Caught in this familiar haze of worldly happiness and empty pursuits, Jennie Allen and her husband Zac prayed a courageous prayer of abandonment that took them on an adventure God had written for them: "God, we will do anything. Anything." Jennie's story is that of a "Good Christian Girl" transformed by total surrender to God.
Jennie, you grew up in a Christian home, yet you say God felt plastic to you for many years. What was this like for you?
I grew up trying to force faith, when it is really God who gives faith. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God...”
I don’t think I am alone in working hard trying to please God in my childhood and youth. We come from a generation of Sunday schools that taught us to do the right thing, not really to know Jesus. We can say the right things and do the right things and sometimes train ourselves to even think the right things, but I believe in a God who transforms the insides of us, when we believe in him.
What has to happen in order for God to become real to a “good, Christian girl”?
We have got to quit pretending. God is either real to you or he is not. We have to quit caring so much about how our faith appears and care a lot more about the state of our hearts before God alone.
I do believe when we get to heaven a lot of people will not be there that will shock us. And in the same measure, a lot of people will be there who made complete messes of their lives. Those folks will be there because their only hope was Jesus. Faith in Jesus Christ has nothing to do with morality. In fact the most moral people were the most far from God, in Jesus’ day. And I am afraid we good, Christian girls may face the same reality if we are honest with ourselves. We have learned to pray, study our Bibles, and do ministry—but do we know Jesus?
Once Jesus became your center, teaching other girls about God came naturally. Do you think this is a primary calling on your life?
I think we all have gifts to make God known; it is part of what transforms inside of us when God invades us. But with every calling, whatever it is, the privilege carries with it a weight. I have angst attached to my gift of teaching.
Somehow God made me a girl who dreads the opinions of others and then gave me a calling that places me in front of a lot of opinions—even as I will be accountable to God for how I displayed him with my words, with my life.
Right before I signed with my publisher I spent a night in prayer with my best friends. I cried harder that night from the weight of this call and the fear I felt doing it than I may have ever cried. I will face God one day and when I do I want to fall on my face worn out, having spent all he gave me to make him known here, for his glory and his fame.
You believe this generation of young women is unique. How is this generation different from the generation previous, and what are they seeking?
Every generation wants to do life differently than the one before it. I think the generation before us gave us a deep appreciation for knowledge of God and the Scriptures. And now this generation of women wants to live that knowledge in reckless ways. We are a generation which feels deeply and wants to give our lives away to causes that will outlast us. We want to be inspired and moved. I think we are a generation which aspires to be a part of movements that stretch beyond the confines of our generation.
And we want to wrestle. We don’t want pat answers or fill in the blanks. If something is not honest or real, we know it and we won’t touch it.
Your first book, Anything, shares how you surrendered your life to God in a fresh way as an adult. How does surrender impact a woman’s life?
As I was growing up, I somehow missed some words in Sunday school, words like: die, pick up your cross, surrender everything, give up this life. Surrender is the foundation for a relationship with God, yet we have categorized it as something for missionaries or emotional retreats. Surrender is actually a call on the life of every believer: “Love me with ALL your heart and with all your understanding and with all your strength.” And with giving him everything, there comes freedom and peace. It feels like death, and it is, but there is freedom in letting go of the things that never would fulfill us anyway.
This radical, abandoned life is new for me, and yet it seems to contain more of God and more freedom and more life than trying to hold on to my sane life and protecting my rights and dreams ever did. It is only in completely laying down my life, agendas, goals, expectations, and rights that I get to taste and see God completely.
He is worth it. He is worth forsaking everything. We’ve boiled him down to principles. Yet everything else I have ever tried to smash into my soul to fill it, just seems to make me ache for more. He gets in and actually restores me, unwinds my mess of a head and soul. His mercy trumps the most epic of stories. He is worth my surrender.
Is there a benefit to pursuing a life of surrender alongside a friend or a group?
I don’t know how else to surrender than with others holding my hand. Here’s why: our spirits are strong, but our flesh will fail us every time.
The night that I was crying with fear to step into obedience, my friends pushed me into obedience. I cried and shook my head no, and they prayed over me and pushed me to follow Jesus into very uncomfortable places. They still are.
This is a war, and the stakes are souls and forever and joy and peace and hope. No one fights wars alone. One of the best things about surrender, and following Jesus with friends who are doing the same, is the depth of friendship you build at war, in the trenches. We cry, we pray, we bleed together. I’ve always dreamed of friendships like that.
How has your willingness to live a surrendered life (and your husband Zac’s willingness) allowed your children the chance to surrender as well?
This question makes me cry. Our children don’t know how to fake it yet; they just want to love Jesus and help people.
One of the things God called us to do following our prayer of surrender was to adopt our four-year-old son from Rwanda (Cooper). Watching them daily lay down their comforts for Cooper has changed me.
Our oldest son was most reluctant about the adoption. He would have to share his room and lose the place of being the only boy. Yet once we got home from Africa with Cooper, Conner, my oldest, was the proudest brother. At times when Cooper is busy getting himself in typical toddler-boy trouble, our Conner will notice and sweep Cooper up on his back to take him outside to play.
The best qualities in our kids are being developed by asking them to sacrifice some comfort. We so often try to protect kids from trouble or hardship, but maybe we are also protecting them from God’s refining work in their lives.
Who are your role models as you seek to live a life that gives everything to God?
There are many, but here are three I can highlight.
- Katie Davis: reading her blog brought me face to face with Jesus on my bathroom floor! She is living her faith radically in Uganda. She is 22 and has adopted 14 orphaned girls off the streets. Katie has one of the most sold-out faiths I have ever seen, and yet for her it is as simple as “Jesus is real.” Katie is living like it. She taught me that following Jesus may be costly, but how else are we supposed to live?
- Francis and Lisa Chan: they daily wrestle with this question, “How do we live lives pleasing to God?”
- Bill Bright: I was moved by an interview Bill filmed before he died. He wrote a contract in his twenties, together with his wife Vonette, right after they put their faith in Christ, They signed over every piece of their lives to God: money, house, time, relationships. They offered him everything they possessed for his use. The next night, God awoke Bill with a vision for Campus Crusade for Christ. He said in the interview, “If there had been no surrender, there would have been no vision.” He is with Jesus now, and I know when he got there he was surely out of breath and met with an embrace and affirmation. He had done all that God had for him. I want the same.
What’s next for Jennie Allen?
I guess, whatever God says!