficult moments to the Lord and say, “OK, what do You want to do with this situation?”
That’s a powerful and sometimes difficult thing to do, offering the tough times to God and asking Him what He wants to do with the situation. But this shift in attitude, taking the focus off ourselves and placing it on God, helps us put life into perspective – and prepares us to genuinely live for Him rather than for ourselves. Do we choose to surrender to God the way we see ourselves?
My Lord and my God, thank You for the way You’ve chosen to make me.
I’m sorry for sometimes not seeing myself the way that You see me.
I surrender to You my self-image now.
I surrender into Your hands the ways I view myself:
– the way I see my body
– the way I see my personality
– the way I see my talents
– the way I see my life.
Please help me to see myself the way You see me.
Help me to view my life from an eternal perspective.
Teach me the truth of who I am in You.
I surrender to You the way I live as a result of the way I see myself.
Please shape my understanding.
I give You my eyes and I ask that You replace them with Your own.
May I live in Your ways, with Your views rather than my own.