My Bible study class has started up again, and this year we are journeying through the book of Matthew, studying the life of Jesus. I’m learning lots of interesting tidbits about things like the meanings behind Jesus’ name, why the long genealogies are important, and why there are four gospels. But the biggest thing that struck me in the opening chapter is one of the quietest, simplest things, yet some of the most meaningful words that were ever spoken, spoken by a young girl who believed what God said and believed that his plans were good, no matter the personal cost to her.
“May it be to me as you have said.”
God isn’t asking anything very big of me right now. He’s not asking me to risk being rejected by my fiance, to give up my dreams of the perfect wedding and marriage, to live ridiculed for a tarnished reputation in a society where reputation is everything, to risk my very life giving birth to a child in a barn with no medical care, to live on the run for years because the king wants my son dead. All God is really asking of me right now is to accept my daily circumstances with grace, with faith that he knows what he is doing. Faith that he is good.
Mary complained about none of those things. She trusted that her God was good. And then she sang a song of joy, one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture, because she was humbled and amazed and grateful that God would choose her. God has chosen me, too. Though I’m guessing he wouldn’t have chosen me for Mary’s role, if I had been around back then. Why would he, when I complain about long lines and traffic and a little bit of fatigue and some dirty dishes and a paper cut and anything else that feels the least bit inconvenient? I can’t say whether I’d want to be in Mary’s place, and he has ordained a time and place and life for each of us. But what important callings might he be passing me over for today because I don’t know how to trust him in the small things?
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” -Luke 16:10a
This is not the first time I’ve pondered this. God has been trying to transform this thing in me for a long time now, this problem of complaining and ingratitude, the inability, or unwillingness, to suffer in the smallest ways because He has asked me to and because I trust that he is good. I’ve been aware of it for at least a year, but he’s been aware of it my whole life. And he is patient with me, and gracious, and gentle. But I know there are such riches waiting for me on the other side of this chasm of ingratitude. And I know that what God wants from me, in addition to my love, is my faith. That I believe him, and trust him. In everything. The more I read the Bible, the more I learn that that is what pleases God more than any of the things we imagine might please him. But when I complain about my circumstances, or stew about them to myself, or feel sorry for myself, or wish for things to be easier, what I am saying (and other people listen) is that I don’t trust him very much at all. I don’t trust that he has allowed my exact circumstances for a reason, that he is going to use them for my highest good and for other people’s good and for his glory. I don’t trust that the “suffering” he is asking of me is going to be worth it. I don’t trust that he is good.
This morning I woke up and before I was even a few minutes into my day, I just felt like crying about a set of circumstances I am in. And I did. But as I tried to remember the things I should be grateful for and the things God has tried to teach me about all of this, he brought a verse to my mind.
“He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land.”
And for probably the first time, I realized that this verse does not say, “He will satisfy your needs in a place of abundance, or in perfect circumstances.” No, it says he will satisfy my needs in the hard places. When I am as dry and weary as the desert. And do you know what the verse goes on to say?
“The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.” -Isaiah 58:11
Not only will he satisfy my needs, he will make me like a well-watered garden. In the middle of the desert. In circumstances where it makes no sense to be flourishing. In places where there is no source of life, except the Life that comes from Him. That is what we who have God have access to! That is what makes us different from our neighbors. Why do we forget and keep on living like the world does, discouraged and powerless and hopeless?
I had gotten pretty discouraged about a different set of circumstances earlier this week, basically about things I am going to have to do in the future that are hard. I complained about it to more than one patient friend. And then I remembered the lesson I was teaching the Bible study children this week, these little 2- and 3-year-olds God has entrusted to me to share his word and his truth, by words and by example. The week’s lesson was this: God’s Holy Spirit gives us power to do the things God wants us to do, even the hard things. Especially the hard things. The ones we can’t do on our own.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…” Acts 1:8
I was preparing to teach this lesson to children, simplifying it as much as I could so they would understand it. And, thankfully, I began to understand it, too. Why, oh why don’t I live like this is true? I want to. Can you imagine living life without being fearful or discouraged or resentful about any of your circumstances because you know you are going to be enabled to accomplish all that is asked of you? That’s the life we’re meant to live! That’s why the biblical writers can talk about rejoicing always, regardless of circumstances, regardless of suffering. It’s something worth rejoicing about to know you have the power to overcome any trial you face. Maybe that’s why Mary could sing for joy when others in her position would have felt their lives were over.
Maybe I could say daily, “May it be to me as you have said.”
And maybe I could sing for joy…