Who is this young woman who said, “Yes,” to God and served Him with a steadfast heart, even though life took her into unexpected territory? What power enabled her to remain resolutely firm to the call that God had placed on her life despite circumstances that pierced her heart? Let’s take a behind-the-scenes look at one of the heroes of our faith as we discover how to live in abundance like Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When I ponder the life of this courageous woman, I am astounded by the strength of character that she exhibited at such a young age. Think about the confidence she exuded in her conversation with the angel Gabriel who arrived out of nowhere to tell her that she was going to become pregnant and bear God’s Son. What?
That ranks up there with “the most outrageous thing that happened to me today!”
When I read this gospel account of Mary’s encounter with Gabriel, I put myself in Mary’s shoes with some difficulty – this is definitely a Cinderella-and-the-glass-slippers moment. As I try to squeeze my bulging foot into the dainty glass slipper, I have to admit that it is not a good fit.
Here’s the honest truth: when a Word of God conflicts directly with my current circumstances, my gut reaction is to doubt God. Of course, I have not yet encountered Gabriel — perhaps that makes it easier to believe a Word. However, I suspect that even if I encountered a brilliant angel, I would still doubt.
Besides, Gabriel was not exactly bringing good news. Mary, a betrothed but not-yet-married young lady, had no business being pregnant. When I remember back to my formative years in a good Bible-believing church, getting pregnant before marriage was the kiss of death. “Anything but that,” I perceived in the youth-group teaching, even though no one used those exact words.
Mary received this “good news” with some surprise. The scriptures say that she was troubled, and wondered what mysterious message this angel was delivering. I am gratified to note that before Mary uttered her famous statement of agreement, she did ask Gabriel to explain how her pregnancy could be possible since she was a virgin.
Here’s the beautiful thing about Mary’s heart . . . she believed.
She believed Gabriel’s unbelievable explanation: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” Luke 1:35-38
Luke’s retelling of this encounter between Mary and Gabriel does not specify how much time elapsed between the angel’s answer and Mary’s response. The scriptures do tell us that Mary pondered things in her heart, so maybe she took a little time to mull over this explanation. Did she wrestle with what the angel was saying, or did she easily accept the truth of his message?
Regardless of how long it took, we know that she accepted God’s call with one of the most profoundly simple and yet powerful statements ever spoken, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38 (AMP)
What powerful inner strength enabled her to respond with such confidence in her God? Mary inspires me, but she also mystifies me. One of the lessons we seek to learn from the life of this remarkable woman is how to cultivate a confidence of heart that will sustain us through times of trial, like when God delivers a word that clashes with our expectations about what life is supposed to look like.
Many of us have rigid expectations about how life should work: I will grow up, be educated, meet a man, get married, have a successful career, buy a house and car, birth two or more healthy children, grow old with my husband, and pass peacefully in old age, finally arriving at the gates of heaven to a warm welcome from St. Peter.
Unfortunately, none of these expectations is guaranteed. Some children don’t grow up. Many people do not have access to education. I have several friends who longed to be married, but have not realized that dream. Financial success is hard to come by. Many marriages do not last. Good people die young.
Granted, this litany of broken dreams sounds depressing. These negative thoughts do not mesh with our expectations of the blessings that are promised to the children of God.
Jesus wasn’t exalted to the highest place until He became obedient, even to the point of death (Philippians 2). The disciples were told to deny themselves and take up their cross to follow Jesus (Matthew 16). John breaks it to us that we will have trouble in this world (John 16). But wait, isn’t there a second part to that verse in John 16? Yes, there is it: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Mary knew deep in her heart that life is gained by losing it. God had overcome the world, and yet His overcoming power would show up in her life only to the degree that she yielded herself to God. We have a free will, and God will not overpower us with His invitation to follow Him. He invites us to willingly lay down our lives, to give up our rights and our plans; however, the choice is ours. Jesus offers tough truth to his disciples, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:25
This is pure gospel grit, and it comes with a question: what needs to give way in your heart for you to willingly lose your life for the sake of Christ? As we ponder these life-altering questions, Mary becomes more startlingly impressive by the minute.