Have you ever stopped to think about how God chose Mary to be His vessel for Christ’s entrance into the world? We know from Scripture that God knows each one of us intimately, before we are even born.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13-16).
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” ( Jeremiah 1:5).
Do you marvel at the wonders of God? Even before you were born, He appointed a set number of days for you to live. According to Ephesians 2:10, you were “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.”
God’s plans and His ways are not, unfortunately, something we always adhere to. The Scripture is true when it says, “We all like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). We have the unbelievable God-given ability of freewill, the right to choose to obey God or disobey Him. Amazingly, He knows what we will say before we say it and what we will do before we do it. Yet even when we disobey and do that which we know will displease Him, He does not give up on us. Instead, He continues to love us. So much so, He decided to send His Son to earth to teach us how to live. And He chose a young maiden whose days He had ordained before she was born. He knew her heart, and He knew she was obedient to Him. Mary was the perfect vessel to bring the Son of God into the world.
Twice in Luke 1:26-38 the angel Gabriel tells Mary she is highly favoured. The Greek term in verse 28 is translated “charitoō” (khä-rē-to’-ō) and means three different things that all apply to Mary:
• to make graceful – charming, lovely, agreeable
• to peruse with grace, compass with favour
• to honour with blessings
In verse 30, Gabriel tells Mary that she has found favour with God, and it means something slightly different. The root “charis” (khä’-rēs) in this case means:
• that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness; grace of speech
God "prepared in advance" the character qualities Mary would have. He honoured her with these blessings and looked on her as someone who brought Him joy, pleasure and delight. So when He came to her with the news that she would bear the Messiah He knew how she would react for she was "highly favoured".
Can you imagine being so loved and respected by God that He would honour you in such a way?
Mary obediently surrendered to God’s desires for her life. God was pleased to honour her by using her for His good purposes. Mary knew she was about to face a world full of trouble and hurt when her friends and family discovered she was pregnant. In fact, during those days she could be stoned to death. Yet she said yes to God.
God has also prepared you in advance for His good works. Your gifts, talents, character qualities - everything about you is for a specific purpose He has ordained. Are you unhappy with your life? Does it seem to always be "beating you over the head"? What we consider troubles and trials, God may consider blessings. How then should we react to bad news or heartache? God looked on Mary with favour because she was surrendered to His will. When life presents its problems to you (and it ALWAYS will) how do you react? Are you trusting God enough to surrender to His will and trust Him with the outcome?
When I was very young in my faith and knew little of how God works, I learned this verse: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Unfortunately, while it made me aware of obvious sins like lying or stealing, I was never prepared for the subtle sins, those that crept in so unexpectedly I wondered how I had been sucked in so easily.
For example, in regards to tithing, I always believed God loves a cheerful giver. Because my husband Jim and I decided early in our marriage that I would be a stay-at-home mom and he would work, we knew we had to put our tithing first or we would be tempted to hold it back to make ends meet. While we always struggled to keep food on the table, we still seemed to get by—just. But we still believed it was important to tithe each week, and so we continued to do so.
One day a well-meaning soul from church suggested we wouldn’t be struggling if we obeyed the Scriptures in regards to tithing. I was shocked. What did she mean? Of course we obeyed the Scriptures in that regard. That is when she introduced me to this scripture from Malachi 3:10: “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’”
She pointed out to me that God wanted me to test Him in regards to our tithing. She said we should give over and above our regular tithe. “The more you give,” she said, “the more you will get back.”
Well, we were struggling quite a bit during that time, and wondering if she was right, I decided to put God to the test, forgetting the admonition in Luke 4:12: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” And also forgetting to look at Scripture in its context. Needless to say, the day came when we had given our very last penny to the church and I wondered when the riches were going to start flowing in. They never did. However, God did provide food for us by prodding His servants to bring us enough groceries until my husband’s next paycheck. God loved us and met our needs. Yet, at the time, I was in shock that we weren’t rolling in dough. We gave so much money!
Where was our return? It didn’t help that my friend would shake her head in confusion and say, “You must be doing something wrong. You should be rich by now.”
Oh, the subtle dangers of the prosperity gospel! Be wary of preachers who teach that God “wants the best for you, and that means a better job, new car, fancy home, more money, etc.” These teachers are like wolves in sheep’s clothing and think only of earthly riches, not heavenly ones.
My faith went into a tailspin. I questioned God’s love for us. I questioned my faith; maybe it wasn’t strong enough. I doubted the Scriptures. I stopped tithing altogether. Satan, that roaring lion, was having a field day with me. Then God spoke, and His Holy Spirit gently reminded me I was to pursue Him, not riches. What I was doing was sinful, and I needed to stop and go back to what I had done before. I felt thoroughly chastised. Yet my friend continued to prosper, and I wondered, “Why her, Lord? Why not us? Would it hurt to give us just a wee bit more each month?” But the Lord reminded me He had a plan for me and it wasn’t the same plan He had for my friend.
One day she would struggle at a sudden loss of money and be like a fish out of water. She would come to me and ask, “How do you do it? How do you get by each day with only one salary?” And I could say with assurance, “We have faith that God will provide.”
There are many ways our faith can be tested in this life and I would suggest that a life that is tested is a life that God loves and has His eye on.
Revelation 3:18 says:
“I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich . . .”
To refine gold, it must be hot enough to burn away the dross or impurities. It is known as a “refiner’s fire” If there is one thing I have learned in life, it’s this: When God wants to deal with something about me He knows I’m not seeing clearly or haven’t worked towards refining, I can be sure I’ll go through a trial. Of course, when those trials go on for months, one starts to wonder, “What am I not getting?” But it may simply be that the dross is gone but God knows He has to “test the gold,” as it were, to see if it endures.
You see, trials aren’t just to refine us, to make us more like Jesus. They are also sent to strengthen godly attributes. Sometimes God’s glory, like gold, can only shine through us after we have been tested. For some, that may mean a terminal illness or a financial setback, or the loss of a loved one. It is how you deal with those times that will determine how refined you really are.
The next time your faith takes a beating - rejoice! God must have a great deal of faith in you to endure this time of testing. He knows you will be strengthened by this trial and in the end it will strengthen those godly attributes He sees in you, making you better prepared not only to serve others, but to one day enter into His kingdom purified and holy.