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 April 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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