The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Cultivating Submission: The Impact of Reverence, Dependency & Trust

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God says that He is the Supreme Authority over all created things, and you’re not going to get far with Him by treating Him like this isn’t true.  And yet once you acknowledge that God is the Supreme Authority, that demands a certain response.  Here’s where we come to the soul attitude of submission.

When your soul is practicing submission to God, then its attitude towards Him is something like this: “Since You are the Supreme Authority, Your opinion is more important than mine.  Pleasing You is more important than pleasing myself, so I want You to have Your way in my life.”  Now there are many soul attitudes which please God, and many which displease Him.  In our material, we encourage you to focus on four soul attitudes which are particularly critical to pleasing God: reverence, submission, dependency and trust.  You might think of these four attitudes as the four legs of a table.  Each leg plays a critical role in holding the top of the table up and making it a firm surface that you can set things on.  Take away one of the legs, and the table becomes very rickety.  In the same way, if you start blowing off one of the critical four soul attitudes in your relationship with God, you’ll find things sour very quickly.

Now each of these four pillar attitudes is fascinating by itself, and we could write reams of posts describing the different aspects of each one.  These four attitudes are not like a project that you can quickly complete.  Instead, they are like four trees which are designed to keep growing forever.  If you make wise soul choices in this world, you’ll end up on the happy side of eternity when you die, and there you will continue to develop these four soul attitudes.  So these things aren’t going anywhere—they will always remain the central themes of how we humans relate to our Creator.

When they’re faced with the thought of eternally maturing, some souls get frustrated and discouraged.  And yet this really isn’t a negative idea at all—instead, it’s exciting.  Spiritual maturity is like reading a fascinating book.  You’re totally hooked on the characters and you never want the book to end.  In such a situation, it’s a joy to turn each page and realize that you’ve got plenty more to read—that the exciting journey isn’t over yet.  This is how we ought to view the concept of eternally maturing in our relationships with God: it’s fabulous news that the adventure never ends.  It’s tantalizing to realize there will always be new things to learn, new ways that we can change for the better.

In this world, human societies tend to put a lot of emphasis on producing, arriving, and completing.  It’s reaching the destination as quickly as possible that matters—not the journey. As new technology develops, we find an ever growing emphasis on speed.  The faster we can complete a task, the better.  Well, with God we need to learn to think differently.  Instead of being destination focused, God is journey focused.  If you think of your life as a walk that you’re taking with God, then while you’d be anxious to move quickly and keep your eyes on the final destination, God would be content to stroll along and never talk in terms of destination.  When you ask, “How much farther?”, He’d answer, “We’re together right now—that’s what matters.”

To God, it’s not about rushing us towards some specific marker.  It’s about developing the bond.  If your goal is to get to know someone before you reach a certain point, then you’re better off walking than running.  Walking slows your pace down and allows you to spend your breath on conversation instead of on panting.  Because our world keeps us on the run in so many areas, we tend to go running into our relationships with God, expecting Him to shove a foot in our backs and tell us to go faster and faster.  But this is not what He does. Instead, He works to slow us down to a stroll and adopt a new set of priorities.  He teaches us to be content with just being in our relationships with Him, instead of always trying to produce.  Not only does He not need our help to produce, but He knows that the more caught up we are in doing things for Him, the less we value just being with Him.

Now once we understand that God is journey focused, than we can start to understand why He takes such delight in the process of maturing us.  God doesn’t want babies who morph into adults two hours after they’re born.  God wants to enjoy each stage of our development, so He slows the whole thing down to allow us to savor and share each new discovery with Him.  If you’re maturing, it’s guaranteed that your theology will undergo massive revisions over time.  This is a good thing.  You’re not supposed to start off having everything figured out.  You can be sure that at this moment, you’re missing a lot of pieces to the puzzle, and many of the pieces you think you have will eventually need to be thrown out.  The same is true for all of us—we’re all in the process of learning, and this is something to be enjoyed, not a cause for alarm.

The purpose of this post is to help you savor the process of maturing in your submission to God.  How you view submission when you first start out with God is not going to be how you view it after you’ve had a lot of time to mature.  You can think of submission like a child who is learning to play the violin—at first the music he makes is rather scratchy and choppy.  But as he practices, he improves, and his melodies become more smooth and complex.  It’s the same with submission: the more you practice it, the better you get at it.  But what happens if we give our violinist some accompaniment?  Let’s bring in three other musicians to play with him: a cello, a viola, and a bass.  Now we’ve got a string quartet and the music they’re playing is much richer than anything the violin could produce on its own.  Those other three instruments represent the other three critical soul attitudes that we mentioned earlier: reverence, trust, and dependency.  These three attitudes play an important role in developing your submission to God.  As you grow in trust, your submission to God will change.  Deeper reverence will also affect your submission to God.  It’s utterly fascinating how God has designed these four attitudes to interact with each other and enhance each other.  Understanding some of the mechanics of the enhancement process can help you enjoy the journey and understand what you have to look forward to in the future.  So let’s now put submission in the spotlight, and see how it is impacted by the other three soul attitudes.

SUBMISSION, SOLO

By itself, submission is a difficult concept.  It’s not difficult intellectually, for it’s easy to grasp that God outranks us, therefore we ought to obey Him.  But submission is very difficult experientially.  In the first place, our pride hates it.  Humans are selfish beings who naturally feel that their own views are of supreme importance and want to feel in control of their own lives.  Practicing submission is about trying to embrace the idea that who God is and what He wants is far more important than who we are and what we want.  Try as we might to elevate God’s preferences in our minds, the fact remains that we are still extremely invested in having our own way.  When God starts making our lives more difficult, our interest in getting our own way greatly amplifies and we start finding it extremely hard to keep caring about what He wants.  After all, what’s in it for us?  In the midst of submission training, the cost seems to far outweigh any potential benefits, which is why so many souls end up bailing.

So how does God help us make progress in this area?  How does He help us overcome the obstacles of pride, fear, and sheer fatigue that keep rising up in front of us?  Well, here’s where the other three soul attitudes come into play.  You see, God doesn’t just work on one aspect of you while ignoring all others.  Instead, you’ll find He’s always multitasking—working on multiple areas of your spiritual growth.  After a while you’ll start to observe that He’s not just picking areas at random.  Instead, He’s strategically working on groups of concepts that help enhance each other.  After all, if you want a plant to grow, you can’t just blast it with sun or it will dehydrate and wither.  But if you also give it water, the water will enable it to benefit from the sun and keep persevering under stressful conditions.  In the same way, when God steps up your submission training, He’ll also step up your training of some other critical soul attitude, and use that other attitude as a tool for shaping your submission to Him.

REVERENCE: DRIVING SUBMISSION DEEPER

Reverence is a fear-based respect for God which is motivated by the fact that God is an all-powerful Being with a very wrathful side.  Reverence essentially says, “I’d be an idiot to try and provoke the God who controls my quality of life.  I understand that You’re not a doormat and that Your patience has limits.  You set boundaries with us, and if we cross them, You retaliate with some terrifying forms of discipline. Given all of this, I’m not going to risk giving You attitude.  When You ask me to do something, I’m going to do it.”

The more you understand about the extent of God’s power and the reality of His wrath, the deeper your reverence for Him becomes.  And as reverence deepens, what happens to your submission?  It also deepens.

When you first start down the road of submission to God, your submission to Him is quite limited.  There are certain areas in your life that you ask Him to have His way in, while you reserve other areas for yourself.  For example, you might invite God to show you which ministry you ought to sign up for at church, but you’re not about to let Him direct your relationships.  You might practice tithing and invite Him to direct how you spend some small portion of your income, but you view your other purchases as your own business.  You might ask Him to help you choose a spouse, but you aren’t about to let Him call the shots in your career.

We all start off withholding a lot of areas from God—sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally.  But as we mature, God will start pinpointing areas in which our submission is weak or non-existent and He’ll push us to give those areas over to Him as well. Here’s where things get challenging, because if we didn’t mind surrendering things to God, we wouldn’t be withholding from Him in the first place.  But the truth is that we really don’t like how God runs His game.  What if we really want something and He says we can’t have it without giving any reason why?  Why should we invite God to wreck the things that are important to us?  The more we understand the implications of total surrender, the more terrifying the whole idea becomes.  So where on earth are we going to find the motivation to surrender the things that we hold most dear and run the risk of God utterly destroying them?  Here’s where reverence comes in.

Reverence is like the critical shove from below that a man needs to finish hoisting himself up over a tall wall.  As reverence deepens, we find ourselves concluding that nothing is worth provoking God’s fierce wrath, therefore obeying Him becomes the only viable option.  And with this mentality, we find ourselves yielding more and more to God until our submission to Him is a thousand times what it was before.  When it comes to deepening submission, reverence is vital.

DEPENDENCY: MAKING SUBMISSION EASIER

So if reverence is like a strong man who comes behind you and starts shoving you into terrain that you don’t want to enter, at least you’ve got some forward motion happening.  But things like exhaustion and fear aren’t helped by someone shoving you.  Instead, being relentlessly driven into deeper and deeper levels of submission to God can become quite an exhausting process.  As God starts going after the things you care the most about, it’s only natural to hit burnout and start feeling like you’re being crushed under the weight of His demands.  Here’s where many souls find that they hit a wall with God—a point where they just can’t choke out one more “yes” to some painful demand that He’s making.  So what happens when you feel like you’ve fallen flat on your face in exhaustion and you just don’t have any more to give?  Is there some way to ease your burden?  Here’s where dependency comes in.

The soul attitude of dependency is motivated by the fact that you are a creature who is totally dependent on your Creator to sustain you.  Instead of being self-sufficient, you cannot make a move without Him.  Instead of being like a dog on a leash who has freedom to do what he likes within a restricted area, you’re like a crystal vase which has been dropped on the floor. The vase is in three big pieces now, and if someone holds those pieces together just so, the vase looks whole again.  But if the hands holding the vase were to let go, it would collapse into a pile of fragments. In the same way, the only reason that you can continue functioning as you is because God is continually choosing to hold you together.  The only way you can do anything is if He allows you to do so and helps you to carry out your desires.  Without Him, you would cease to be.  When your soul acknowledges these facts and then decides to embrace them as a positive thing, it is practicing the attitude of dependency.  You’ll find God demanding dependency from people in the Bible—and getting quite irate with folks who make the absurd claim that they can do life without Him.

So how does developing the attitude of dependency help you with submission?  Well, while reverence urges you to give God everything He wants, dependency reminds you that submitting to God isn’t something you have to do alone.  In fact, you can’t do it alone.  Just as you can’t breathe without God making your lungs work, you can’t submit to Him without His help.  Everything you do in life you do with God.  You might be a loner by temperament, but your life has always been a group project—something you do in coordination with your Creators.

So how is it helpful to realize that you need God’s help to practice submission?  Well, when we first start down the road of submission, we view it as something we’re doing for God.  Submission feels like a task we do on our own in response to His request.  It’s like we’re giving Him a gift that we’ve come up with all on our own.

As we grow in the area of dependency, we realize that our initial view of submission was quite wrong.  We really aren’t pulling submission out of ourselves in our own strength.  When God calls us to submit to Him, He’s really prompting us to invite Him to help us do something that He wants us to do. The only reason our invitation is effective is that He is already willing to give us what He’s telling us to ask for.  He is the One who initiates our submission to Him, and He is the One who makes that submission happen.  All we do is decide that we want to participate in the journey He is offering to take us on.

It is a deeper understanding of our dependency on God which relieves us of the burden of thinking we must find some way to soldier on in the face of overwhelming cost. While reverence motivates us to embrace God’s will for our lives, dependency helps us relax in the midst of His will unfolding because we realize that it’s really not on us to make the impossible happen.  The most dedicated Christian does not have anything close to the stamina needed to press on through all of the stages of submission.  As long as we think God is commanding us to be more than human, it will only be a matter of time until we crash down into despair.  But once we realize that God never calls us to do anything that He’s not willing to do through us, we can find hope in the darkest places.

TRUST: MAKING SUBMISSION JOYFUL

So if reverence pushes us forward and dependency lightens our load, what does trust do?  Trust puts joy into the journey.  The soul attitude of trust is a direct response to God’s goodness.  Trust says, “I know that You are for me, that You love me, and that You want me to thrive as Your creature.  When You put me through difficult experiences, it is for my own benefit, and I trust that You will make the good far outweigh the bad.”

When we’re balking at new levels of submission, it’s the loss that we’re focused on.  We fear what God will take away from us.  We fear what He will destroy.  But as our trust in God grows, we learn that our fears are not founded in fact.  Yes, He certainly does lead us through some very difficult times.  But those experiences always serve to expand our ability to experience even greater levels of joy, satisfaction, and peace.  The more we trust God, the more eager we become to keep progressing with Him.  When He extends some new invitation to us, we rush to get onboard, confident that no matter how rough the first part of the journey might be, the joys He is leading us to will more than make up for it.

CONCLUSION

Developing submission is an essential part of forming a positive relationship with the Creator of all things.  God is not just an Authority, He is the Authority.  The fact that He is so superior to us demands a response of sincere submission.  It simply won’t work for us to approach Him as our equal, or merely our friend.  We must bow to Him as our Lord, Master, and King.  And in the process of doing this, we make a shocking discovery: that we were created to find great satisfaction in submitting to our Creator.  We humans were not designed to share God’s throne with Him—instead, we were designed to serve Him and revolve around Him.  It is through ever-deepening submission that we gain a better understanding of what it means to be human.  Submission to God is a fabulous thing—but it can also seem quite daunting and negative at first.  Here is where God teaches us new insights that motivate us to develop the soul attitudes of reverence, dependency and trust.  As these three attitudes develop, they reshape the tone and depth of our submission—transforming a frightening journey into a joyous, enticing, rewarding adventure which we feel so blessed to take part in.

FURTHER READING:
Total Surrender to God: Understanding the Process
The Joy of Being Powerless in Your Relationship with God
Soul Attitudes That Please God: What They Are & How We Develop Them

Understanding Trust Development: Learning to Feel Safe with a Monstrous God
From Monster to Marvelous: Why You’ll Eventually Thank God for Putting You Through Valley Hell

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