Cultivating My Spirit

Sacrifice, Submission, Surrender

So brothers and sisters, since God has shown us great mercy, I beg you to offer your lives as a living sacrifice to him. Your offering must be only for God and pleasing to him, which is the spiritual way for you to worship. 2 Do not be shaped by this world; instead be changed within by a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to decide what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect.  ~ Romans 12:1-2

Let’s talk about the three dreaded “S’s” of scripture: sacrifice, submission, surrender – when you read these words you know something extraordinarily superhuman was required of someone. When you’re asked or expected to illustrate one of these words in your life, you know something beyond your daily norm is being asked of you – something beyond your natural inclination.

Jesus is ethereal and other-worldly to the world because the world doesn’t practice a love that sacrifices, submits or surrenders. Jesus is also alien to most Christians because their idea of love doesn’t hold up to Jesus’s act of love. Jesus’s work on the cross was completed in a matter of hours, however the world can still benefit from His submission to God’s will for Him, His surrender of His spirit into our Father’s care and His sacrifice of His life on the cross today, two thousand years later. Faithful and persistent Believers will continue to reap the benefits from this one obedient act of love into eternity. But God didn’t leave Jesus on the cross and neither should we. Christ believers need to embody Jesus Christ in their daily lives. Every day we encounter situations that could bring glory to God if we would just learn to set ourselves aside in order to honor others. In short, Believers limit themselves when they refuse to sacrifice daily, submit daily and surrender daily.

These are big words. Intimidating words. Words requiring thought, action and commitment in order to be carried out effectively.

sacrifice: the offering of animal, plant, or human life or of some material possession to a deity, as in propitiation or homage; the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim
 submit: to give over or yield to the power or authority of another; to defer to another’s judgment, opinion, decision influence; to present for the approval, consideration, or decision of another or others
surrender: to yield (something) to the possession or power of another; deliver up possession on demand or under duress; to give (oneself) up; to yield or resign in favor of another                                                                           ~ Dictionary.com

People are naturally aggressive in their resistance of anything requiring them give way to other’s interests before their own interests. The thought of sacrificing our desires (our wants) every day in favor of someone else’s needs may sound preposterous (perhaps less so if you’re already married and/or have children). The act of surrendering our pride to honor another sounds like an unnecessary evil. And what’s the deal with submission? It just sounds like something no one will willingly do in this corrupt world. Yes, we aggressively resist giving in, giving way, offering up, deferring and yielding to others every day. This is odd because the very nature of sacrifice, submission and surrender is passive. In order to define each of these words, we have to use other passive words like defer, give, offer, present and, of course, yield. Being a yielded vessel for God sounds great, but being a yielded vessel for God’s people…well… that’s another story….

yield: to give forth or produce by a natural process or in return for cultivation; to give up or surrender (oneself), as to superior power or authority

We yield every day when crossing the street and we don’t even think about it. If we’re walking, we stop to let the cars go by. Same if we’re driving because a collision wouldn’t do anyone any good. So we consciously give way to others in transit. Yet in our relationships we aggressively avoid giving way, leading to many interpersonal collisions. We don’t want to yield. We want what we want how we want it when we want it where we want it. That’s it and that’s all. When others aren’t accommodating, well….

Do you know where your fights and arguments come from? They come from the selfish desires that war within you.You want things, but you do not have them. So you are ready to kill and are jealous of other people, but you still cannot get what you want. So you argue and fight. You do not get what you want, because you do not ask God. Or when you ask, you do not receive because the reason you ask is wrong. You want things so you can use them for your own pleasures.  ~ James 4:1-3

When we yield, we sow life into our physical life and our spiritual life. We are preparing and presenting ourselves for development and cultivation. Cultivation is a favorite word of mine as far as my personal and spiritual growth goes. From early in my walk I thought of my journey as a process of spiritual cultivation with my Father God the ever-present and diligent Gardner. The process of cultivating means weeding out unwanted elements and nurturing the desired elements. I know as I grow I am naturally, and equally shedding and blossoming. I’m sacrificing my old self – my current self – in order to rise again as my new self. I am submitting my will to God’s pruning grace with full knowledge that He alone is in full control of how I turn out. I am surrendering my heart and my life – who I am today – to become all I was created to be tomorrow. Cultivation is hard work. It’s painful if you fight against the pruning and the weeding. It’s debilitating if you try to hold on to all the toxic elements God is trying to cleanse you of. But it’s the most rewarding life experience if you simply embrace it – if you in essence, simply submit and surrender to the process God has pulled you into.

Though no one has ever seen God, we all have seen some of His representatives. We may not have instantly recognized a God-representative as such when they were present, but once their message and/lesson sank in, we knew who sent them. God uses people. God works through people. We have been instructed to honor others above ourselves. Yes, you are a prize, but you should also know that the only prize greater than you is your brother and sister in Christ. Honor them. Honor your spouse. Honor your parents. Honor your boss, your co-workers, and your neighbor. When you place others before you, you allow God to cultivate you in this life and the life to come. When you learn to suppress yourself, you will enjoy the experience of being lifted up by another.

Preaching to Myself

Apparently, sacrifice, submission and surrender are difficult actions for me to incorporate into my daily routine as well. I’m not an overly prideful person, but my confidence in whose I am and the promises I have on my life can resemble arrogance sometimes. It’s a fine line, being bold and confident in your knowledge and acceptance of God’s will for your life and being a humble servant in performing God’s will in your life. In order to remain on that fine line, one must walk out the Lord’s instructions every day while looking hopefully towards receiving the fulfillment of His promises.

I fall off that line sometimes… perhaps more often than I even realize. So, yes, though I’m not particularly prideful, I do have some pride. I’ve learned this past year or more that “some” pride is enough to keep me in bondage and isolated from what I want most in my life. I’ve come to realize that an ounce of pride is enough of a foothold for the enemy to operate in my life and my relationships.

So, you are not loyal to God! You should know that loving the world is the same as hating God. Anyone who wants to be a friend of the world becomes God’s enemy….”The Spirit that God made to live in us wants us for himself alone”….But God gives us even more grace, as the Scripture says, “God is against the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.” — Proverbs 3:34

So give yourselves completely to God. Stand against the devil, and the devil will run from you. Come near to God, and God will come near to you. You sinners, clean sin out of your lives. You who are trying to follow God and the world at the same time, make your thinking pure. Be sad, cry, and weep! Change your laughter into crying and your joy into sadness. Humble yourself in the Lord’s presence, and he will honor you.  ~ James 4:4-10

So, I had to ask myself this week – why is submission such a dirty word to me?

I am okay with giving up material goods – sacrificing my last dollar, the clothes off my back or even sharing my home. Sacrifice? No big deal. Surrender? Well, I’ve learned to surrender my all to Jesus. I’ve learned to trust that God is in control of everything involving my life. So, surrender – I can do that. I am submitted to God – no doubt about that….

However, the idea of submitting myself to a man who is not submitted to God chills my blood. The thought of laying my life down for a man who wouldn’t value it… well, I really can’t think of a worse hell. In my mind, surrendering my heart to a man who wouldn’t know how to care for it and cultivate it would be a slow torturous death.

I’m not anti-submission, I’m only against submission being one-sided in relationships. I truly loathe the idea of people depending on me giving in so they can have their way every time – after all, a daily behavior becomes an anticipated behavior. Soon you’re being taken for granted. However, being submitted to a man who understands that the sacrifice demanded of him is greater than that demanded of me.. well, that’s a different story altogether. Such a happenstance would go a long way in developing my trust in his judgment and his treatment of me.

A man who dies daily to himself in order to present me, his wife, as a holy offering to our God is a man with no equal in my sight. A submitted man is a man I can submit to. A surrendered man is a man I can surrender to. A man who sacrifices his life for me is a man I will joyfully lay my life down for as well.

But what if this man isn’t quite in the “sacrifice my life” frame of mind yet? What if this man is okay with everything you do for him, but isn’t quite interested in doing anything for you? What if this man’s pride is more stubborn and formidable than your own? What if? What if? What if? I’ve asked so many whys and what-fors of God…. I’ve given Him the list of signs I was looking for in order to move forward or move on. And God, with His patient view from eternity simply waited for me to exhaust myself with anger, frustration, stubborn stagnation and my ever-present view of my own mortality before giving me the word I needed to get up and walk. When I stopped complaining about the man He created and seemingly connected my life to, I was able to hear Him whisper. When I silenced my inner cries demanding a certain effort and showing on my man’s part, I was able to hear a louder whisper. In order to focus on what was being said, I had to change what I was saying. My complaints and criticisms turned into helpless supplication: “Father, what do you want me to do?”

Sacrifice. Submit. Surrender. To him.

I went completely silent for a moment. Surely, I didn’t hear that correctly….

Then the gentle admonishment came. You’re so focused on what he’s not doing, that you’re not doing what you should be doing.

I’ve always read Ephesians 5:20-25 as a conditional statement. Husbands are to sacrifice themselves for their wives as Christ gave Himself up for the church. And women are to submit to a husband who is submitted to the Lord. Translation to my ears: if he’s not submitted to God, I’m not submitting to him.

However, in the totality of the gospel, we are exhorted to honor everyone above ourselves, to carry one another’s burdens, to repent and forgive quickly, to love so fiercely that no sin will go uncovered. I know that. And I practice that as best I can with others. But when it came to the umpteenth grievance with someone my heart holds dear, I decided to let my remnant of pride have its way. For surely my pride would shelter my heart better than my longsuffering patience….

There’s the rub: patience is a priceless virtue and pride is the downfall of every person.

We go wrong when we look at submission as the obligatory role of only women in marriage. We also go wrong when we resist being what we know we should be in our relationships. Marriage is a garden ministry in which both man and wife function as ministers to one another. Each is intended to be God’s representative to the other. Imagine – if both are fully submitted to God, the Holy Spirit will flow freely through each and each will be rooted in an environment that prunes and nurtures them equally and together. That may come across as an absurdly romantic concept, but I believe it’s an example of what the core of a biblical marriage should be.

21 Yield to obey each other as you would to Christ.

 22 Wives, yield to your husbands, as you do to the Lord,23 because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church. And he is the Savior of the body, which is the church.24 As the church yields to Christ, so you wives should yield to your husbands in everything.

 25 Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it26 to make it belong to God. 27 He died so that he could give the church to himself like a bride in all her beauty. He died so that the church could be pure and without fault, with no evil or sin or any other wrong thing in it.28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies.  ~Ephesians 5:21-28, NCV

Imagine how amazing life would be if we each of us could get over ourselves every day and serve our loved ones, our community and our neighbors selflessly. Imagine if we simply laid down our life to serve and to love.  In such a world, no one would go hungry or thirsty for God’s grace and mercy.

It’s not enough to just give way to the stranger or submit your will to an employer or share your income anonymously – though admirable, these examples barely scratch the surface. We need to get into a daily routine of loving the people in our lives sacrificially. We need to maintain the habit of surrendering our pride and all associated elements daily (hourly, minute by minute, if need be) in order to submit ourselves to the authority of others in our lives. This authority could be as simple as the other person being created in the same image of light and majesty as you. However, if we follow scripture and honor others above ourselves, the other person is then elevated from your perspective. When we humble ourselves and honor others God honors us. I prefer to be honored by God than to hold on to my worthless pride.

Ultimately, we are submitting to God with every instance of submission we embrace. We are surrendering our lives and spirit into His keeping. We’re giving back what has so freely been given to us – life.  We are essentially providing the sacrifice He requires and has already approved – our bodies, our spirits and control of our existence.

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