As Christmas quickly approaches, I’ve been thinking about Mary and thanking the Lord for her example. This is a gal like any of us; most likely living days filled with ordinary routine. Of course, a wedding was in the near future and the anticipation of that must have brought lightness to her feet and pitter-patters to her heart. But her feet still walked down the humble streets of a small town, and her heart was the same as ours…in need of a Savior to wash it white as snow.
There is no question, though, that Mary’s plans did not include giving birth to the Son of God. I can’t help but wonder if, in the days following Gabriel’s announcement, she found herself looking at Proverbs 16:9 with new eyes:
“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps”.
The news she was given sounded impossible and the question she asked was not in disbelief as much as it was in wonder. I love how Russ Ramsey describes it in “Behold the Lamb of God”:
“The angel explained that all the laws of nature are amendable by the One who wrote them. Mary lived in a world that was made, and the Maker of this world was the sole author of what could and would happen here. The Holy Spirit would overshadow her, and when he pulled that shadow back, this virgin would become a mother to a son. How this would happen was less important than the fact that it would. And God would be the one to do it….The angel’s message was as much about the character of the God who favored Mary as it was about what he meant to do for his people through her.”
Mary received this news that would rock her whole world to the core with words that testify to the grace of God in her life and reflected her deep trust in and dependence on God and His character. She simply said, “I am your servant. Be it unto me according to Your word”. She said yes. She humbly surrendered her own plans and desires for what God willed, because (as seen in her prayer of praise later on) her greatest desire was to please the Lord….to see Him exalted and glorified!
Hundreds of years later, Betty Stam, a missionary to China, exhibited a similar heart:
“Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes, and accept Your will for my life. I give myself, my life, my all utterly to You to be Yours forever. Fill me and seal me with Your Holy Spirit. Use me as You want, send me where You want, work out Your whole will in my life at any cost, now and forever.”
God’s “whole will” for Betty’s life was her early death when communists dragged Betty and her husband out of their home and away from their baby daughter, killing first her husband and then Betty herself.
And what did Betty think of her own plans and purposes anyway? She says:
“When we consecrate ourselves to God, we think we are making a great sacrifice, and doing lots for Him, when really we are only letting go some little, bitsie trinkets we have been grabbing, and when our hands are empty, He fills them full of His treasures.”
These are beautiful words to read…but the reality of what “empty hands” may look like causes my heart to pause and consider. And in my considering, I am reminded of Tim Challies and his family. They have often been on my mind this past month as I have thought about what Proverbs 16:9 means and how it works itself out for each and every one of us. Last month, their 20 year old son Nick died unexpectedly. One minute he was playing games with his sister and fiancé and the next, he was seeing Jesus face to face. I can’t begin to imagine the heart pain they have felt in this great loss…the ache that has gripped their souls in a vise…the grieving of moments that were assumed but will never be. My son Micah is 20. So, while I cannot comprehend, I can imagine, and I have often been moved to tears and prayers for this family that has been a “regular” in our home through Tim’s writings, though strangers in reality.
Mary, Betty and the Challies family are a few among the many that have experienced significant changes in their plans, some through great loss and heartache, so that the name of Christ might be magnified and the glory of our good God proclaimed among the nations. While not all of us have experienced such drastic changes in our lives, each one of us is called by God to live a life of surrender. We must remind ourselves that our lives have been hidden in Christ and, while they are secure forever, they are not immune to pain and suffering. We are not immune to disappointment and heartache as we live “under the sun” and rest in the sovereignty of God, not only when the days are good but especially when the days are hard and we do not understand.
As I live out these days that God has given me, as I watch the life and legacy of others, and as I read their words and listen to their hearts, I’m continually reminded that life is hard and pain is real, but God is good and He is our greatest reality. Though I may not fully comprehend all that He is doing, I know that even when my hands are empty of all I hoped for or desired, they are filled with all I really need: the treasures found in Jesus.
Mary knew this, Betty knew this, the Challies’ are teaching me this….O Lord, help my heart to walk in their footsteps as they have followed in Yours!
The suffering is intended for our good, but we try so hard to avoid and protect ourselves against it. We want to know Him; we love to think about the power of His resurrection, but we stop short when we face the fellowship of His sufferings and being conformed to His death. (Phil. 3:10) I’m sure we’d be closer to Him if we would surrender to His will and let the suffering do a good work in us. Thanks for these challenging thoughts, Kristin!!
Joy…you said that so beautifully! So true! There are so many things I would have run from…but the Lord has used those hardships to grow me up in Him and show me His character in ways that cause me to cling to Him all the more, by His grace!