The Power of Submission

handheld-relationship-1551596-1279x1585I’ve been learning the power of submission and submitting to the right authorities. I know it sounds a little odd. I know it sounds a little unmanly. It sounds a little well – like being a doormat. But here is what I have been learning, that the more I learn to submit in the right relationships, the more those relationships flourish. 

I know that this sounds counter-intuitive. I know that for many people authority is a bad word, because of how abusive, power-hunger, and wrong some authority structures are. I get that, and we should stand against injustice, we should not acquiesce to abusive authority that dehumanizes and demeans people.

Yet I think in our reaction against bad authority, evil authority, abusive authority we have swung to something also unhealthy: a preoccupation with control.

Because sometimes when we resist authority its for the good of someone else. Sometimes when we resist authority its because its abusive and wrong and we are seeking new and life-giving forms of leadership. Sometimes when we resist authority its because it is oppressive and wrong…And sometimes we resist authority because we are selfish and like control.

The idea of submission is not popular because we have romanticized the idea of being authoritative, self-reliant, in control, and autonomous. We don’t like giving anything over to anyone else. We don’t like letting someone else direct us. So we resist authority, we resist submission, and in the end we harm ourselves and our relationships.

The truth is that in some relationships submission isn’t right, because there is no trust there and the authority is abusive and wrong. But the flipside is also true that there are some relationships where submission is necessary for thriving, where trust is deepened with submission, where love can flow better when we give up control and this idea of being self-reliant.

I have discovered this reality that submission can be beautiful in my marriage, my deep and trusted friendships, and most importantly my relationship with God. That when I give myself over to trusting those who look out for my best interest, give up pretending to be self-reliant and secure, and allow myself to submit to those key relationships around me: my life and relationships are better.

I think we resist the idea of submission because we have seen bad authority structures, and bad examples of submission. Yet when we look to Jesus he practiced this all the time. He submitted his will to the will of the Father, he was self-sacrificing, and only moved in harmony with the Spirit and the Father. And I think that this is a beautiful example of what the power of submission can look like.

Submission is not erasing our identities, giving up on all our wants and desires, or being a doormat. Submission is literally putting someone else first. And I know that this is the only way that my marriage thrives, that my friendships thrive, that my relationship with God thrives: when it ceases to be just about me.

The truth is if we don’t learn to submit (appropriately) we will struggle in life. Because no healthy relationship is based on unilateral decisions. Those are called dictatorships, not relationships. And subtly our resistance of submission can infect and affect our deepest relationships with God, with our spouses, and with our friends.

So all I’m trying to say in this post is really one thing: submission does matter and its got a bad name. Submission, much like authority, has been abused and used to abuse others. But submission can also be beautiful like in a marriage when husbands and wives submit to one another (Eph. 5:21), like in friendships (Gal 5:13), or in our relationship to God (Psalm 40:8; James 4:7) on in any healthy relationship.

So all of this is to say one thing: I think there is a power in submission. Not a top-down power, not a “might-is-right” power, but a power that comes from self-sacrificial and submissive love that is beautiful when worked out in harmony and unison. And I’ve learned that – that type of submission – can be a really healthy and healing thing.

Abusive Authority, Good Leadership, and The Inner Life of Leaders

change-is-childsplay-5-1056964-1599x1066This quote by Derek Flood really speaks to me, and also challenges me.

Of all sins, the sin of abusive authority is particularly dangerous because it masquerades as righteousness, claiming to speak for God.

It challenges me because I am a leader, and because I lead I have a certain “authority”. Which means I can fall prey to a specific sin of leaders: abusing authority. And nothing will wreck a community faster or deeper than abusive authority.

We’ve all seen some leadership and authority go sideways. Where it goes bad, where they hurt someone (maybe you), where unquestioned obedience is the rule, where it’s just plain unhealthy.

But the answer to bad leadership, isn’t no leadership, but good leadership. 

And to have that we have to recognize the fact that if we are a leader our inner life is crucial. If we want to ensure that we never abuse our authority our inner journey must be a priority.

What I mean by this statement is this: that if as a leader your inner life is in turmoil, unclear, or unknown you cannot lead well. Those who end up abusing authority, who try to “speak for God”, who masquerade as righteous have an inner life that is a mess, unknown, or hidden.

The truth is that if you want to lead well it isn’t about knowing how to inspire people, move people, or set goals. If you want to lead well you need to know yourself and God well. That’s the central starting point of leadership. If you don’t know who you are, you will be tempted to find yourself in power, accolades, or success and fall to the sin of abusive authority. Abusive authority can be prevented, but not without deep inner work of prayer, identity formation, and understanding of who you are wired to be.

I write all of this for two reasons. First, if you are a leader, and want to avoid the sin of abusive authority spend time to know yourself and know God. The inner journey is more difficult than the outward journey of leading. And let me say this, it’s also less cool. It’s way “cooler” to be leading a massive group of people. It’s less glamorous to be sitting in prayer processing why that little comment someone said really cut you deeply. But the process and inner work is true leadership.

And secondly, I write this as a caution for everyone of us. All of us are following someone, all of us (even if we are leaders) are influenced by others and their leadership. But we should be cautious of whom we let influence us. If who we are following who doesn’t’ seem to know themselves or God, simply be cautious, be wise, and be prudent. Because if someone doesn’t know who they are called to be, they cannot help you become who you are called to be.

So my main point from all of this – is this: leaders know yourself well so you can lead well. Take time to do the hard inner work. Because good leaders move to being great leaders not by bigger crowds, but by deeper inner work.