Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Bride He Will Wed - Series #3: Mary's Prayers and Stewardship

Worship VIDEO here

In this series we have been examining the five promises we make to each other (and to God) as we become part of the church.  The general premise is that what we do now (in this life) as a church and as individuals is important, because it determines what kind of church Jesus will wed when he comes back.  That of course is New Testament imagery which Jesus himself gave us.  He is the bridegroom and we (the church) are his bride.

So, this series appropriately has a title, The Bride He Will Wed, and it is the outcome of those five promises – our development as His witness, presence, gifts, prayers and service in His kingdom – is the way we are developing as His bride!

The promises we have seen so far are “witness” and “presence”.  Next week we will finish with “service”, but this morning we look at the prayers and stewardship in Mary’s song, the Magnificat.  Her prayer is a model for stewardship, and her stewardship is a model of prayer lived-out!

A Prayer of Humble Praise

Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.  How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!  For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.  For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.  He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.  Luke 1:46-50(NLT)

Mary understood that the child growing in her womb was God’s gift, and not only to her, but to everyone.  This prayer was a spontaneous song of praise for God’s goodness and mercy.

Now that seems like a no-brainer until you recall that this gift was also quite dangerous.  Israel was a slave vassal of Rome, and any talk about the Jews having their own king was dangerous.  For Mary in particular, giving birth to such a child painted a bullseye on her back.

The danger didn’t end there; Mary was pregnant without being married.  Under ancient Jewish law her family had the right to have her stoned for committing fornication.  And, as for her fiancĂ© Joseph, the unexplained baby bump didn’t bode well for their relationship.

But Mary looked on this with Godly perspective; she knew God to be merciful to those who fear or reverence Him. (See v.50)

Mary’s prayer acknowledged merciful God as her Savior, and this gift was a privilege for her to bear.  She described the Lord as “holy” and she said this baby was a great blessing to her life.

Mary’s prayer was without doubt an overflow of praise from a heart that knew God and saw things with spiritual eyes.  What seems to us a dangerous complication of Mary’s life, she accepted as God’s merciful intervention – something to be treasured as a gift for all humanity.

Now this is a prayer we need to emulate as part of the body of Christ in this century.  The prayers we often pray are simply shopping lists of what we want – healing, financial blessing, obedience from our kids, kindness from the boss and a good grade on that math test next week.

In the church we promise our prayers for each other and for needs around the world.  But how often do we raise a prayer of thanksgiving for the complications and hard tasks with which God entrusts us?  How often do we spontaneously lift up our hearts and hands and reverently bless the name of Jesus for counting us worthy to suffer, or endure hardship?

The Stewardship of a Servant Heart

His mighty arm has done tremendous things!  He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.  He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.   Luke 1:51-53(NLT)

When Gabriel, God’s angel visited Mary to inform her she would bear the Christ child, Mary had questions (wouldn’t you?).

But her answer (Luke 1:38) revealed her servant’s heart:

“…I am the LORD’s servant.  May everything you have said about me come true.”

Mary meant what she said; a true servant’s heart doesn’t have mixed motives.  Sometimes our generosity comes from mixed motives.  It seems that some vandals had cut down six royal palms along Miami’s Flagler Street.  Since the palms were very expensive, Dade County authorities weren’t sure if they could replace them very soon.  But then someone donated six more and even had them planted.  The old ones had been about fifteen feet tall and provided a nice foreground for a “Fly Delta” billboard.  The new palms are thirty-five feet tall—completely hiding the sign.  The new donor: Eastern Airlines.[2]

Mary’s sense of being god’s steward, or manager of this gift in her womb, stemmed from her view of God as mighty AND merciful.  This is how a servant’s heart works!

Our culture is more like the last three verses, full of pride, selfishness, and self-proclaimed rulers and princes.  The Greek word for “princes” is the same word we use for “dynasty” and “power” (as in dynamite).  Yet God deals with so-called powerful people as He wills.

A great example of this is what we have seen in the Middle East over the last years, with the dethroning of rulers in Iraq, Egypt, Libya, and with all likelihood more to come in places like Syria.  These rulers who killed hundreds of thousands of their own citizens and thumbed their noses at the rest of the world, (as well as God), thought they were invincible masters; they crumbled when God’s hand moved in the hearts of his servants, the people.

By contrast with the fate of despotic earthly kings, whose hands were full and God emptied…are the poor and hungry whose hands and mouths God fills.  The acknowledgement that God has blessed fills your life with expectations of answering with a loving servant’s heart to be a faithful steward.

This was Mary’s response; her womb held the deposit of God’s trust, and Mary cooperated with the blessing using all she possessed so God would receive the glory.

In our promise to God of our gifts we mostly think of the offering plate; Mary’s stewardship was more “up close and personal.”

But the offering plate is included.

Billy Graham once said, God has given us two hands—one to receive with and the other to give with. We are not cisterns made for hoarding; we are channels made for sharing.[3] 

As a church and as individuals our call to be stewards who are found faithful, (1 Corinthians 4:2) begins in the heart to commit to being a servant.

I have found over and over that a person may generously give without being a committed servant; the giving is done for a variety of reasons, and generally selfish.  But someone with a genuine “servant’s heart” gives without strings, conditions or demands, simply because he or she is giving to the Master whom they love. 

Heart stewardship is always superior!

Author Barbara Brown Taylor once wrote:

On the one hand [Mary] was just a girl, an immature and frightened girl who had the good sense to believe what an angel told her in what seemed like a dream.  On the other hand, she was the mother of the Son of God, with faith enough to move mountains, to sing about the victories of her son as if he were already at the right hand of his father instead of a dollop of cells in her womb …. When we allow God to be born in us, there is no telling, no telling at all, what will come out.[4]

You have an invitation before you to live out the call to be a prayerfully faithful steward of all God has given; what will you do with it?

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

[1] Title Image: James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
[2] Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World © 1992 by Edythe Draper
[3] Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World © 1992 by Edythe Draper
[4] Barbara Brown Taylor, quoted in “Reflections,” Christianity Today, Vol. 44, no. 14, (12-4-00).

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