FAVORED AND BLESSED
"The angel said to her, 'Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you;
blessed are you among women!'" --Luke 1:28 (nkjv)
I used to squeal with delight as my dad lowered the well-worn cardboard box from the rafters on Thanksgiving weekend each year, for inside the battered box was a precious treasure. The old nativity set had been in my family for decades, and the hand-painted figurines captivated me as a little girl. Something about the expressions on the faces of the statues drew me into the story and took me away to Bethlehem. Even now, the nativity set is my favorite thing on display at Christmastime, and I look forward to the day when the family heirloom will grace my own living room.
Mary was always one of my favorite figures to set out. Delicately I would place her in the straw next to the manger. She was radiant; she looked so beautiful with her long brown hair cascading down her shoulders, covered by a veil. She was absolutely elegant—well, except for the fact I was setting her in a barn beside some cows and donkeys. But the look on the figurine's face was one of awe and reverence as she looked down at the manger where the baby Jesus lay, her soft pink lips curled into a smile. The detail in her painted face brought her to life in my mind; her expression was so tender.
I always imagined the real Mary's face looked somewhat the same way. I have often wondered what ran through her mind that night, as she was one of the first to see the King of Glory. I tried to transplant myself back in time as a means of connecting myself with the one girl who was more connected to God than any of us can really understand.
It only took a moment for God to change the world. Everyone else was busy going about his or her daily routine, unaware that Mary's story had just been forever interrupted, and life—as the whole world knew it—was about to change. I imagine the scene this way (bear with me, I have a vivid imagination): Mary's dad was at work, and her mom may have been out at the market. Her siblings were tending to their own tasks, and her fiancé, Joseph, was out earning a living.
God watched from heaven that afternoon, as the stage He had been designing ever since the world began was finally set to His liking. He probably gave a slight nod as He turned to the angel Gabriel.
"Now," He said softly. "But wait," He added as Gabriel turned back to face Him. "Don't scare her; she will do just as you ask. So be gentle."
Gabriel nodded as he looked glory in the face one last time before he set out to eternally alter the lives of mankind. Mary had no idea a miracle was on the way—and she most certainly had no idea it was on its way to her womb.
The Gospels tell us Mary was one who was favored and blessed. My first response was to grab a synonym finder to see just what that meant. To be favored means: to be preferred, chosen, privileged, the favorite, affluent, elite, and noble. To be blessed means: to be exalted, happy, glad, pleased, and contented.
Although those definitions seemed to fit perfectly with what Luke was saying, a few moments of rummaging through Mary's past is enough to show that most people did not see her that way. Mary was just a small-town girl. Not only that, she was a poor girl from a despised small town.
Mary was a nobody, yet she found favor and blessing with God. How many times do we look in the mirror and find a nobody staring back at us? We often limit what God can do with our lives because we think our upbringing, our appearance, or our life is not a sufficient tool for the hands of God to use for His glory.
If Mary really was a nobody, all it took for God to make her "somebody" was one miracle on a lonely day when she was just going about her daily business. God's formula for success isn't found in some stuffy rule book. His chosen are not normally found in palaces (although sometimes He chooses to take them there, like He did Esther and David), and His favored are often those who have nothing to offer but one small life—the type of life nobody else notices until God steps onto the scene.
Yes, God called a girl once before and He will most certainly do it again. Mary lived a life of passion, purpose, and divine intervention. She lived a life no other girl in all of time will ever get to live. Birthing the Savior of the world was a one-time task, and it fell to a humble teenager in the middle of nowhere.
God could have beamed Jesus down to earth. He could have made Him a full-blown man instead of a baby. God could have done anything in order to redeem the world. Funny, isn't it? He chose the least likely plan of all in order to save mankind. God used someone a lot like you in order to reach you. He planted himself in the womb of a virgin in an attempt to get the world's attention. It was the unfolding of a miracle, and most people didn't even stop to watch. Even today some who hear of it simply yawn and give a polite smile.
Years later God is still trying to get the world's attention. And so it is at you He looks with favor and blessing. He sees what you do not see—that you are in the line of Mary. So as the world is passing you by, without even a glance, God is setting the stage.
"This girl is something," He says to the angels in His company. "She is a real gem."
Jesus smiles and pauses. "She reminds me of my mother."
Acts 17:26 says God appointed the very time and place each of us should live. As He mapped out the timeline for all of mankind, He penciled you in, here and now, for a reason. You have a divine purpose. God's signature is on your life, and beneath it heaven can read the words favored and blessed.
Before you rush to the mirror to see if I am telling the truth, let me warn you—most of the time human eyes see things differently than God does. Heavenly handwriting is not usually read on earthly ground, but it is God's identifying mark on those whom He has chosen. He sees it, He knows it is there, and He knows for what purpose it was written on your life. And as God was with Mary, so He will be with you.
We all have purposes—things that connect our hearts to God and bring His message of salvation just a little bit closer to those who surround us on earth. And we are all gifted differently for a reason. There are people you can reach with your life and your gifts that I could never reach, even if I tried every day for the rest of my life.
We may not know exactly what our purpose is at the moment, but we do know the purpose of our purpose: we are to glorify God with our lives and to use our gifts and passions as a means of worshiping Him and pointing others toward Him.
Some of us may reach the masses with our lives; others may only greatly influence a handful of people. But it's not the numbers that matter—it's the fact that we are impacting people for the kingdom of God. Luke 5:10 tells us that the angels rejoice every time one sinner repents. Never underestimate the value of impacting just one person. Their whole eternity could be altered as a result of your impact—that's a huge thing!
Other times, God wants us to reach more than one. Recently, I found myself staring an incredible opportunity in the eye. You couldn't possibly use me for that, Lord, I thought. That's way out of my league.
God answered me by saying, Why wouldn't I use you for that? I'm God, I've called you and equipped you and I own the whole league—so nothing is out of your reach unless I say it is. Think about that—nothing shall be impossible to us if God is in it. Wow!
The story chronicles the planning and production of an annual church Christmas play—but this particular year, instead of choosing the well-churched children to play the lead roles in the pageant, the director chooses to allow the unruly, obnoxious, and not well-churched Herdman kids to participate. Do you know anyone like that?
To make a long story short, the Herdmans had never heard much about the true meaning of Christmas, and they came from a background that left them more than a little rough around the edges. The planning of the pageant becomes what most people would consider a disaster, as everything seems to go wrong. Even the pageant itself brings with it some unconventional additions to the narrative of the birth of Christ—like one of the wise men bringing a ham to the baby Jesus in lieu of frankincense.
But near the end of the play we see unruly Imogene Herdman—the Mary in this pageant—with her big hoop earrings, her matted and tangled hair that hadn't been washed in weeks, and a bulging black eye, sitting in the spotlight holding the baby Jesus, sobbing like she never had before.
Yes, all of the regular churchgoers scoffed at her and thought her unworthy of portraying the mother of Jesus, but God had a plan for this girl all along. He brought her Christmas like He never had before. Just like He visited Mary, God visited unlovable Imogene Herdman and said, "This is My Son—He is My gift to you."
I know that story is fiction, but it brings up a good point. We look at Mary and we think of her as a saint. I am nothing like Mary, we think as we drag ourselves through life completely missing the point. Hello! Mary was chosen for no reason other than she was faithful to God. In a moment God turned the poor girl from out in the sticks into a world changer. So whether you feel like an Imogene Herdman or the real Mary of Nazareth, rest assured that God has called you and chosen you—no matter who or what you feel like inside.
God has a calling on your life so big you cannot even fathom it. That's why He gives it to you in pieces. Life comes together like a puzzle, and we are always left waiting for God to put down the next piece in His perfect timing. The key is learning to trust God in the process.
When Gabriel first appeared to Mary, he did not say, "Mary, you will give birth to the Son of God, who at twelve years of age will get lost on your family trip to the temple because He is so wise He will even leave the scholars amazed. Your husband, Joseph, will train Him to be a carpenter, and then at age thirty He will begin a ministry of healing the sick, raising the dead, and calming the raging sea. At thirty-three He will be brutally crucified but will save the souls of all of mankind by rising from the dead on the third day. Are you up for this task?"
No. Instead he came to Mary quietly and said, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35 nkjv).
That's it. He came and told her she was chosen, and He told her what she was chosen to do. That is also how God works with us. God visits us when we are busily going about our daily routine, and He rests His hand on our shoulder.
"It's time," He says quietly. At this point, we are not always sure of what it is time for.
All of my life I wanted to be an author. As a child I always told elaborate stories. I never felt as if I was good with anything but words—so I desired to use words as a way of reaching people. Wanting to write a book was a far-off dream, something that would probably occur in the later years of my life, if at all. But on one June afternoon, when I was only twenty years old, God visited me while I was reeling from the fact that my summer job had fallen through.
I cried out to God many times in my confusion and desperation. What am I going to do now, Lord? I was lost. There was no good that I could see in my situation. When I quieted my racing heart, God answered my cry with an inner nudging: You're going to write a book.
I laughed, but when God didn't, I sat down at my computer, and my first book, The Divine Dance, was born. The book didn't come because of anything I did on my own, and it most certainly did not come because I had any experience (I was just a college student looking for something to do with my summer).
It came to me as a gift, packaged as a call on my life, the magnitude of which I only began to understand when the book was actually on store shelves a year later. God likes to show up in ordinary things and make them extraordinary. The ordinary part is us; God is everything extra. We simply need to make ourselves available to Him. What He does with our availability is up to Him.
And we should never measure our worth against what He is doing in the lives of others our age. He has different plans for each of us. So if you are a little ahead of others when it comes to finding your call in life, be thankful, but not boastful. If you feel as if you are a little behind, keep looking to God with an expectant heart; He will reveal His plan for you in His perfect timing. Perhaps you are not ready to see—or receive—it yet.
Sometimes people don't even realize what God is doing in their lives at the moment. Some of us can only trace God's hand years later, when we're looking back. But rest assured, even if you cannot see God at work in your life today, He is there.
As he poured himself a cup of coffee before we began, I surveyed his well-used office. The white walls had yellowed, and piles of papers and stacks of books had collected layer upon layer of dust from having been untouched for so long. An older, now unusable word processor sat on the floor in the corner, telling the story of a career changed by all forms of technology. The wise old professor turned his cell phone off and set it on the table as he sat down and joined me.
"Where do you want to begin?" His voice was tired, but his eyes were smiling. In the next half hour or so he recounted to me nearly thirty years of wisdom he had gained at that institution.
Today, only two pieces of that wisdom remain with me. But they are two of the most valuable nuggets I ever received. First, he said, "You must never forget God wants to use you in the process of blessing you." I scribbled furiously as he spoke, and only later did I ponder just what that meant to me.
Secondly, when asked to describe the past thirty years of his life in three words, he said, "God is faithful."
I stopped cold. People normally answered with words like "fun," "challenging," and "rewarding" when describing their walk with God. Yet here this man sat, and without even hesitating he said, "God is faithful." The statement struck me in a way I will never forget because this professor had faced some difficult and painful things over the years, and those wounds were not easily hidden from the prying student body.
Age gave that professor wisdom that is sometimes missed by youth. God wants to use us in the process of blessing us. Just look at how He used Mary. The child she delivered grew up to be the One who delivered her from her sins. For nine months Mary housed the Savior of the world in her womb, and from the day He ascended to heaven, Jesus worked to prepare an eternal home for Mary.
God is faithful—He is always faithful, even when it doesn't seem like it. Yesterday I responded to an e-mail from an aunt who was seeking encouragement to pass on to her niece who is fighting to stay pure and strong in a wild and crazy world. The young girl is staying faithful, but she is also growing weary. My encouragement to her was this: Be firm. Do not waver even for a moment on the commitment you have made to God—He will always be faithful to you; be faithful to Him in return.
My message is the same to you today. God has called you, He has gifted you, and He loves you with an everlasting love. Be faithful to the One who has always been—and will always be—faithful to you. You are chosen and blessed, just like Mary was. You don't have to understand why; just accept it and rise to the task at hand. God will delight in helping you along the way.
God's daughters have many different passions, many different talents, and many different names. We are similar probably in only one way: we are all favored and blessed. Each of us is called by God to bring glory to God. Okay, you may be thinking, so I am favored and blessed. How am I supposed to find out what God wants me to do with my life now? At least Mary had an angel who laid it all out for her.
If you are asking a question like that, you are in the right place. Later on in the book we will talk about Mary's willing response to God's plan for her life, but for the sake of this chapter let me simply say that we must be willing to move when God tells us to—otherwise we will miss the miracle. Mary simply said, "I am yours, God; do with my life what You will."
Where can you see God's favor and blessing upon you today? What has He made you especially good at? Don't tell me you are not good at anything, because I don't believe that for even a minute. Remember, the thing that made Mary special was the hand of God on her life. That is what makes you special too. Another word for favored is advantaged, and another word for blessed is happy.
So what are you advantaged at, and what makes you truly happy? Most importantly, how can you use that for God's glory? Mary was nurturing and loving, so much so that when God was going to send His Son to earth, God sent Him to Mary because He knew she would care for Jesus better than anyone else out there. Being nurturing and loving are not things that are going to land your name in lights, but they may very well be the simple tasks God has penciled next to your name on His great outline—they were what He penciled next to Mary's.
Proverbs 18:16 says, "A man's gift makes room for him and brings him before great men." What is your gift, and how can you see it making room for you somewhere? Proverbs 22:29 says, "Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men." God has big dreams for His daughters.
Remember, the only thing little about your life is how little you let God use it. When you give it over fully to God, there is no limit to what He can do. Don't miss the miracle that is on its way to you today because you don't understand it. Embrace your gift (or gifts), step forward, and let God use you. Be a history maker like Mary was.
When I imagine Mary at the end of her life (here goes my vivid imagination again), I see a few brown streaks woven throughout her now gray hair. Her eyes are tired, and her wrinkles make deep creases around her mouth and just beneath her eyes. I can see her rocking back and forth in a handcrafted wooden chair made for her by her Son—her Son she only had with her for a mere thirty-three years.
Her husband was gone by then too, and Mary was left alone. But on this particular afternoon, the one I am picturing in my mind, the Nazareth sun is offering a warm glow to the quickly darkening sky. Thinking of Jesus' promise that He went to prepare a place for her, she pauses for a moment of reflection. It's almost time to go home, Mary thinks, and once again I will get to see Jesus. Suddenly her mind is filled with snapshots playing out like a favorite home movie.
She can see Jesus on the day He came into the world as she cradled Him in her arms. She can see Him as a pudgy toddler giggling with glee as He runs into her arms for a hug. She can see Him as He grew from a boy into a man and became less concerned with doing His chores and more interested in saving men's souls. And she can see Him in agony as He hung on the cross. Tears still sting her eyes as she thinks of that day. But Mary also sees Jesus as He was the last time she saw Him—radiant at His ascension. He was going home, and suddenly Mary's heart was filled with delight.
Yes, Mary thought as she watched the setting sun, Gabriel was right. I am the most blessed of all women. For some reason God did favor me. I have lived a truly full life.
Mary did not know, on the fateful day Gabriel visited her, all that God would do with her life or require of her in the process. She just knew she was favored and blessed—she took God at His word and stepped into the realm of the miraculous. Only later on, when she would evaluate her life in hindsight, would she see how all of the pieces fit.
Mary lived a full life by accepting what it meant to be favored and blessed, and by rising to the task of a lifetime—one that wasn't always easy, but certainly proved to be worth it in the end. She signed up for a lifelong adventure when she was just a girl. Are you willing to do the same?