We live in a transactional world. Click now to get a coupon to your favorite restaurant. Swipe your library card and, voila, the latest books and movies. Give Jillian Michaels four months, and she'll give you a healthy body and a new outlook on life.
It's a consumer culture, which infiltrates our spiritual lives: What do I get by submitting to God? What's the upside of humbly obeying God's will? If I do something this hard, I'd better get something out of it! If I give up something that's fundamental to my joy and fulfillment, I sure hope I get something in return.
We're all guilty of thinking this way. Have you ever read Psalm 37:4 and thought, I'll delight myself in the Lord, and then I'll get the desires of my heart? No, we usually focus more on getting what we want than on delighting ourselves in the Lord.
When we submit ourselves to God, we get more of him. We give up something fundamental to who we are and what we ultimately want out of life, and we get a deeper love and understanding of our Father. Amazingly, the more we delight ourselves in the Lord, the more he becomes the desire of our heart.
Job submitted to God by giving up the need to know why, and he let God be God. After God revealed himself, Job responded with, "I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes" (Job 42:5). Because it's rooted in trusting God, submission brings intimacy.
What Isn't Promised
Still, the Bible promises that obedience will be rewarded. "Obey me, and I will be your God, and you will be my people. Do everything as I say, and all will be well" (Jeremiah 7:23). We see more of God, resulting in holiness and deeper peace. Psalm 103 gives us a taste of submission's benefits: forgiveness, healing, redemption, love, compassion, and satisfaction.
What isn't listed among these blessings is ease and comfort. When you obey God by relying on his wisdom and not your own, your way doesn't get easier. But you face your road with renewed joy and purpose because you know that the Lord's love is with those who fear him (Psalm 103:17).
So how do we submit to God?
First acknowledge him as Lord and Master over every area of life. He laid the earth's foundations and set the heavens in place (Proverbs 3:19); he is the One who truly understands how the world works. God also made us, and we are his (Psalm 100:3). He's Lord over everything and knows what's best for us (Isaiah 48:17).
Second, "agree with him about all things—even those you cannot understand" as Francois Fenelon put it. Leaning on our own understanding comes more naturally. It's easy to agree with something we understand, but God's ways and thoughts are higher than ours (as the heavens are higher than the earth—Isaiah 55:9). We're to agree with God even when we don't understand.
Third, let go of what you've been holding onto so tightly: a relationship, a child, recognition and respect. St. Augustine said that God gives where he finds empty hands. If we cling to what we think is best, we cannot receive the good gifts that are immeasurably more than we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
May God give us the grace to submit and obey daily, for our good and for his glory.