Introductory Note:

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. Richard Foster helps us understand the discipline of submission 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.

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

Text First Published October 2014 · Last Featured on Renovare.org April 2022

New Online Course: Living Inside the Lord’s Prayer

Author, teacher, and songwriter Carolyn Arends pulls back the veil of familiarity to throw fresh light on the brilliantly succinct prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray.

Watch the Trailer >