Submission—to follow the example of Jesus, out of love and reverence for him, and lay down our need to have our way .
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21
“(Jesus) knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’” Luke 22: 41-42
“In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:
Who being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a human being,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”
Philippians 2: 5-8
“Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10: 39
The example Jesus gave us was one of freedom in submission to the Father. In the ancient hymn of the church, found in the letter to the Philippians, Jesus is portrayed as one who didn’t demand what was rightly his, but rather let go of comfort, status, honor, advantage and lived instead as a humble servant, denying self to the point of willingly dying a criminal’s death on a cross (Phil 2: 5-11). Jesus, though he was God, denied self throughout his life. From his humble entry into humanity as a homeless baby, to his itinerant ministry that lacked any human comforts that one might desire or expect (a ministry that served the poor, the sick, the marginalized), to his ultimate act of love and submission on the cross, he demonstrated that self-denial was the way to blessing and life and freedom.
All of the Spiritual Disciplines are pathways to freedom. Submission is no exception. When we practice letting go of our own desires and “our rights” we free ourselves from the need to have our own way and the ensuing self-absorption when those desires are thwarted or frustrated. We find ourselves free of bitterness, resentment, and a demanding spirit and instead find a joyful freedom that rests in God’s provision and love.
As followers of Christ we practice submission out of love and reverence for Christ. It is the way of Jesus. A life of submission to God, to the scriptures, to each other is a beautiful portrait of a disciple that is glaringly counter-cultural and conspicuous at this point in history.
Like all the disciplines it takes time and practice to learn to live in the true spirit of submission. An angry, resentful, self-pitying submission isn’t truly submission at all, just a counterfeit of God’s good gift. Look to the heart for freedom in the midst of submission to test whether or not the real thing is being practiced.
A final note: The word “submission” for many sends us immediately to examples of abuse and misuse. As Christians we are called to mutual submission out of our reverence for Christ(Ephesians 5:21), not out of any self-elevation or need for power. Jesus never used his power or status to mistreat or demean another and neither should we, nor should we allow others to be mistreated in the name of Christian submission.
Ideas for the practice of Submission:
- Meditate on the passages listed below in the scripture section. What do you notice about the kind of submission that is being practiced? What is the outcome?
- Look for examples of healthy submission in the world: at home, at work, in the people you know, in the news, in day-to-day interactions in the market place. Where is it present? Where is it missing? What do you notice? Pray there.
- Choose one of the following Biblical stories:
- Abraham and Isaac—Genesis 22:1-19
- Jesus in the Garden
i. Matthew 26:36-46
ii. Mark 14: 32-42
iii. Luke 22: 39-46
- Jesus calling his disciples
i. Matthew 4: 18-22
ii. Matthew 9:9-13
iii. Mark 1:16-20
iv. Mark 2: 13-17
v. Luke 5: 1-11
Use Lectio Divina or Ignatian Prayer of the imagination to sink down into one of these stories. What does the Spirit have to say to you? Was there an invitation? How will you respond?
- Pray the Prayer of Abandonment of Charles de Foucauld daily for the next month. Journal what you notice as you let the words find a home in you. Do you notice any difference in how you react to adversity or times when things don’t go your way?
- Read and Pray the Serenity Prayer attributed Reinhold Niebuhr, a great 20th C. theologian. (The first stanza of the prayer was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous.) How might this prayer help you in your efforts to practice the Spiritual Discipline of submission?
- Learn the Taize-style chant below written by Stephen Iverson. Sing it over until it moves into your heart. Let it be your prayer.
Your way, your time, your will
Not mine, Sweet Light, not mine.
The CD that contains this song is Prayer by Stephen Iverson. It can be ordered at
- Look over your daily life. Identify one area in which you feel Jesus
calling you to practice the Spiritual Discipline of submission out of reverence and love for him. Make a conscious effort to look for opportunities to act accordingly. Be attentive to your actions and your attitudes. Journal your noticings.
- Read chapter 8 in Celebration of Discipline: The Discipline of Submission by Richard Foster. Identify the seven acts of submission. Look at your life in light of those seven areas. Where are you doing well? Where do you need to take steps to move closer toward a Christlike life? Which of the acts attracts you? Which one do you resist? Why? Journal your thoughts.
Genesis 22: 1-19—Abraham and Isaac
Matthew 26: 36-46—Gethsemane
Mark 14: 32-42—Gethsemane
Luke 5: 1-11—Jesus calls his first disciples
Luke 22: 39-46—Jesus prays at the Mount of Olives
Ephesians 5: 21-6:9—Mutual submission
Philippians 2: 1-11—Imitating Christ’s humility
Hebrews 13: 7
1 Peter 5:2-5
- Foster, Richard. Celebration of Discipline: Chapter 8, Submission. New York: HarperCollins, 1978.
- Merton, Thomas. Seven Storey Mountain. Orlando: Harcourt Brace, 1948.
- Merton, Thomas. Sign of Jonas. Orlando: Harcourt, 1953.
- Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines pp. 189-190. New York: HarperCollins, 1988.
 Iverson, Stephen. Prayer. 2002.