“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).
I consider submission to God a discipline of abstinence because its about denying ourselves the power or privilege we want. We’re choosing not to make things happen for ourselves, not to control people or situations even if we can, but instead to come under the Lord’s authority, wisdom, and power. Often this includes submitting to people as unto the Lord.
Peter’s Story of Submission
It makes sense that Peter would exhort young leaders and all of us about submission to God. He had to learn this the hard way — through pain and failure! In his early years of following Christ he often put his foot in his mouth or on top of someone else in order to improve his position. He had his own agenda for things, even Jesus’ Messiahship!
It took Peter a few years to grow in grace to the point that he could happily deny himself the self-assertion that seemingly had made him a successful fisherman and instead choosing to come under the leadership of others, particularly the Lord Jesus. Peter learned well Jesus’ humble way of the cross. He learned to step down into greatness. We see his humble love for the Lord worked out in Acts as he submits to James, Paul, civil authorities and others. Tradition tells us that he was crucified as a martyr, insisting that he be crucified upside down because he didn’t deserve to die the same way as Jesus.
Jesus’ Submission to God
We’re not surprised that Peter needed to practice submitting himself to God. What surprises us is that the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, also lived in submission to God.
Jesus doesn’t try to make things happen, but listens to the Father and relies on the Holy Spirit. He keeps relinquishing situations to God. No doubt this is how he lived as a young man in the village of Nazareth and how he did his business as a carpenter. We know from the Gospels that submission was Jesus’ way of life and ministry.
- What would his mission statement be? It came out of the Bible, seemingly in an unforseen situation (Luke 4:17-21).
- How did he know where to go next in his traveling ministry? Or who to pick for his twelve apostles? He spent extended hours in prayer listening to the Father. (Mark 1:35-39; Luke 6:12-13)
- Why did he do what he did? He answered, “This happened that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” (Luke 4:21; John 17:12 and 19:24, 28)
- How did he do the wonderful things he did? He preached with charm and brilliance, ministered to the “down and out” and also to the “up and in,” healed people right and left, and apprenticed to himself whoever came to him. Jesus explained his actions, “I can do nothing by myself, but only what I see the Father doing.” (John 6:38, 12:50)
More shocking still is to see the Son of God even submit himself to people and circumstances as unto the Father. He submitted to people as diverse as John the Baptist who ate locusts and wild honey and to the hand-wringing and washing Pilate who ordered him to be crucified to placate the crowds. He could’ve written a beautiful mission statement but accepted one from a scroll of Scripture handed to him in the synagogue. Time and again we see Jesus rolling with his circumstances, letting situations play out farther as he submits himself to the Father and listens to him: storms at sea, needy people interrupting him, disciples walking away from him, Judas betraying him.
Abandon Outcomes to God to Practice Submission
Years ago I learned a phrase from Dallas Willard that has made submission to God a concrete, daily reality: “Abandon outcomes to God.” To submit to God in any given situation is to refuse to try to get anyone to do anything or to make things turn out a certain way, but instead simply to be responsible (which mostly means to love God and neighbor) and to trust the Sovereign Lord.
- Hold what you want in a situation loosely and pray for God’s will to be revealed, trusting that even if it doesn’t feel good at first that it will indeed prove to be “good, pleasing, and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
- If you’re leading a meeting or conversation don’t force an “agenda” but instead flow with a Spirit-led process that emphasizes you listening to others to respect their perspective and needs and promote their ideas and accomplishments.
- Welcome correction and criticism from others as an opportunity for learning — and to bless the person(s) who may seem to be cursing you.
- Sometimes let someone else make a decision for you or the group and follow his or her leadership.
- “Endure hardship as discipline” — not as punishment from an angry God, but as teaching from a loving God (Hebrews 12:7).
Other Disciplines Related to Submission
- Silence (especially to listen to people): James taught that if you can control your tongue you can control your whole body and person.
- Waiting: Refraining from moving forward on a decision, project or dream until God directs.
- Watch and Pray: Anticipating a trial that may come your way and praying that you’d trust in Jesus with you and respond as he would if he were you. Seeking to be the kind of person who rejoices in the Lord in difficulties and learns from them how to be more like Jesus.
- Spiritual Direction/Mentoring: Putting yourself under the care and guidance of another person to help you in your relationship with Jesus.
Additional Resources on Submission
These resources will help you practice the discipline of submission to God in order grow in the grace of Christ: