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Spiritual Disciplines: Sacrifice and Submission

Luke 23:46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[e] When he had said this, he breathed his last.

As I type, it’s Holy Week. In fact, tomorrow is Good Friday, the day where we remember and honor that Jesus sacrificed his very life, a life lived without sin, so that the price for our sins may be paid once and for all. In a great act of submission to the will of the Father, the Son made the ultimate sacrifice. It’s a sobering thought. Today, knowing that Easter Sunday is coming, it is an act we look upon with gratefulness and awe. But for Mary and the disciples, as well as the many others who followed Jesus as he preached throughout Galilee and Jerusalem, it was a moment of crushing grief and disappointment.

Sacrifice and submission are generally two words we don’t like to think a lot about when we are pondering our lives. Part of what makes Jesus’ willingness to die on the cross for our sins so extraordinary is that most of us, if we are truly being honest with ourselves, would have to admit that we would have called down the angels and run for the hills. It is a rare person who will follow God to point of losing their life. So how was Jesus able to do such a thing? Well, in a similar way to the discipline of service we talked about last week, Jesus lived a life of sacrifice. He submitted to the will of the Father in all things, not just the big things. In the garden of Gethsemane, knowing he was to be crucified, Jesus was able to pray, “Not my will but your will be done,” because he had prayed it hundreds of thousands times before.

Let’s start of off by considering the discipline of submission. Richard J. Foster, in his book “Celebration of Discipline,” starts off his chapter on submission with the following statement: Of all the Spiritual Disciplines none has been more abused than the Discipline of submission. If you have ever been told to “just believe” or “stop asking questions” or been pressured into blind faith in and/or obedience to an institution or person of authority, you have known at some level the abuse of submission.

Submission was never intended to be one sided, it was intended to be mutual. It is both parties giving up the need to always get things exactly their way. It is not specific to gender or age, nor should it have anything to do with titles and hierarchies. To practice submission is not to give up our identity or individuality, but it is to hold the interests of others above our own, to honor others, to love others. The primary issue when it comes to the discipline of submission is that there is a spirit of consideration and respect all parties involved have for each other.

Understanding this is key to understanding what it means to submit to Christ. Submitting to Jesus becomes a joy when we come to fully believe and embrace the lengths He has gone to when it comes to honoring and loving us. He has secured a place for us in his family, as a fellow child of God the Father. He has made it so that we are co-heirs alongside him, inheriting equally the eternal life the Father has to give not just his oldest son, but all of his children. Jesus did not submit to the will of His Father because He demanded it, but because Jesus understood just how much His Father was willing to, in turn, respect, honor, and love his Son.

For me, understanding what the discipline of submission is meant to look like has helped me understand the discipline of sacrifice as well. It is another discipline that seems, at least at first glance, to be utterly counterintuitive. In practicing the discipline of sacrifice, we give up some possession or enjoyment which is seemingly necessary for our living. This means we walk away from the security of providing for ourselves through our own efforts and totally trust God to meet our needs. Living this out looks like Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, his only child born in his old age and thus the only way in which God fulfill his promise made to Abraham to have countless descendants. It looks like the poor widow we are told about in Luke 21 who gives all she has with her offering of two pennies.

I have often wondered, as Jesus experienced those last hours before dying on the cross, how much he already knew about what was to come in the next three days. From His teachings, we know he anticipated that death would not be able to hold him but did he know he would wake up in a tomb, wrapped in burial clothes? Did he know he would return to his body pretty much exactly how he left it with holes still in his hands, feet, and side? Jesus sacrificed his very life on the cross because he trusted, believed with 100% certainty, that His Father had a plan, that He would live again. Most of us probably have never stopped and really pondered just how crazy that must have sounded to those he tried to tell, how crazy that would sound to you and me if someone told us they were OK with dying because they would physically live again in three days.

Giving up something we need to live our daily lives is not a logical choice. It is a radical choice. To trust in God so completely is not an easy thing to do. Dallas Willard sums up the discipline of sacrifice by saying, “It is total abandonment to God, a stepping into the darkened abyss in faith and hope that God will bear us up.” It is something not be undertaking lightly but for those who do step out and embrace this particular discipline, it is a powerful testimony to God’s power and willingness to provide for his people. “The cautious faith that never saw off the limb on which it is sitting never learns that unattached limbs may find strange, unaccountable ways of not falling.” (Dallas Willard)

I hope you get a chance this Easter weekend to really consider the magnitude of Good Friday. To consider the example Jesus was, as the events of the day unfolded, in these disciplines of submission and sacrifice. To ponder how you might be called to embrace them more deeply in your life.

Follow Up:

- Ask a trusted friend/spiritual advisor to help you identify an area in your life where you need to practice submission. Come up with practical first steps and pay attention to how putting them into practice makes you feel.

- If you have experienced someone abusing their authority to demand submission, consider how you can work through the pain it likely caused. Take the time to consider other road blocks you might have to truly submitting to Christ and ask God to help you work through those issues.

- Consider examples of those who were willing to sacrifice greatly in Scripture such as Abraham (Genesis 22) or the poor widow (Luke 21). What can you learn from them? What would be an equivalent sacrifice in your life?

- Pick something you view as necessary in your life and go without it for a week. How does God provide for you?

Helpful Resources Used:

- Understanding Submission by Richard J . Foster

- Chapter 9 from "The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives" by Dallas Willard

- Chapter 8 from "Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth" by Richard J. Foster


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