My daughter is an artist and she can draw a perfect free hand circle. Over and over again. No trouble. Watching her is magical.
On 24thMay, 2015, I heard a sermon on submission. It was in a series on Ephesians and explored the simple phrase ‘Submit to one another’ . That sermon has shaped my life ever since, it’s a daily challenge, a daily decision, a daily intention. Yeah, OK, I know…. And a daily failure.
Some quotes from that sermon (some of them I know by heart) ;
This is how we live out our Christianity, with urgency; by submitting to one another.
Submission is a Universal Christian Obligation (the capitals are mine, it’s a favourite mantra)
Submission is ‘All that I am, for all that Jesus is’
The command to submit is for all of us, and none of God’s other commands (love God, live in the light, imitate God, love each other) are even possible unless we first live a submitted life.
It’s that last sentence that got me three years ago. Really hurt me with a sort of exquisite pain, echoing with truth and realisation – I cannot do anything to please God, I cannot start to obey Him, if I do not submit to Him and to others first. This is the beginning of loving God. And loving God is the beginning of loving others.
Why the pain? I am really really bad at submitting. I can do a good act of submission – bend the knee or bow the head, make a cup of tea, whatever, while in my heart I’m thrashing about and shouting ‘Me! Me! Me!’. God doesn’t want my genuflection, or my cup of tea, He wants my heart.
I don’t want to be simplistic but I do want to keep it simple. I can do nothing to please God if I do not submit. Full blinkin’ stop. The dictionary says submission is ‘the action of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.’ But the dictionary is only half right. Here’s a Luce definition: Submission is willingly and happily giving up my will to do God’s will, and considering the good of others more important than my own.
Submission is telling the truth in love, it’s not being politely hypocritical and saying ‘the right thing’. How could that be God’s will for us? Submission is standing up for what’s right. Submission, we learned 4 years ago, is getting under another person’s mission and helping them to be all that they can be, to reach their potential, to glorify God.
Submission is strength. It’s the RNLI crew member setting off in the face of a storm to rescue a sinking sailor. It’s the fireman running into a burning building to bring out a child. It’s the weary parent who drags him or her self out of bed in the middle of the night to comfort a crying child. It’s the husband or wife who works at a demanding job to pay the mortgage. Submission is considering another‘s needs before my own desires.
I am not very good at it.
I’m so hungry for this – it’s a burning desire and passion, but it isn’t yet a reality. Yes, I long to be close to God but the rest of you…..? Well, yeah, some…. but all? I find it really easy to submit to those I’m close to, completely set aside my own desires in order to serve them, and yet so difficult to even break into a smile for others. That’s how horrible I am! That’s how horrible I am! I have grown suspicious and guarded, a sharp and cynical observer, lacking the ability to trust others and completely without graciousness (have I sold myself yet? No? Hmmm).
But here’s the thing, my bloggies, wait up! That sermon on submission, way back in 2015, which meant so much to me and has guided and challenged me for the last few years, met up with another sermon this weekend and buzzers went off, bells clanged and red lights flashed…. a circle was completed.
I may not be very coherent because I’m still digesting what I think I may have thought….I was listening to a sermon on Philippians on Sunday morning, on not grumbling , on not wanting to put myself in the right at the expense of another person…. And as I listened I started to smile because I realised that this was how I was listening to the sermon… as if others needed it but not me, or not so much. Suddenly I saw me as I really am, and I saw what a ridiculous creature I am, and why God loves me (because you can’t help loving a bumbling idiot) and in that moment, briefly, like a flash of lightening, the whole gospel, the whole of creation, the whole of me and you and every living thing made sense. And every inanimate thing too. Everything. The rocks on the beach and the clouds in the sky. Every thing.
The Pastor was quoting the verse ‘Do everything without complaining or grumbling’ and he stressed the every thing. “Every thing.” “Everrrry thinnnggg.” He said it again. And the penny dropped. There are no compromises with God. I know that and I celebrate it, I celebrate our God-made-man who walked this earth and never compromised, but do I take the ‘no compromise’ truth into my daily life? It means obey. It means don’t wink the eye to a ‘small’ sin. It means everything matters. Everything. Because the small things will do it, they will keep me away from God, they will break my relationship. I can’t grumble about this thing, or that thing. The command is to do everything without grumbling. Be joyful about everything. Live a joyful life. A life of love, not complaint. Love, not grumbling. Love, not judging. Sounds like a life of submission. When I grumble, my fellowship with God is not complete.
You know, when you hear the word of God, you can’t help but sit on the edge of your seat, drinking it up, greedy, greedy, just waiting for that moment of newness and realisation. And it came. I’m still sorting it out but this is it: Every desire of God, His every command to us, His every word, and every act of love and obedience He brings out of us, they are all a part of the whole, a part of His perfection, a part of His indivisible (unbreakable) Deity and goodness. And that includes you and me. We are part of His whole. Even as I sat there, thinking my too human tumbling Luce thoughts, God was loving me. Because that is His wholeness. His perfection. Nothing to do with me. I’m just a toddler falling over, a three year old in a tantrum, a teenager slamming a door . But it’s OK. Hair shirt and hours of penance not required. Just a loving heart and a submission to His love. My lack of perfection is just a part of my growing up and God is patient. “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
I’m not completed yet. That’s all.
I’m reading a book ‘Shaped By The Word’ and if I had to sum it up in one pithy phrase, it would be ‘Submit Always Everywhere.’ There. I just precised a whole book in three words. But in that thought-provoking book, the writer describes the Old Testament act of sacrifice, how the offering was laid on its back on the altar, its throat exposed for the knife, tied and defenceless. And that, the picture of sacrifice, is the perfect picture of our submission. When we come to God, when we come to each other, when we turn to God in prayer, when we read the Bible… if we do so in submission, throat bared, willing and joyful, wow…. just wow. If I read the Bible in a spirit of submission, how the words will pierce my heart, shape my life. If we walk into church, defenceless and open hearted, wow, what unity. If we live in total obedience to God, what joy. What fruit we would see.
On Sunday 10th March 2019 , a message about humility reached back four years, and a perfect perfect perfect circle of truth was created. Our humble submitted powerful God, our God-made-man, shows us, at the cross, how beautiful and unbreakable His servant love is. And His love is serving us even now, even now, completing us, bringing us to maturity. What a fabulous God.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
The same mindset as Jesus? The man who walked to the cross for me? That mindset?
I think I can get that only from Him. There you go again – a perfect circle. My God of circles. Perfect circles, over and over again.