Submission is an essential aspect of a healthy relationship with God, but it can seem foreign in today’s culture.
This is because we live in a society that values (or is trying to value) equality. Though some are still hungry for power, for the most part our culture believes that one person is not better than another. We have come a long way toward viewing one another as brothers and sisters. With this rise of equality, the concepts of submission and authority are waning. As teachers and retail managers can confirm, the impulse to submit is fading fast.
So I am aware that when I talk about submission in our relationship with God, it may ruffle a few feathers. People may associate that word with the injustices and imbalances of patriarchy. And yet, how else could we approach the eternal Creator of the universe but in a posture of humble submission? Anything else would not only be arrogant, but ludicrous. When a human being approaches God, it is not a relationship of equals. Submission is necessary and proper.
The Greek word for submit used in the New Testament means “to arrange under,” and was used to describe the way that soldiers were “arranged under” a military commander. To submit to God is to arrange our lives in such a way that they are “under” God—under his leadership, under his authority, under his rule. To submit means to allow his will to become our top priority. This is what Jesus is teaching when he instructs his disciples to pray, “may your kingdom come, may your will be done.” To pray in this way is to arrange our own wills and kingdoms under God’s.
How can we incorporate submission into a balanced prayer life? First, it is important to note that the intention to submit is as different from actual submission as wedding vows are from an actual marriage. No matter how many times you submit your life to God in prayer, if it doesn’t come out in your actions, your words are meaningless.
Submission needs to be lived out in real time as we go about our day. In the same way that a labourer on a construction site will keep returning to the boss to ask what he or she should do next, we should constantly be asking what God wants us to do next. Regularly asking God, “what now?” is a short, simple way to incorporate submission into your prayer life.
Much of the time when we ask God what he wants us to do, we intuitively know the answer. Even without a voice from heaven we can do whatever is loving, humble, pure, obedient, helpful, selfless, and healthy—with some confidence that we are doing his will.
But when it is unclear, it’s important to listen for God’s voice nudging us in the right direction. God does this in many ways. He speaks through the Scriptures, whether it is general teachings or a “just-in-time” verse that pops out at you. God may use other people to speak, whether the wisdom of a friend, a sermon or book, or a miraculous message from God. God can speak through circumstances, by closing or opening doors, or sending an unmistakable coincidence. Or he may speak directly to our hearts, through a word or phrase that enters our thoughts seemingly from the outside, or an unexplainable sense of peace (or anxiety) about a certain course of action. It can be frustrating to try to learn how to hear God’s voice, but it is essential to remember that our job is to ask and listen—it’s God’s job to answer, which he will do in his own time, using his own method.
Submission really is that simple. It’s arranging our lives under God by regularly asking him what he wants us to do, and doing it. Three words capture the gist, words we should incorporate into our relationship with God moment by moment: