One of the key elements of God 52 is exploring the Spiritual Disciplines, and how they can integrate practically with modern life. Some of them are more obvious or well-known than others; some feel easier than others to accommodate in 2013. If there’s one discipline however that fails to sit well in either of those categories, it’s the discipline of submission.
Submission is a very loaded word, immediately conjuring up images of oppressive patriarchs, over-bearing husbands or even slaves willingly conceding to their masters. In the context of the spiritual disciplines however, Submission doesn’t mean any of these things. Instead, it’s the working-through of Jesus’ challenge that ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’
Practicing submission is simply choosing to put the needs, joys and ambitions of others ahead of our own. It’s about considering, every day, how we can make ourselves ‘the very last’; to prefer our friends, our families, and even our enemies above ourselves.
In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster suggests seven ‘directions’ in which we can practice submission. Some of them are much easier than others- all involve personal sacrifice, self-discipline, and doing things we probably wouldn’t choose to. So we submit:
- To God… being able to say to God: I’ll go where you want me to go, not just in the big things like where we choose to live or work, but in the minutia of every day.
- To the Bible… making a lifelong commitment to reading and – through the intervention of the Spirit – understanding the Bible better, so that we might then be informed in every decision about the way of God.
- To our family… we submit to our parents as we honour them, just as God commands Moses. As adults, we submit to our wives and husbands out of reverence for Christ, and thus look to ‘die’ for one another in the way that He ultimately loved the church.
- To our neighbours… because true community is about seeing that no-one goes without. It is about stepping out of the isolation of our own homes, and recognising that we should ‘do life’ with the people whom we live alongside.
- To the church… an intrinsic part of God’s rescue plan for the world – so we must learn to submit to it. Giving ourselves, and our resources to the local church – even when we don’t agree with every matter of style or policy – is a vital aspect of the discipline of submission.
- To the broken… The Bible is literally overflowing with references to the poor, and to the imperative for God-followers to serve them. This is perhaps the most intuitive application of Jesus command for us to become ‘the very last’ – we are even to submit ourselves to those the world would value least of all.
- To the world… In one of the most extraordinary passages in the New Testament, John 13: 1-17, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. This is not about who they are – it is all about who He is. And Jesus really wants us to understand that this picture is for us to replicate. So for all of us, young and old, the discipline of submission requires us to ask: what does it mean to wash the feet of the world?
Submission is compelling because it points to and models the way of the crucified Christ. It requires us to ask, what does it really mean to live out Jesus’ words in Luke 9: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’
This week’s challenge then:
31: Choose to put first the needs and priorities of a group, individual or institution that you find it difficult to practice submission to.
Sound difficult? Of course it does. Persevere anyhow – and may God draw closer to you as a result.