There is much we can learn from a happy Jewish girl who knew her God well: He is personal. He is powerful. He is holy. He is merciful. He is sovereign. He is good. He is faithful.
One of the best things we can do in getting to know God better is to look in Scripture at statements by those who knew him well, to see what they knew of him.
One of these statements is Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55, which follows the angel’s announcement to Mary that she was to give birth to God’s Son. Sixteen times in this short passage Mary either called God’s name or used a pronoun referring to him. She was a God-centered person.
She was probably only a teenager, but she was surrendered to the will of God: “I am the Lord’s servant,” she told the angel Gabriel. “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). She did not argue when God’s plan was revealed to her.
Mary believed God. Her cousin Elizabeth said of her, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (1:45). Mary was a joyful believer: “My soul praises the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (1:46-47). Rejoicing is the secret of exalting God. God is never exalted by our discouragement, pessimism, or depression.
Mary said she rejoiced in God because “he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” God singled her out for special attention. When someone takes note of us with a smile or a greeting, and demonstrates genuine concern for us, it’s always encouraging. God wants us to know he has this kind of concern for each of us.
God will do for us what he did for Mary. We don’t need to go through life finding joy only in the attention other people give us. A problem many of us have is thinking God sees us only as part of the flock. But your life really changes when you realize God wants to be personally intimate with YOU.
Mary sang that God recognized “the humble state of his servant.” We’re naturally proud, but one of the requirements for knowing God is learning humility. God uses the hard knocks in our life, the disappointments and failures, to crush our proud spirit and make us content only with him as we feel his comfort and forgiveness—though other people may not forgive and forget our shortcomings.
But for many of us, what others think of us is far more important than what God thinks. We are addicted to the favor of men, and when others do not think well of us we get irritated and impatient. Yet God does not reveal himself until we experience enough hard blows to say, “Father, thy will be done.” Then, instead of becoming resentful at how others treat us, we can forgive them, and climb up into the arms of God and relax.
Mary said, “From now on all generations will call me blessed.” The result of this humility and an intimate relationship with God is that others will know we’re fulfilled, that we’ve gotten out of life what we really want.
Mary saw God as “the Mighty One.” Do we know God can do anything, or do we act as if he can’t solve our problems? Do we feel he led us down a blind alley and left us alone?
Mary said God “has done great things for me.” Recognizing and being thankful for what God has done for us—both the little things and the big things, the positives and the negatives—is the best way to open our eyes to the power of God. God loves to show himself powerful to those who are thankful.
A while back I went through four or five days in which my devotional times were like a lifeless ritual and my prayers seemed to be bouncing off the ceiling. Then I realized my mind had been preoccupied for several days with things that had gone wrong and a few things I wanted but didn’t have. I knew I could continue thinking this way, or else I could focus my thoughts on what I did have and what hadn’t gone wrong. So I started thanking God for all the things he had done for me, and discovered again that a thankful heart enables us to see God’s power.
Paul said he prayed that the Ephesians would know God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:19), and that “out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:16). Ask God to enlighten your eyes to his power dwelling within you.
The Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). As you mature, God reveals weaknesses in your life. Power in Christian living comes when you are willing to accept these, and realize God can work mightily through you because of them.
Mary also said of God, “Holy is his name.” She recognized God’s holiness. In the twentieth century we don’t often tremble before God and reverence him. I believe many of us may be missing God’s best for us today because we don’t understand God’s holiness.
God wants us to be like himself. “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Holiness for us means hating what God hates. The Bible tells us God hates such things as stealing, lying, covetousness, adultery. But what is the world telling us about these?
Peter wrote that we are set apart as holy people “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). Again and again I have seen fruitful and effective witnesses for Christ stop speaking for him after they began to lower their personal standards of morality. We cannot declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness if we’re not holy people.
But just as God is holy, he is also merciful. “His mercy extends to those who fear him,” Mary said, “from generation to generation.” Who of us does not need God’s mercy?
“He does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10). We can rejoice in God’s mercy, acknowledging our guilt and accepting his forgiveness. Believe in God’s mercy, and cry out to him for it.
But remember the lesson Jesus gave his disciples when he taught them how to pray: “If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15). If we want mercy from God, we had better show mercy to other people.
Mary saw another aspect of God’s character which I believe most of us seldom recognize: his control over earthly authorities. She said, “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” Mary knew God was able to deal with injustice.
It is God who puts things right—not you or me. He is a God of justice. Yet we often won’t wait for him. When we’re treated unjustly, we’re ready to fight back. But that is God’s job.
Through the Old Testament prophet Obadiah, God warned the arrogant Edomites,
The pride of your heart has deceived you.—
Though you soar like the eagle
and make your nest among the stars,
from there I will bring you down.
God scatters the proud, but he lifts up the humble. For now, he may teach us humility through those he allows to rule over us, even though they may misuse their authority. Injustice in this world is a fact of life. “If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things” (Ecclesiastes 5:8). Yet God in his time will take care of it and bring justice about.
Remember Jesus’ example: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
As well as being just, Mary also saw God as being rich and generous. “He has filled the hungry with good things.” We may have the attitude that God is poor, or at least a tightwad. But God tells his people, “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10). God loves to give, and he has plenty to give. “How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you” (Psalm 31:19).
Yet, Mary said, God “has sent the rich away empty.” We cannot hoard God’s goodness. We must pass it on to others, or the stream of his giving will dry up.
Seeing that God is good in the way Mary saw him is not a trivial matter. When the people of Israel found out the land of Canaan was well defended, they complained bitterly: “Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:3). They thought God was not good—that he had led them down a blind alley and abandoned them. He had brought little children into the desert to die.
Because of this, God did not allow them to enter Canaan. “No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it,” he said (Numbers 14:23). But the outcome would be different for the children the Israelites were afraid they would lose: “As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder,” God said, “I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected” (Numbers 14:31). Doubting God’s goodness is an insult to him.
When my son Rodney was six, I was driving home with him one day, feeling depressed because of a long list of things I had to do. Thinking I should share my heart with my son and let him know my burdens, I said, “Son, you know I’m honestly discouraged today. I’ve got so many things to do. I just don’t see how I’m going to get them all done.”
There was silence for a moment, and then I felt his head on my shoulder as he leaned over to whisper in my ear: “Daddy, Jesus will help you if you ask him.”
I needed that. How often we go without help because we don’t ask for it. “You do not have,” James wrote, “because you do not ask God” (James 4:2). God wants to be generous. He wants to be good to us.
But there are times when we think he does not want to be good to us. But this is because God is meeting our needs according to his own priorities and in his own way.
When I was a boy my father would go away twice a year to buy clothing for his clothing store. The minute my three brothers and I heard his car drive up after one of these trips, we would run to meet him, asking what he had brought back in his suitcase for us.
But what a shock it was one day when he set the suitcase down after we asked what he had for us, and he said, “I brought you me.”
I remember the disappointment. “Aren’t you happy to see me?” he said. “I brought you me.”
“Yeah, we’re happy to see you,” we answered, “but what have you got for us in your suitcase?” We bore the mark of immaturity—being wrapped up in things.
Sometimes God may withhold material blessings to try to make us mature—to help us find our joy in him instead of in something he gives us. God is good.
A final characteristic evident in Mary’s song is God’s faithfulness: “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” Mary knew that God keeps his word.
God wants us to be secure. So when he says he will do something, we know he will do it. He will never fail.
There may be times when God will test your trust in him. Though he is close to you, he may not seem close. There may be times when he seems to withhold his power. There may be times when he does not bring about justice quickly, or when he does not show his goodness, or seem faithful to his word. Mary spoke of all these attributes in the past tense—”He has”—and accepted them in faith.
Two of his qualities, however, she sang of in the present tense: “Holy is his name,” and “His mercy extends to those who fear him.” You need never live without sensing God’s holiness and his mercy, and these two attributes of God may well be the ones we should concentrate on most.