“God can use anyone.” That’s what I was often told in childhood. Many of you were probably told the same thing on the principle that we need to be ready and open to serve God in any circumstance.
What does this mean in practice? What does a life useful to or used by God look like?
I ask these questions with caution because templates have limited use in the service of the Lord. He creates each of us with unique gifts to be empowered by his love and spirit to his purposes.
Our salvation and our service depend on what the Lord does for us, in us and through us, not on slavish emulation of the best people we know.
Flawed and broken as we are, it is God’s light that makes us shine and God’s power that makes us go. That’s why the Apostle Paul observed, “We have this treasure in clay jars to that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Cor 4:7).
If we want an example of how God molds and transforms a life, there is no one better to look to than Mary, the first person to have a growing, life-long relationship with Jesus. She came to this relationship as a teenager when she conceived and bore a child.
The child was the Christ. Mary and Joseph reared Jesus as the human incarnation of the Son of God. Mary was present throughout Jesus’ public ministry and was present at the horror and the victory of the Cross.
Mary was praying with the other believers in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost. Tradition says that the Apostle John cared for her as his own mother until she died in her old age in the City of Ephesus.
As I have reflected on Mary in this Advent Season, eight things come to the fore about her relationship with God that are instructive on what makes for a vital loving relationship with one’s Creator and Lord.
1. Mary was disturbed by grace.
When the angel Gabriel told her “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you,” Mary “was much perplexed with his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:28-30). We get used to our lives. Even a teenager like Mary, soon to be married, thinks she has things figured out. Then God shows up and says, “Because I love you, I have other plans for you.”
There are many who experience such a moment and shrug it off for reasons religious or secular. The idea of a God personally interested in their lives and destiny is of no consequence to them because they are convinced of their own righteousness or believe the good that comes their way is random fate.
But grace, the sovereign action of a God who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, is devastating. The thinking child of God is convicted of her limitations and unworthiness and overcome by joy and gratitude that her Maker and her Lord loves her anyway.
2. Mary listened to God.
Instead of anxious pleading and attempts to control the conversation by repetitive recitation of her wants, wishes and expectations, Mary let God do the talking which is the real purpose of prayer. He knows what we are going to say before we say it (Ps 139:4).
Talking louder and longer to God centers prayer in our human weakness. Listening with an open heart and mind focuses prayer on God. He knows what you need before you ask him (Mt 6:31-32). Do you trust God enough to hear him out? Mary did.
3. Mary was not afraid to question God.
Our life with God is about learning. Unless there are questions, there is no learning.
Questions don’t add up to doubt, although without doubt, faith really has no purpose.
Mary knew the facts of life. When told by the angel that she would bear a son who would be the Messiah, Mary asked, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). A virgin bearing a child was an impossibility.
When Mary asked, ‘How can this be?” she was not being sarcastic or cynical. She was genuinely mystified.
God comes to us in mystery. His ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts. People who can’t live with mystery are generally unhappy with God because there is much, much more to God than the infinitesimal knowledge that we possess.
The angel told Mary that something was happening to her that only the Holy Spirit could accomplish “for nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).That’s the only answer we may receive from God when we are staring at the impossible and don’t know how his promise will be fulfilled. Do we trust God to do the impossible? That’s the frontier where the righteous begin to live by faith.
4. Mary surrendered to God.
Mary makes the most succinct statement of what it means to surrender to God to be found in all of Scripture. God was asking Mary to turn over everything to him–her pending engagement to Joseph, her fear, her questions. her pride, her future, even her personal safety. Mary responded, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your will” (Luke 1:38).
God won’t accept a mere “cease-fire” with us. Surrender means no conditions, no “if” or “but.” The prayer of surrender is “Take me, Lord, and make me and use me for what you want.”
Even if in fear or hurt you can’t bring yourself to turn over everything, you can pray, “Lord, I know you want and need me to hand over every part of my life, but I am not sure that I want to do that. Overshadow me with your Holy Spirit and change my heart to want you more than anything else.” He has done that for me and for people who I love.
Fourteen years into our marriage, Patricia revealed to me her intense battle with God before she gave in completely. “I couldn’t stay married to you if I didn’t work this out,” she said to my considerable shock. When I protested that I wouldn’t have expected or demanded that outcome, she said, “You need to understand, this had nothing to do with you. This was between me and God. Everything was at stake for me.” After 36 years of marriage, I regard her comment as the greatest compliment that she has ever paid our marriage because it put God in the right perspective over me and over our marriage.
Either our first allegiance is to God in everything, or the exception(s) reveal us to be idolaters and rebels. This is the truth above all other truths.
5. Mary sought out community.
Mary did not go it alone. She immediately headed for the wisdom and solace of her older cousin Elizabeth who had also miraculously conceived the child to be known as “John the Baptist” (Luke 1:36, 39-40). The baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy at the approach of Mary and the baby she was carrying. The two women blessed with God’s life and love stayed together three months. They learned from and strengthened each other in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41-44).
The life of God growing in us and the joy it brings is meant to be shared. Encouragement is a unique gift of fellowship (Heb 10:25). “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The love of the heavenly Father takes form and strength in our relationships. On the other hand, the flame of faith too often sputters and dies down in loneliness. The growing Christ-follower walks toward relationships, not away from them.
6. Mary believed that God would fulfill his promise.
Elisabeth told Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Luke 1:45).
How many men and women take a “wait and see” attitude toward God? Will he really be Santa Claus and give us what we want? We want to see God make good on his promise before we commit to him.
Mary took God at his word and lived its truth even before it was fulfilled. That is the faith that God credits as righteousness (Rom 4:3). Mary’s faith brought Jesus to life in her. Our faith will bring Jesus to life in us.
7. Mary praised God for his great and marvelous works.
Psalm 107:1-2 makes this plain statement:
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so
those he redeemed from trouble . . . .
Mary’s song recorded in Luke 1:46-55 carries the pure, sweet melody of the redeemed. She sings of how he humbles the proud who gain their wealth and power through the oppression of others and how he lifts the lowly, and fills the hungry with good things.
To give voice to praise and worship of the Lord, is to acknowledge with gratitude that he has created us and redeems us because he loves us and nothing outlasts or overcomes his love. Mary was a teen-age peasant girl waiting for the Lord to overwhelm the circumstances that were overwhelming her when she sang her song. But his love gave her the reason and the courage to sing out —
- My soul magnifies the Lord,
- and my spirit rejoices in God
- my Savior.
- for he has looked with favor on the
- lowliness of his servant.
- Surely, from now on all generations
- will call me blessed;
- for the Mighty One has done great
- things for me,
- Holy is his name.
- (vs. 46-49)
What gives you reason and courage to sing out?
8. Mary returned home.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months “and then returned home” (Luke 1:56). Wherever we go, whatever good or evil we do or encounter, we were made to return home with Jesus. The Letter to the Hebrews 11:13-16 tells us that “God is not ashamed” to be called the God of people who set their minds on heaven and keep moving toward the goal.
Jesus came to this earth to save us from our sins and to give us his life as the cure for our sin-sick souls. He said that he was going to prepare a home for us with his Father in heaven, and he was coming back to take us there (John 14:1-7).
This is the season when families gather to share warmth and good things in the celebration of Jesus’ love like Mary did with Elizabeth. But Mary knew her home was elsewhere and she did not linger. The best we see here is only a glimpse of the glory to come when we go home with Jesus forever. Let’s not linger here. “The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely, I am coming soon.’Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).
Mary’s faith and devotion sets out a road map to guide us all the way home.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,
Please note that the content and viewpoints of Mr. Hansen are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.
Kent Hansen is a Christian attorney, author and speaker. He practices corporate law and is the managing attorney of the firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen in Corona, California. Kent also serves as the general counsel of Loma Linda University and Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.
Finding God’s grace revealed in the ordinary experiences of life, spiritual renewal in Christ and prayer are Kent’s passions. He has written two books, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places published by Review & Herald in 2002 and Cleansing Fire, Healing Streams: Experiencing God’s Love Through Prayer, published by Pacific Press in spring 2007. Many of his stories and essays about God’s encompassing love have been published in magazines and journals. Kent is often found on the hiking trails of the southern California mountains, following major league baseball, playing the piano or writing his weekly email devotional, “A Word of Grace for Your Monday” that is read by men and women from Alaska to Zimbabwe.