Flourish 5/7: Submission
The ultimate values of our Western culture are freedom, flourishing and self-determination. Jesus teaches us that, actually, submission is what liberates us to truly flourish and be fulfilled. Only a life in full submission to God can carry the weight of God’s promise and blessing.
In this message series called: Flourish, we’ve been talking about spiritual disciplines. In this time where we need to keep distance from other people, I believe there is an invitation from God to come closer to Him and flourish spiritually. In this series I've been trying to help you to adopt new habits that draw you closer to Him. The spiritual discipline we discuss today is: submission.
Resistance to 'submission'
There’s a good chance that you feel resistance to the idea that submission is something that would help your spiritual flourishing.
In every other context, if you’d speak about flourishing, you would hear terms like ‘self-actualization’ and ‘self-fulfillment’. But submission includes self-denial!
How would denying yourself something lead to flourishing? They seem contradictive and mutually exclusive! If you deny a plant water or sunlight, it will die! Logic says, the more we experience of what makes us happy, the happier we get! We need to get what we want and deserve in order to be fulfilled. Submission to anything or anyone violates our service to the idols of Western culture: freedom, flourishing and self-determination.
Submission to anything or anyone violates our service to the idols of Western culture: freedom, flourishing and self-determination.
It could also be that you experience negative associations due to experiences where submission was forced or demanded. Power hungry people have a way of getting people to submit to them. Is God the same way? Does He force us into submission? Does He want us to bow to His demands, hang our heads and do what is expected?
Maybe you thought of submissive people that seem to have no opinion of their own and are typical walkovers. Their self-confidence is so beat up that they yield to anyone’s opinion or expectation.
Biblical submission is nothing like this. Daily submission to God is a liberating experience.
The cross-life of Jesus
In submitting to God, we follow the way of Jesus. Jesus didn’t just die a cross-death, He lived a cross-life. He lived a life of submission to God and to other people. A life of humility, servanthood and sacrifice. This is why He says:If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Mark 8:34 (ESV)
Jesus calls us to a life of submission to God. Submitting to God means that we choose daily to eat from the Tree of Life, instead of the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil.
This means that we prioritise what is a priority to Him, follow where He leads and think about ourselves the way He thinks about us.
Adam and Eve chose to prioritise their own ideas over God’s instructions, and we’ve been eating the fruit of that choice ever since. But Jesus lived a life of complete submission to God – even to the cross, saying: not my will, but Yours be done.
Jesus didn’t just die a cross-death, He lived a cross-life.
Following Jesus means living a cross-life. It will involve sacrifice, self-denial and even pain – but only a life in full submission to God can carry the weight of God’s promise and blessing.
What does submission look like?
Submitting to God means putting yourself under God’s direction. You choose to believe that what God has for you is better than whatever you can cook up yourself. The self-denial part of submission is that your own urges, status, promotion, even your wellbeing, are not your priority anymore. Instead, you to yield to God’s direction and follow His will for your life.
Only a life in full submission to God can carry the weight of God’s promise and blessing.
We do this, following Jesus Christ. He lived a life in full submission. Jesus, the Second Person in the Trinity, who laid down His heavenly privileges and became a human, and came not to be served but to serve.
When Jesus knelt to wash the feet of the disciples – mind you, including Judas who He knew was about to betray Him – He knew that this act of service didn’t make Him any less. Jesus knew who He was. And so, in the physical position of bowing down low to wash another man’s feet, He humbled Himself, but it didn’t humiliate Him.
Living in service to God and others, practicing self-denial, doesn’t mean embracing self-hate. It actually means embracing the fullness of what it is to be human, the way God intended it. Jesus modeled true humanness. He modeled what being completely human is all about – and following His way, is where we get to experience that as well.
Why is submission liberating?
Submission, servanthood and self-denial actually lead to fulfilment and flourishing – because we follow the design for humanness of the Creator.
Living life for yourself – putting your own desires, promotion and happiness as your highest priorities, actually drifts you away from God’s beautiful purpose for your life.
Following your own priorities only, will lead to: striving – for more and more and more,
envy – because others have what you want, and grudges – when someone gets in the way
Living in submission to God and others, we get to live free from the prison of self-promotion, and embrace our true calling.
James 4:6-10 (ESV)
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (…) Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
The Kingdom of God is an upside-down Kingdom, where the last will be first, kings are servants, the poor are privileged, the broken-hearted are blessed, the humble will be exalted and we flourish in submission. And by giving your life away, you embrace the fulness of life the way the Creator intended it.
Seven acts of submission
So, how can we make submission a daily habit in our lives? How does this Biblical principle translate into a spiritual discipline?
In the book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster gives us seven acts of submission that help us to live a life of submission.
1. Submit to God
This is something we should do every day. There are simple, yet powerful ways to do this. For some people, the first thing they do in a day is kneeling and praying a prayer of submission to God. For me, I start my day with a simple statement of identity, calling, and dependency on God’s grace.
2. Submit to the Word
Submission to the Word means reading it daily, and yielding to what it says. It means that you choose to believe that what God says is the truth, even when it is uncomfortable. In that discomfort, we understand that God loves you and others better than you ever could.
3. Submit to your family
The New Testament calls couples to submit to each other – to put the interests of the other before their own. This counts for husbands to wives as much as wives to husbands.
Some ways to practice submission to your family is by prioritising family time in your calendar, being fully present when you are present and praying daily for them.
4. Submit to the people around you
As ambassadors of Christ, we want to be available to the people around us, serving people in our neighbourhoods through a listening ear and a helping hand.
Let’s take out our earphones a bit more often and see what happens when we give our attention to the people we cross every day.
5. Submit to the Body of Christ (Eph 5:21)
Ephesians 5:21 tells us to: submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
The Christian community is a group of people that lives in service to each other – putting the needs of others before their own.
A way to make this practical is to decide every time you come to church or to home group: “I’m not here for me, I’m here for you. It’s not about what I can take out of it today, but what I can put in.”
6. Submit to the broken and despised
To Jesus, the poor, the broken and the marginalised were a high priority. Let’s live generously with our time and money to serve people who cannot give much back to us. That’s true sacrifice, and that is where God gives His blessing.
7. Submit to the world
1 Peter 2:17 says we should: Honour all people.
Let’s decide to live this way, seeing all human beings – including the ones that we don’t like, understand or oppose – as people created and deeply loved by the One who said: I came not to be served, but to serve.