“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39
Our list of prayer keys uses Matthew 26:39 as the text for submission. I generally use the 1984 NIV for clarity, but for this verse I like the classic, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” Jesus himself is the best example of submission in prayer I could find. But the various conflicts and interruptions in the series have delayed a lesson that should have been taught in October to December. At this time of year it is appropriate that we remember Mary’s and Joseph’s submission to God.
Mary was not yet married when the angel told her she would have a child. She knew she was innocent, but what would her family think? She knew she was innocent, but what would Joseph think?
There is no indication in scripture that she hesitated to submit. She may not have said these exact words, but decades before the crucifixion her attitude was, “Thy will be done.”
When Joseph heard that his fiance was pregnant, he debated what to do. He could have her stoned. It was that serious. Instead, when the angel told him what God was doing, there is no indication in scripture that he hesitated to submit. He may not have said these exact words, but decades before the crucifixion his attitude was, “Thy will be done.”
Neither one asked for proof. Neither one put out a fleece. Neither one asked for more time to think about it. Each submitted to God’s will.
In 1915 Charles Blanchard wrote about an old illustration of submission. It's almost a hundred years older now, but it is still a good illustration.
A man was walking by a hedge-row in England when he noticed a young boy on his knees. As he approached, he could hear the boy saying his ABC's. As soon as the boy finished, he started over again. After five or six repetitions, the man was puzzled to hear the boy say, “Amen.”
“Excuse me, but, what were you doing?”
“But you were only reciting the alphabet.”
“Yes, sir. I don't really know how to pray or what to pray for. I decided if I give God all the letters a good number of times, that I would let Him put them together in the right order.”
Dr. Blanchard then quoted Psalm 8:2, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength...” I would add that the child is an example of submission and that there is indeed strength in submission. Giving it all to God and letting Him put it together in the right order is a good way to go. “Thy will be done.”
Some people think they don’t need to submit to anyone. Whatever they do, they want to do it without any advice from anyone. Frank Sinatra used to sing, “And now, the end is near; and so I face the final curtain. My friend, I’ll say it clear, I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain. I’ve lived a life that’s full. I’ve traveled each and every highway; But more, much more than this, I did it my way.”
When the end is near and I face the final curtain, I would rather say, “I did it Thy way.”
There’s a popular story on the internet about the foolishness of the high and mighty thinking they can give orders without taking them. It can be traced back at least seventy years to a story in a 1939 book.
“The fog was very thick, and the Chief Officer of the tramp steamer was peering over the side of the bridge. Suddenly, to his intense surprise, he saw a man leaning over a rail, only a few yards away.
“You confounded fool!” he roared. “Where the devil do you think your ship's going? Don't you know I've got the right of way?”
Out of the gloom came a sardonic voice: “This ain' no ship, guv'nor. This 'ere's a light'ouse!”
Obviously, I was not reading books in 1939. The first time I read the story, it had grown from a tramp steamer to a battleship. The Chief Officer had grown into an Admiral in the US Navy. He saw a light in the fog and had the signalman send orders to turn south 5 degrees to avoid a collision. The message came back, “You turn north 5 degrees to avoid a colision.”
The story kept growing until the admiral was on the bridge of “the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, the second largest ship in the United States Atlantic fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers and numerous support vessels. If you do not alter course, we will take military action to prevent damage to these Navy ships.”
To which Seaman Third Class Jones responded, “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”
Ranks, locations, and vessels, even the number of vessels changed. The high and mighty become higher and mightier, but they still suddenly face dire consequences for refusing to submit to another.
A submissive spirit is essential to another prayer key we have studied: obedience. We concluded then that if we want to learn to pray, we must learn to obey. If we want to pray well, we must obey well. If we want to become prayer warriors, we must become obedient children.
The great pioneer missionary and prayer warrior Hudson Taylor said, “The real secret of an unsatisfied...” [Notice, he said UNsatisfied life...] “The real secret of an UNsatisfied life lies too often in an UNsurrendered will.” [sermoncentral.com] If we do not surrender our will, if we are not truly submissive, our obedience will be drudgery and prayer will be a tedious exercise.
When discussing pure motives, we said that we can do the right thing for the wrong reason. If we obey without a submissive heart, we are not obeying for the right reason.
Just as a side thought, isn’t it amazing how often we talk about how one key relates to another key or how one key is inseparable from another key? Prayer keys are not isolated things, they should all be integrated into a prayer life.
Jesus had prayed countless times in solitary places. In the garden, Jesus said, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” He had been in agony. He sweat blood while praying, but he did not turn from submission to the father’s will. He did not get what he wanted, but he got what he needed. He had the strength to face what was to come. Twelve legions of angels were a breathe away, but he didn’t call them. Submission is not a means of getting what we want in prayer. It is a means of getting what we need.
Paul Miller, the author of Love Walked Among Us, begins teaching seminars by writing these words on a flip chart: I do nothing on my own. I can only do what I see my dad doing.
He asks for analysis. In the age of Oprah and Dr. Phil, the armchair psychologists’ answers come.
He sounds weak. Almost helpless.
Does he have a mind of his own?
If he’s an adult, he needs a little separation from his dad.
Has this person been to counseling?
If Paul Miller asked for your comments, what would you say?
Miller writes, “After I’ve let the hook go deep, I tell them that Jesus said those words.” – “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does . . . .By myself I can do nothing . . . “ (John 5:19, 30). [sermoncentral.com]
Jesus had prayed countless times in solitary places. In the garden, Jesus said, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” He had been in agony. He sweat blood while praying, but he did not turn from submission to the father’s will. He did not get what he wanted, but he got what he needed. He had the strength to face what was to come.
R. A. Torrey wrote, “The reason why many fail in battle is because they wait until the hour of battle. The reason why others succeed is because they have gained their victory on their knees long before the battle came...Anticipate your battles; fight them on your knees before temptation comes, and you will always have victory.”
If Jesus spent private time with the father, how much more should we? If we wait until the battle, the challenge, the temptation is before us, we may not desire to submit to God’s will. The time to choose submission is now.