This is the conclusive entry in a short series on what I have learned about God’s providence. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here. Today I want to talk about what happens when God finally reveals his plans to us. Instead of talking initially about myself, I want to share a story you probably know.
About two thousand years ago, a young woman was visited by a messenger of God:
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
Luke 1:26-37 (NLT)
We’re used to reading the Christmas story in such a positive light that it’s difficult to think otherwise. We hit this scene of the gospel story and immediately fast-forward to that night in the manger at Bethelehem. We think of Mary as this young joyous mother, totally serene after giving birth to a God-baby in a stable or a cave or who knows what, tilting her head slightly to the side as an angelic halo surrounds her.
I don’t buy it. Mary had a life. She was engaged to be married. She could probably scarcely think of anything but the joy in store for her right around the corner. A great life with a loving carpenter as a husband. But with six simple words, that life comes crashing down.
You have found favor with God.
You have found favor with God — and now you will become pregnant out of wedlock.
You have found favor with God — and now you will endure judgment from those who don’t understand.
You have found favor with God — and now you will suffer sideways glances and whispered rumors.
You have found favor with God — and your life as you know it is at an end.
God revealed his plan to Mary. No one can claim that he was silent and absent to her. She understands her place in the universe. Wandering is not an option for her now. She can either follow this path, or, presumably, she can turn away. I am not sure which I would choose at this point. But Mary’s response is:
38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
Not to say that she has no questions about how this process is to be carried out, but Mary understands and makes the right decision. If you and I claim to follow God, and if we cry for a response when he seems silent, then we have only one recourse when he finally gives us what we’re looking for. We can’t suddenly say “Oh, not that!” We can’t say “I was hoping for something more in line with what I wanted!” We can only say “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true,” and accept that God’s providence is his plans to prosper us and to bless others through us, and not his sanction of our plans to prosper ourselves.
I am starting to believe that God cares less about what we do and more about who we become; less about the actions we take and more about the virtues we develop. When Gabriel visited Mary, he could have said, “You have found favor with God — and now you will become the woman God wants you to be.” This is what I believe God has taught me in the time since being rejected from graduate study twice. Mike, you have found favor with Me — and now you will become the man I want you to be.
You have found favor with Me — and you will learn patience and humility as your dreams slip away.
You have found favor with Me — and you will learn to walk on your own and trust me day by day.
You have found favor with Me — and you will reshape your definition of what it means to love and submit to others.
You have found favor with Me — and your life as you know it is at an end.
I am most assuredly not equating myself with the mother of God, but what God called Mary to do, he calls you and me and everyone else to as well: Define yourself as My servant. Say yes to Me.
And ultimately, we can rest in the knowledge that God’s plans are for our own benefit and the blessing of all people. Mary’s acceptance of God’s plan led to the birth of Jesus Christ. You and I, in our own way, have the opportunity to say yes to God, become the people he wants us to be, and actively participate in his master plan of redemption.
Experiencing God’s providence sometimes means feeling abandoned, wondering, wandering. His revelation to us can be terribly inconvenient. But his providence is in order to make the world how he wants it to be, and he is saying to you and me what he said to a young virgin mother two thousand years ago: Do not be afraid. You have found favor with Me. And nothing is impossible with God. Say yes.