Excerpt from Engage

In a me” world, the thought of submission, much less actually submitting ourselves to God or others, is anathema. Yet, what better way to enter this season of Lent than by engaging in the discipline of submission? The ritual action of Ash Wednesday, ashes being marked on our foreheads in the sign of a cross, reminds us of our brokenness, our mortality, and our dependence on God to work new life in us and through us. We are not in control!

Submission reminds us it is better to be in right relationship than always having to be right. 

We give ourselves to one another mutually, as learners and teachers, leaders and followers, desiring only the best for all. This discipline has been horribly abused in Christian community over the centuries — pastors imposing their wills on their people, husbands demanding strict obedience from their wives, parents wielding a heavy hand on their children as they punish in accordance with the will of God.” Nothing could be further from the truth of this discipline. 

Submission invites us to humble, open, mutually dependent relationship with God and with one another. We accept our place as servants of God, not masters of our own destiny. 

We relish being both learner and teacher, leader and follower, creators of vision and those who do the ordinary work of carrying it out. 

Ash Wednesday

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life… Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
— Philippians 2:1 – 4 MSG

What does it mean to you to submit yourself to following Christ? 

What areas of your life are you less willing to cede control? 

In what specific ways do you struggle with getting to the top, gaining your own advantage? Say a prayer of confession to God for those areas. 

What would it look like, in your life, to forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand?” 

Think of ways to submit yourself for the betterment of others at home, at work, at school. 

How can you be less controlling of others and more loving? 

Thursday: How can we talk about this with others? 

The themes of humility, ceding control, and offering ourselves for the sake of others launch our Lenten journey. As you talk with a formational friend or reflect upon this experience individually, consider these questions: 

In what areas of your life do you struggle with either lack of control or desiring to control too much? How can you imagine those relationships differently? 

Control is often a manifestation of fear or anxiety. What are the fears underlying your desire to control or your perceived lack of control? 

God chooses to work through love not coercion. Does that change how you see yourself in relationship with God? 

What would it mean for you to submit yourself to others in love this week? 

Friday: A personal reflection. 

What’s best for me isn’t always what’s best for all. I learned that the hard way in my first call as a pastor. I was young, energetic for ministry, eager to prove myself and make a mark. The pastor I joined on staff had a different vision for worship and ministry than I did, had made his mark, and (I found out later) was also struggling with his marriage — none of which I was particularly sensitive to. 

When people would pull me aside and affirm my vision, instead of calling them to be part of our” vision, I would concur. As I found out, it doesn’t take long to drive a wedge between staff. When the staff of a larger church is divided, the whole body suffers. Alliances emerge. Bitterness takes root. Energy for mission is sapped out of the system. What’s best for me isn’t always what’s best for all. 

Sometimes you learn more through pain than pleasure. That was certainly the case for me. It’s not easy to make decisions that work better for the body than for me. The discipline of submission has been a great teacher. The work can never be limited to what I can know, do, or control. So, I’m learning to give up control when it benefits others. It’s not always about me. 

What’s best for me isn’t always what’s best for all. 

When have you learned to give up control? What was that like? How did it affect your relationship to others, your sense of self? 

Saturday: Insights for the journey. 

Each Saturday, we hope you will gather the salient experiences, the accumulated insights, the inner promptings from the week and write them down on the journal page. 

How have you experienced God’s presence this week? 

How has your connection with yourself, with others deepened because of your intentional work with this discipline? 

What about this discipline will you continue to build into your life? 

Ask God for continued guidance and encouragement as you make the journey of this season.

Excerpted from Engage: A Lenten Guide for Spiritual Growth. Copyright 2014 Renovaré.

Text First Published December 2013