Editor's note:

Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline turns forty in 2018. For twelve months, start­ing in Feb­ru­ary, the Ren­o­vare Pod­cast and web­site arti­cles will deep dive into one dis­ci­pline per month. 

Through­out this time you may tire of hear­ing us empha­size one thing: spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­plines aren’t the point. But so strong is human ten­den­cy toward law and legal­ism, towards earn­ing and ego, that our eyes need con­tin­u­al refo­cus­ing on the prize. And Jesus is the prize. The dis­ci­plines, remem­ber, are sim­ply ways to help us coop­er­ate with God who desires to trans­form us into the image of his Son (Rom 8:29).

Spir­i­tu­al prac­tices like prayer, fast­ing, soli­tude, wor­ship — the cat­e­gories are in some ways arti­fi­cial, of course, for each prac­tice bleeds into one anoth­er — are ways of dying to self, of going deep­er friend­ship with Jesus, of walk­ing with the Holy Spir­it, of receiv­ing the love of God which dri­ves out the fear of man and the fear of death. They are a way to train with Christ to become the kind of per­son whose default set­ting” is to glo­ri­fy God.

Sub­mis­sion to God, Christ showed us, is where true free­dom is found, so there’s nowhere bet­ter to start this twelve month jour­ney than with Sub­mis­sion. Richard Fos­ter helps us under­stand this dis­ci­pline in this essay tak­en from Nathan Fos­ter’s book, The Mak­ing of an Ordi­nary Saint.

—Brian Morykon

Excerpt from The Making Of An Ordinary Saint

Sub­mis­sion is the spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­pline that frees us from the ever­last­ing bur­den of always need­ing to get our own way. In sub­mis­sion we are learn­ing to hold things light­ly. We are also learn­ing to dili­gent­ly watch over the spir­it in which we hold oth­ers— hon­or­ing them, pre­fer­ring them, lov­ing them.

Sub­mis­sion is not age or gen­der spe­cif­ic. We are all — men and women, girls and boys — learn­ing to fol­low the wise coun­sel of the apos­tle Paul to be sub­ject to one anoth­er out of rev­er­ence for Christ (Eph. 5:21).” We — each and every one of us regard­less of our posi­tion or sta­tion in life— are to engage in mutu­al sub­or­di­na­tion out of rev­er­ence for Christ. 

The touch­stone for the Chris­t­ian under­stand­ing of sub­mis­sion is Jesus’s aston­ish­ing state­ment, If any want to become my fol­low­ers, let them deny them­selves and take up their cross and fol­low me (Mark 8:34).” This call of Jesus to self-denial” is sim­ply a way of com­ing to under­stand that we do not have to have our own way. It has noth­ing to do with self-con­tempt or self-hatred. It does not mean the loss of our iden­ti­ty or our indi­vid­u­al­i­ty. It means quite sim­ply the free­dom to give way to oth­ers. It means to hold the inter­ests of oth­ers above our own. It means free­dom from self-pity and self-absorption. 

Indeed, self-denial is the only true path to self-ful­fill­ment. To save our life is to lose it; to lose our life for Christ’s sake is to save it (see Mark 8:35). This strange para­dox of dis­cov­er­ing ful­fill­ment through self-denial is won­der­ful­ly expressed in the poet­ic words of George Matheson: 

Make me a cap­tive, Lord,
And then I shall be free;
Force me to ren­der up my sword,
And I shall con­queror be.
I sink in life’s alarms
When by myself I stand;
Imprison me with­in Thine arms,
And strong shall be my hand.1

The fore­most sym­bol of sub­mis­sion is the cross. And being found in human form, [Jesus] hum­bled him­self and became obe­di­ent to the point of death— even death on a cross (Phil 2:7 – 8).” Now, it was not just a cross death” that Jesus expe­ri­enced but a dai­ly cross life” of sub­mis­sion and ser­vice. And we are called to this con­stant, every­day cross life” of sub­mis­sion and service. 

All the spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­plines have the poten­tial to become destruc­tive if mis­used, but sub­mis­sion is espe­cial­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to this prob­lem. As a result, we need to be clear regard­ing its lim­its. The lim­its of the dis­ci­pline of sub­mis­sion are at the points at which it becomes destruc­tive. It then becomes a denial of the law of love as taught by Jesus and is an affront to gen­uine Chris­t­ian sub­mis­sion. These lim­its are not always easy to define. Often we are forced to deal with com­pli­cat­ed issues sim­ply because human rela­tion­ships are com­pli­cat­ed. But deal with them we must. And we have the assur­ance that the Holy Spir­it will be with us to guide us through the dis­cern­ment process.

Fos­ter, Nathan. The Mak­ing of an Ordi­nary Saint: My Jour­ney from Frus­tra­tion to Joy with the Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines. Bak­er Pub­lish­ing Group.

[1] George Math­e­son, Make Me a Cap­tive, Lord,” in Sacred Songs. Edin­burgh and Lon­don: William Black­wood and Sons, 1890.

Originally published October 2014

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