Mary’s Example

Starting a ministry to women and writing this blog leaves me thinking often about the women God uses and how He uses them.  What can I learn from the women in Scripture and the godly women who have come along since then?  I want to glean whatever I can to be a vessel that is available for His use.

With Christmas approaching, the woman I am drawn to consider is Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Whenever I meditate on her experience, it leaves me in awe of her and humbled.  I wonder if I would have had the faith to do what she did.

Have you ever wondered why God chose Mary?  What was it about her that made her be the woman He would call to bear and raise His Son, who would be faithful to Him all the way to the foot of the cross?  Of course, ultimately it was His grace.  Mary didn’t earn this favor from God.  At the same time, though,  I think there are things about Mary’s character that made her His choice in His perfect wisdom.  And even though it’s impossible to fully know why God chose her, I think Scripture gives us some clues.

  1. MaryMary knew God and His character.  After Mary goes to see her relative, Elizabeth, and she confirms what the angel had told her, Mary erupts in praise.  We call her words in Luke 1:46-55 “The Magnificat”.  Besides praising God for having regard for her and blessing her, Mary also praises Him for His attributes and His work on behalf of His people.  Her words are packed with theology.
  1. Mary had faith. In Luke 1:45, Elizabeth says of Mary, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”  I think this faith flows from her deep knowledge of God.  The more you know God, the more you will trust Him.  And Mary was able to trust that He could and would do something impossible – cause her, a virgin, to carry and give birth to a son.  She does ask Gabriel how this can be when he first gives her this news.  But his answer that it would be by the Holy Spirit coming upon her and his reminder that nothing is impossible with God is enough for her to believe that a miracle would happen.
  1. Mary was completely surrendered to God.  I love Mary’s response to the angel: “Behold the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.”  (Luke 1:38)  Mary didn’t consider herself just a servant of God – she calls herself a “bondslave”.  There is a marked difference in the two.  A servant has some self-autonomy and personal rights.  But a slave has none.  They are owned by their master and have no rights and no choice but to do his will.

In saying this, Mary is indicating her full surrender to God’s will for her.  For us in the United States, it’s hard to imagine all that she risked in saying this.  Besides losing Joseph’s trust and the possibility of him rejecting and divorcing her, losing her reputation and being ostracized by the community, there was the very real possibility of being stoned for adultery.  And yet she is ready to obey and follow God no matter what the personal cost.

Ultimately, I think God chose Mary because He knew He could trust Mary with being the mother of His Son.

Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru), shared the gospel with everyone he met.  He always had a story about a person next to him on a plane or a taxi driver who had prayed to receive Christ with him.  Once I heard another Campus Crusade staff member, Dan Hayes, say that he wondered why Bill Bright saw so many people receive Christ.  Was it because Dr. Bright was more winsome or had a better gospel presentation?  Dan finally decided it was because God knew He could trust Bill Bright.  His implication was that since God knew that He could trust Dr. Bright to share the gospel, He would put people in his path who were ready to respond to the message.

That’s what comes to mind when I say that God could trust Mary.  Here was a girl who knew Him, both personally and theologically.  And because she knew Him, she would trust Him with miracles and follow Him in full surrender, no matter what the cost.  Exactly the kind of person who could be trusted to be the mother of the Messiah.

Mary challenges me.  To some extent, I do know God.  I have seen miracles.  I have followed Him to challenging places.  But Mary inspires me to excel still more.  To arrive at the place where I am quick to say, “Behold the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word,” in things both big and small.  (Sometimes it can be the smaller, annoying things that are harder for me embrace willingly than the big, life-changing ones.)  To be a woman of faith about whom people could say, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”  To never stop digging deeply in the Word, seeking to know and understand God more.  To be someone God can trust to be a part of His story.

Liar, Liar

“It wasn’t until I heard the Phi Beta Kappa speech about self-doubt that it struck me: the real issue was not that I felt like a fraud, but that I could feel something deeply and profoundly and be completely wrong.”         Sheryl Sandberg

Lean InI had just started reading Lean In when this line in Chapter 2 stopped me in my tracks.  Sheryl Sandberg had just expressed what I was preparing to talk about in Bible study that week.  Here was an incredibly successful businesswoman saying that she realized that she believed a lie.

When I was a junior in college, I read Search for Significance by Robert McGee.  It was helpful in many ways, but the most eye-opening part for me as a young Christian was finding out that I believed lies and that they came from Satan, the father of lies.  (John 8:44)  This was life-changing for me.  Satan’s best lie for me – one that he used often whenever I failed at something (which, being the perfectionist that I am, could be often) – was, “You can’t do anything right.  Everything you do is wrong.”  Crazy I know, but I think many of us have crazy lies that we think like that.  Understanding that it was a lie and where it came from started a journey for me of no longer listening to it which in turn led to reducing its frequency.

Sheryl Sandberg’s lie was that she was a fraud.  It came from great insecurity that started when she was in high school.  She shares this story and what she learned from it out of concern that what she calls “the imposter syndrome” holds women back from taking and making opportunities for themselves to succeed in their careers.

The Bible study I was planning for that week also addressed lies we believe as women, but not from concern for career advancement (although I share Sandberg’s concerns there, too).  The concern instead was that the lies we believe as Christian women also hold us back from living out the purpose for which God created us.  When we think that we aren’t good enough, we won’t step out in faith to share the gospel with a co-worker or neighbor.  When we think we can’t do anything right, we won’t step out in faith to serve in our community.  When we think we don’t know enough about the Bible, we won’t seek to disciple other women and help them walk with God.

We can’t let listening to lies keep us from following where God calls us by faith.  Missing out on the joy of living with purpose is part of Satan’s goal in whispering these things in our ear.  Don’t let him win!

Paul gives us the solution to this challenge that all of us face when he tells us in Romans 12:2 to renew our minds.  Here are some thoughts about how to do that:

  1. Identify the lies that Satan is telling you.  What are the thoughts that go through your mind that bring you down, that cause doubt, that bring guilt, that keep you from trusting God?  Those are lies.
  1. Stop listening to the lies. Some of this may involve staying away from people or situations or media that feed the lies.  I like what I heard Andy Stanley say once about how to renew your mind.  His third step was to “begin plugging the holes in your life through which the world pours in.”  I would adapt that in this situation to say, “Start plugging the holes in your life through which the lies pour in.”
    In addition to trying to stop them from coming in, you need to also take the lies, the thoughts, captive.  Paul mentions in the context of spiritual warfare in 2 Corinthians 10:5b to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.  For me, this means that when I become aware of the lie going through my head, I choose to stop it, to not listen it.  It’s saying to myself, “No, not going to listen to that.  Stop!”  (Side note – I also find this to be helpful with worry.)
    I have to make a choice of my will to not think it anymore, to not listen to it.  This is where it helps me to remember where the lies are coming from – the enemy who is trying to keep me from enjoying all Christ offers to me.  I like to say that then my “holy stubbornness” kicks in.  Just like a little kid, I grit my teeth, dig in my heels, and say to Satan, “No!  I will not listen to that!  You will not win this one!”
  1. Replace the lies with truth. I can’t encourage you enough to study Scripture about your position in Christ, about what God says about you and the purpose for which He created you.  This is our “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17) that we use to fight Satan.  We counter his lies with God’s truth.  Paul expressed it this way in Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”
    But it’s not enough to just know truth – you have to unite it with faith.  There are times when you know the truth but your faith and feelings are struggling to believe it.  Keep hanging onto it, though, repeating it to yourself everyday and eventually the faith and feelings will come.  I promise.

Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  Don’t let the enemy win through his lies.  Don’t miss out on all the Jesus offers.  Don’t fail to experience the purpose for which He created you.  Don’t lose the opportunity to be part of God’s work in your community and in the world.  Instead identify the lies, take them captive, and replace them with truth and faith.  Abundant life in Christ is worth the fight!