Mary’s Exemplary Faith in God’s Strange Timing

When [Jesus’] mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18).

Notice that God waited until after Mary was betrothed to cause her to be “with child.” But God didn’t wait until after Mary and Joseph had come together. Pretty precise timing, right? And pretty awful timing for a young couple trying to maintain an honorable reputation.

Think of it.

If Mary had become pregnant after she was married, neither her reputation nor Joseph’s would have been affected. But at that point if Mary had tried to explain that her baby was from God, even Joseph would have thought she was crazy. She might have even doubted it herself!

And if the pregnancy had occurred before the betrothal, only Mary would have been affected. But without Joseph by her side as a character witness, it would have been doubly hard for anyone—us included—to believe that this baby was from God.

I think God had our faith in mind when He arranged the timing of this story. He made sure that this happened to a couple, not just a young girl. In His wisdom and kindness, God was providing tangible evidence and witnesses so that thousands of years later we would hear and believe that His Son truly was born to a virgin, just as was prophesied (Matt. 1:23).

But still. This was terrible timing for a teenage girl.

Mary’s Fearlessness

Mary was in a very vulnerable situation. She had no control over what Joseph would think, believe, or do. She couldn’t control how her parents would react or how the community would respond. Women convicted of immorality in those days were stoned (John 8:4–5). The community would gather around the woman, pick up rocks, and throw them at her!

Obviously, this pregnancy could have caused Mary an enormous amount of anxiety and agitation. However, Mary was fearless. How do I know this? Two reasons: Mary left town. And she viewed her pregnancy as God’s favor, not His curse.

She Left Her Reputation to God

Immediately after the angel told Mary about her impending pregnancy, Luke 1:39 says that Mary “arose and went with haste to the hill country” to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Can you picture Mary on the path leading out of town, her frame getting smaller and smaller just as all the gossip kicks up?

“Did you hear?” someone whispers. “Mary’s pregnant!”

Mary?” asks the friend, incredulously.

“I know,” says the first friend. “And she just left town.”

When I’m worried that someone might be spreading rumors about me, I don’t want to leave the room, let alone leave town! I want to stay close and manage the situation. I want to stick around for damage control. In Mary’s shoes, I imagine myself telling the angel story repeatedly to anyone who would listen.

Instead of this, Mary left town. She left her reputation in God’s hands. She was fearless.

I confess that I am often less than fearless. Unlike Mary, I obsess over what people will think or say about me or how they will react. You, too? Especially at Christmas, with all of our heightened expectations, we can get tangled up in anxiety, with fears like:

  • What will my agnostic cousin say if I read the Christmas story at our gathering?
  • What will my adult son do if I refuse to let his girlfriend stay in his room over Christmas?
  • What will my kids think if I limit gift purchases instead of loading up my credit card?
  • How will my extended family react to the idea of going to church rather than opening gifts on Christmas morning?

The woman of God is fearless, not riddled with doubt or anxiety. She leaves her reputation in God’s hands, because she knows He can manage it much better than she can. Look how God took care of Mary’s reputation. After Joseph learned about Mary’s pregnancy, and as he was contemplating what to do, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife’” (Matt. 1:20).

See? Problem solved! Mary didn’t have to run a campaign to get Joseph to marry her. In fact, she was probably already out of town (with no cell phone) when Joseph came to see it her way. She fearlessly trusted God with her reputation and her future.

She Rejoiced in Suffering

My second reason for calling Mary fearless is her demeanor during the scene when she arrives at Elizabeth’s house. We might expect an average teenage girl to burst in, wailing, “My dreams are shattered! My life is over! Elizabeth, I’m . . . I’m pregnant!”

Mary could have interpreted her pregnancy this way, but she didn’t. After being greeted by an exuberant Elizabeth (who somehow not only knew that Mary was pregnant but knew it was a good thing!), Mary did what we least expect of a teenage girl. She burst into song!

Here are some phrases from Mary’s “Magnificat” in Luke 1:

  • “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (vv. 46–47).
  • “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (v. 48).
  • “For he who is mighty has done great things for me” (v. 49).

Rather than being undone by the shame and sacrifice to her own personal story, Mary revels in the unfolding of God’s bigger, more glorious story—which is all about His Son! She interprets her life from this vantage point and considers this pregnancy to be God’s favor, not His curse.

Again, I confess that I don’t always maintain Mary’s perspective. When my dreams are shattered, my soul often doesn’t immediately magnify the Lord. When I tell a cousin or friend about my struggles, I don’t often (ever) sing about how “he who is mighty has done great things for me.” It’s hard to think of my trials as evidences of God’s favor. But actually, I think they are.

This is far easier to see, when I look back in life. The things that brought pain or heartache are also the things that God used to draw my attention to Him. In the absence of struggle, I’m far more tempted to put myself at the center of my story rather than connecting my story to God.

Mary was newly pregnant when she arrived at Elizabeth’s house. She didn’t have years or even months to gain perspective. Almost immediately, she lifted her eyes above the pain and sacrifice to her own personal story and considered it all from God’s perspective. She rejoiced over the role she got to play in God’s story, as the mother of God’s Son. Indeed all generations have called her blessed. And she was blessed to have this perspective.

My Perspective

This Christmas, God has inserted some challenges and difficulties into my life’s storyline, and I’m guessing He’s done the same for you. So how will we respond? Will we cower in fear and worry about the future? Will we obsess over what people think? Will we try to do damage control? Or will we be fearless like Mary and revel in the fact that God is inviting us to play a role in His story?

When God ordained the specific and unique timing of Mary’s pregnancy, He had our faith in mind. And in the same way, God often has the faith of other people in mind when He inserts difficulties into our lives. When we fearlessly leave our futures and reputations in God’s hands as Mary did—rejoicing even in the midst of suffering—we point others to Jesus and make our stories all about Him.

What are you worrying about today? Are you obsessing over what people think or running ahead to do damage control? What is one way you will entrust God with your reputation and future? Consider your hardship from God’s perspective. How might this difficulty be used to point others to Jesus?


This post first appeared on the True Woman blog, a ministry of Revive Our Hearts.


For more information on my Bible study, Control Girl, which releases in January, or if you’re a leader considering this resource for your group, please check out all of my free resources here.

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When We have Decided God is Against Us

when-we-have-decided-that

I love this quote from John Piper’s book, Sweet and Bitter Providence, which reflects on both the sweet and bitter providence displayed in the story of Ruth, from the Bible.

Ruth, chapter one, is really about Naomi, her Jewish mother-in-law. Naomi had been away from her homeland  and family for 10 years. And when she arrived at the gate, it created a town-wide stir. “Is it Naomi?” everyone was asking. “Wait. Where is her husband? Where are her sons? And who is that woman with her?” they must have said, with necks craned, trying to see.

Surely Naomi felt a sense of shame  under their gaze, as she reentered the city. When famine struck, ten years ago, her husband had packed up their family and moved then to Moab. But this wasn’t like today–when you move to a new town because you were out of work, and had to. At this point in redemptive history, all of God’s promises to His people were tied to family and land. Abraham’s family, and the Promised Land, to be exact. And Naomi’s family had left both behind.

Now to be fair, Naomi probably didn’t have much say in the matter. Wives weren’t treated like partners in Naomi’s day, and from what we can tell, her husband didn’t seem to be particularly humble or godly. But even when you didn’t create your family’s shame, you still carry it with you. Especially when you’re moving back home under a cloud of doom.

“Call me Mara,” Naomi told the women (Ruth 1:20). Her original name meant “sweet” and Mara means “bitter”. Changing your name has a sense of finality to it. We get the sense that Naomi feels like her fate is sealed. She says, “Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:21) It’s as if she’s saying, “God has judged me and handed out my verdict. He has subjected me to calamity. And now I’m here to serve my time.”

Naomi’s words drip with bitterness, heaviness, and hopelessness. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever surveyed your life and thought, like Naomi did:

  • “I’m too old to start over.”
  • “I have no hope for the future.”
  • “I have nothing to offer anyone.”

There a little statement that Naomi makes, however, which shows us just how obstructed her perspective is. She says, “I went away full, but the Lord brought me back empty.”

You went away full? we want to ask. Have you forgotten the famine? You left out of desperation, remember? We don’t utter these thoughts aloud, of course. The woman has just experienced exponential grief. To lose not only a husband or a child, but a husband and both children? The pain is unthinkable. Surely it feels like she went away full, because she had her family. But there was a growling stomach and an aching heart on the day Naomi left, too. But Naomi, you’ve come back just in time! we want to say. The barley harvest has just begun. Can you smell the grains, roasting over the fire? You will have a meal tonight. Naomi! You will have rest. 

Our second unspoken question for Naomi is, You’ve come back empty? If God has completely drained her of every drop of hope and stripped her of all blessings, then who is this young girl at her side? And this is where we begin to see the “rays of light, peeping from around the clouds,” as John Piper puts it. Naomi can’t see them, but we can.

There, beside Naomi, is a precious gift. A daughter-in-law who is fiercely loyal. She also has experienced grievous loss. Infertility and widowhood are not lightweight burdens. And now she’s the one who is a foreigner, who will live with people who have strong prejudices against her. But she is willing to throw her lot in with Naomi, and put her hope–not in a man–but in God. Naomi, do you see how the sunlight is sparkling on the hair of this pretty girl at your side? Your story is not coming to a bitter end. Yours is a beautiful story of redemption in it’s opening lines!

Naomi can’t see or hear them now, but there is a wedding just around the corner. And there will be baby showers just after that. She will become the great-grandma of the greatest king in all of Israel’s history: King David. And in her lineage will come the King of Kings–Jesus. These very gates she’s entering now will be the ones Jesus’ mother enters on the night that he is born.

Obviously, we can’t reach Naomi from this far forward in history. We can’t shout loud enough of the great joy to come for her to hear us. But we can only turn to our own stories; our own despair and calamity. We can cast off bitterness and gloom, and set our eyes to looking for the rays of light, peeping out from behind the clouds!

This we know: God loves to take broken, empty hearts and fill them with hope. He loves to take stories that seem to have already died, and resurrect them into incredulous, sun-after-the-clouds stories that all center on Jesus. Naomi’s story (and Ruth’s, too) is really a story about Jesus. And so is yours and mine.

So here’s our question. Will we remain bitter and sullen, under our cloud of doom? Or will we look for the rays of hope peeking through?

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Thanksgiving, When You’re 12 and Have Cancer

If you have heard me speak, over the past year, you may have heard me talk about my little friend, Becca, who has ovarian cancer.

Becca’s faith is so beautiful. She sees life far more clearly, as a middle schooler, than most adults do. And I’m also so encouraged by the beautiful faith of my friend, Amy–Becca’s mom. Amy closes her updates by listing out all the things she is grateful for.

Becca, with her big sister, Julia

Her latest update (below) is no exception. Please be encouraged as you peek into the Prange home and see what God is doing. Also please consider praying for Becca. We would love to see God show his great power over Becca’s cancer.

Since it’s Thanksgiving Day, I feel especially called to give thanks to the Lord for the great things He has done. Radiation has been going smoothly… Becca has only been throwing up a couple of times per week which is huge improvement! She has been sleeping long and hard at night and has more energy and motivation and joy during the days. She has been eating a bit more normal food and enjoyed her Thanksgiving meal and dessert today! 

Last Saturday she was afraid of the size of the tumor (she could see it and feel it), and of the process of dying and being apart from her family. We had a great talk and a big cry, and that helped. 

I was encouraged by her faith, because some of her main concerns during that conversation were very sweet. She told me she feels guilty because most of her prayers are requests instead of thanksgivings. 

She also told me that she knows God is using cancer to teach her things, and that she is trying to learn quickly and do everything well; but she feels badly that her motive for doing good is wanting Him to make her well, rather than just being good because He is worthy of her obedience.

Becca’s next biggest concern is for James (her younger brother). She wants us to focus on teaching him all about Jesus so that he will love Him! 

So, even though it was a sad conversation, it was encouraging to see she cares very much about the condition of her heart and the hearts of others. 

And then, just four days later (exactly one year after her diagnosis), Dr. Chen said that he can already tell that Becca’s tumors are smaller and softer, just by feeling with his bare hands!! So, it is easy to be thankful today! We are celebrating!

We hope that you are having a wonderful day, basking in God’s care for you!

Amy’s sweet update reminds me of something I heard Tim Keller say in a sermon. If you are God’s child, there is nothing inside you that can keep Him from loving you, and nothing outside you that can possibly disprove His love for you.

There may be times that you are so sad and ashamed of your selfishness, or so shocked at the sin you are capable of, that you are tempted to say, “How can God love someone like me?” But then you rejoice because there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus! (Romans 8:1)

There may be other times that you are so dismayed or troubled or burdened by things in life that you’re tempted to wonder if God truly does love you. But then you remind yourself that no height or depth or anything in creation that can separate you from the love of God! (Romans 8:39).

My little sister in Christ, Becca, has such beautiful clarity on this. She is so sure of God’s love and care for her that even cancer cannot shake her. Praise be to the Lord Jesus! May His name be lifted high through Becca’s life, and through each of ours, as well.

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