A Brighter Path #7: Submitting to God

By Steve Flowers 

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?  I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.  That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built.  But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.” (Luke 6:46-49)

Today there are many successful-based Christians and churches calling Jesus “Lord, Lord” but not doing what He says.  And when the storms come, their sandy foundation is revealed as a successful-based religion. So what is the right foundation on which the Church needs to build a faithful-based relationship with God?

Let me illustrate using a skill required in my current job as a federal law enforcement officer.  Over the past 22 years, I’ve spent countless hours in weapons training in order to qualify with my issued weapon.  A shooter can hit the target but still be way off the bullseye. Each shot requires faithfulness to the same simultaneous mechanics of grip, sight alignment, trigger squeeze, breathing, and stance.  It only takes one of them to be slightly off to make the difference between hitting the outside ring of a target and hitting the center of the bullseye.

Recall from A brighter path #3 that the Greek word hamartia (translated as “sin” with a literal meaning of “missing the mark”) is an antonym in New Testament Greek of the word teleos (translated as “perfect” with a literal meaning of “hitting the mark”).  Paul wrote that we must “be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God— what is good and acceptable and perfect [teleos]” (Romans 12:2; emphasis added).  This renewal will lead us away from hamartia (“missing the mark”) so that we might hit the teleos (“perfect”) mark.  Similar to my weapons training, these opposing spiritual concepts are actually two marks on the same target.  Teleos is when we hit the bullseye and hamartia (sin) is when we’re off target.  Like shooting, “renewing” our minds is a skill developed from a disciplined approach to simultaneous and repeated actions.  And the two foundational skills to achieve that spiritual bullseye are the Church’s abilities to submit to God and to love others.  

For the remainder of this post, we will briefly examine what it means to submit to God.  In next week’s final post, we’ll address how that relates to loving others.

Submitting (or surrendering) to God is not about losing our freedom or desires but freely choosing to learn and then fulfill God’s purposes.  It is times of solitary prayer and meditation, of meaningful conversations, and of corporate worship that strip away our tendency to strive for God.  In its place we begin to grow an inner space of spiritual yielding in which we give up, give way, abandon, bend, break, collapse, relent, resign, submit, and throw in the towel— all qualities God requires if we are to follow Jesus.  It is a process with the goal of emptying ourselves. In Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen offers this meditation on emptiness:

We are afraid of emptiness. Spinoza speaks about our “horror vacui,” our horrendous fear of vacancy. We like to occupy-fill up-every empty time and space. We want to be occupied. And if we are not occupied we easily become preoccupied; that is, we fill the empty spaces before we have even reached them. We fill them with our worries, saying, “But what if…”

It is very hard to allow emptiness to exist in our lives. Emptiness requires a willingness not to be in control, a willingness to let something new and unexpected happen. It requires trust, surrender, and openness to guidance. God wants to dwell in our emptiness. But as long as we are afraid of God and God’s actions in our lives, it is unlikely that we will offer our emptiness to God. Let’s pray that we can let go of our fear of God and embrace God as the source of all love.

Daily we face a choice in how we choose to honor God— like the Pharisees by seeking lines that will separate us from others, or like Jesus through emptying ourselves.  Emptying ourselves as we turn to God allows us to believe in and live within the uncertainty that can accompany the good news when “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15).  Choosing lines that will separate us from others hinders our ability to both fully experience God’s “kingdom” as well as denies others opportunities to be invited into this same “kingdom” experience which they may so desperately need!

Over 30 years ago while serving as a young church youth minister, I had the treasured opportunity to counsel a very young man in his recent decision to follow Jesus.  With a mournful attitude he half-rhetorically asked me, “Well, I guess I have to give up drinking, smoking, and cussing.” I was struck immediately with what my response options were.  I could have easily towed the party line of my conservative denomination and said, “Yes.” But I knew in that instant that this young person might forever be imprinted to equate a relationship with Jesus with the successful self-denial of a litany of “sinful” activities.  I did not want that to be the experience with which I left him so I said, “You put all those things and everything else in your life before God and y’all work out together what you need to remove and what you need to add.” I see that moment as the beginning of my own spiritual transformation (which is still ongoing) to submit to a more faithful-based following, but I first had to see the need to begin emptying myself of a successful-based notion of sin.

Submitting is also yielding our current understanding of Jesus for a more complete one just as each of Jesus’ disciples had to do.  The Twelve who Jesus called each committed to Him, but up through his death none knew exactly who He was or how to be his follower. Jesus instructed and re-instructed them on exactly what kind of a messiah He was and what it meant to be his disciple.  But they would not fully understand until they were able to process his resurrection both individually and as a community of faith. We must go through a similar transformational process that can take years (if not a lifetime).

Perhaps an indicator of being on a proper path to this repentance (i.e., surrender) occurs when we see how some practices tinged by successful-based belief no longer seem to be as urgent as we once made them.  Instead, we come to realize what little importance they hold in helping to truly bring about God’s “kingdom.”

Reflection: Where or how in your life do you struggle with the concept to fully surrender to God?  Can you abide in the waiting and in the silence that may last?

Next post: Lighting the way, part 2

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