The Life of Submission: Finding True Freedom and Serenity

A Texas farmer was bragging about his very obedient mule and gathered his friends one day for a demonstration.  Just before the farmer gave a command to the “obedient’ mule, he stepped in front of it, looked the mule in the eyes and hit it between the ears with a large pole.  Then he gave a command and the mule obeyed.  He repeated this sequence several times.  Finally, one of his friends raised the logical question:  “We are very impressed with the obedience of your mule.  But why do you hit him between the ears just before you give a command?”  “Well,” the farmer explained, “he is a very obedient mule, but you must first get his attention.”
Sometimes we are like that “obedient” mule.  We desire to live in submission to God’s will but He often has to get our attention first through a crisis, a painful event or another form of discipline before we become teachable (Hebrews 12:6).  The old nature likes to be in charge and our culture promotes as one of its highest values, the autonomy of the individual. For most, the highest authority is self, and all activity is judged by whether it is pleasurable, profitable or supportive of individual life goals.  But there is a better way to live, it is to live as Jesus did, in total submission to His Father’s will.
Submission is a Biblical principle that leads to genuine freedom in the Spirit.  Consider the following verses from the New Testament.  “And He (Jesus) was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).  The apostles James and Paul extend Jesus’ teaching in their letters to the churches when they remind their readers that they are to “submit therefore to God” (James 4:7a) and “be subject to one another in the fear (reverence) of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).  We begin by submitting to God and His Word and then by living in submission to one another, following the higher value of love.
Because we have been lied to by our culture submission is generally considered to be an outdated idea that is foolish and maybe even dangerous.  In reality, submission actually is another of those paradoxical truths that runs counter to our natural sense and the teaching of our culture.  Yet to faithfully embrace the discipline of submission, toward God and others, we must dispel any inaccuracies in our understanding.  True, Biblical submission cannot be forced or coerced but remains the choice of the one submitting.  The following discussion comes from International Standard Bible Encyclopedia and it highlights the voluntary nature of Biblical submission.
The primary meaning of both “subject” and “submit” has to do with subordination, ie. being placed under the control or authority  of another.  Subordination can be either voluntary or enforced…The most common NT term rendered by “subject” and “submit” is Greek hypatasso.  The active voice (usually rendered “subject” or “put in subjection”) means “place under” and denotes an enforced subordination….the situation is different, however, where the middle or passive of hypatasso is used to describe the attitude that Christ has toward God (1 Corinthians 15:28) or that Christians are to have toward God (Hebrews 12:9; James 4:7), toward civil authorities (Romans 13:1, 5; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13), toward church leaders (1 Corinthians 16:16; 1 Peter 5:5), and toward one another in general (Ephesians 5:21)…As many exegetes have observed, such subordination is an action of free agents.  It does not involve a breaking of the will or servile submission to another’s rule; rather, the verb “describes a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility and carrying a burden (bolding mine).
As Christians, we recognize that we have the freedom to follow the example of Christ and live for the will of the Father, or live like the farmer’s mule.  The first brings God’s blessing and the latter is to invite His correction.  We also recognize that true tests of the discipline of submission do not come in the normal seasons of life but when God’s ways and purposes are hidden.  Consider John Milton, author of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained and considered to be one the great writers of the English language.  His driving passion was to become an epic poet given completely to God’s service.  He was schooled in the classics, competent in Latin, Greek and Hebrew and a skilled orator but his eyesight began to fail as he entered the prime of life.  He would be completely blind by age 43.  All he wanted was to do something great for God, what he learned was God does not need our work or gifts.  We are valued because we are His.
In coming to understand the discipline of submission I have found praying the Serenity Prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr to be helpful.  Each petition highlights a different aspect of the discipline of submission. You may want to make it your prayer over the next month(s), as you ask the Lord to help you cultivate the discipline of submission.
God, grant me the grace to accept with serenity things that cannot be changed; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.  Amen.