When Having Hope is Hard, Part Two

 

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”              Luke 1:28-33

 

In part one, we read from Luke 1 and considered the wide range of emotions that Mary may have encountered when she was unexpectedly approached by an angel.

The question and the challenge for us to consider is how do we remain steadfast in hope and confident in God when life throws us an unanticipated and unwelcome curve ball?  

When our life circumstances suddenly change and everything seems uncertain and maybe even like it’s falling apart around us, how can we remain firm in our faith?

In reading the interaction between the angel and Mary, I have to wonder, why God would choose to do it this way? Surely, God could have accomplished His plan in a less complicated way?

A way that preserved Mary’s integrity.

A way that spared her reputation in the community.

A way that started her marriage out on the right track.

 

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” Luke 1:34-37

 

Mary didn’t doubt God’s ability to do what the angel said. She didn’t bargain with the angel about God’s chosen method. She simply asked, “How is this going to happen? What should I expect?” It almost as if she’s already accepted the reality of it in her heart and is beginning to prepare for the impact of it in her life.

Notice that Mary’s response is quite different from Zechariah’s, who (just a few verses earlier) upon hearing from the angel about his wife, Elizabeth, having a baby asked, “How can I be sure of this?” (see Luke 1:18)

Take a moment and consider the difference between their two questions. How does Mary’s response reveal her faith and confidence in God in the midst of a difficult situation?

The angel responds by assuring Mary of God’s goodness and faithfulness, encouraging Mary that she can trust God to do what he’s promised, even when she can’t understand it.

He reminds her that, “No word from God will ever fail.”

In other words, “Mary, you may not understand God’s ways but you can trust his character. He will do what He says He is going to do and you can trust Him.”

Mary’s confident response to the angel’s promise challenges my faith and gives us a guideline to follow when we find ourselves in a dark season struggling to hold on to hope.

1. Mary willingly surrendered her plan to God’s greater plan.  

 

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:38

 

Mary didn’t have any answers. She didn’t know the outcome, but she surrendered her life to God’s greater plan.

The word, servant, in verse 38 means bondslave. Mary declared that her life was entirely submitted to God and she was available to be used by God to accomplish His purpose. Mary’s response reflected her devotion and faith in God and proclaimed, “I belong to you, my life is yours and I’m prepared to do whatever you ask and willing to go wherever you send me.”

Mary embraced faith in God with a willingness to be used by him. Even though it was probably hard to understand at the time how the plan could be good, or how the situation could possibly glorify God, Mary responded with gratefulness and thankfulness to God for his goodness.

And after this, Mary’s life became really complicated.

She finds herself as a pregnant, unmarried, teenage girl with no explanation as to how she became pregnant. She’s engaged to Joseph and he’s not sure he wants to marry her anymore.

Oh yeah, and the angel is nowhere to be found. Why couldn’t he have made a public announcement at the city gate so everyone would know what was going on?

So people wouldn’t judge her?

So people wouldn’t gossip about her? 

Couldn’t he at least have explained the plan to her parents?

In one of the darkest and loneliest seasons in Mary’s life – in that moment when everything in her life was turned upside down – when it looked like God was nowhere to be found, when it seemed uncertain what God was doing …

God was there, in the midst of the unexpected and unexplainable, doing his greatest work.

And He doesn’t leave Mary alone in the dark.

2. God provides Mary with what she really needs – a friend.

I find it comforting that the angel mentions to Mary that her relative, Elizabeth, is also expecting a child (verse 36). Aware of the loneliness, acknowledging the awkwardness, God provides a friend.

Someone in whom she can confide.

An older woman who she can trust.

Someone who will walk with her through this season of uncertainty. Someone who will understand.

Someone who may not have all the answers, but will be by her side in her greatest hour of need.

That’s something we all need, isn’t it? People who will walk with us through the unknown, difficult seasons. A small group of other Christians who will encourage us, believe in us, support us and pray for us.

And lastly, we see that…

3. In Mary’s limited understanding, she chose to worship…

 

46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” Luke 1:46-55

  

This song of praise that Mary sang in these verses is known as the Magnificat. It’s a song that magnifies the goodness and faithfulness of God.

While Mary didn’t have all the answers and was uncertain as to how her future will unfold, she surrendered her plan to the greater plan of God and chose to worship.

Mary could worship God in her darkest hour because she knew his goodness. She had experienced his faithfulness. She trusted his character. And she was confident of his provision.

Worship moves us to trust God and stay firm in hope when God doesn’t seem to be moving.

The story of Christmas is a reminder that your faith and hope in God are not in vain and not misplaced.

Even when it seems dark, even when it seems uncertain, even when it seems that no good could come of your situation — when it’s unredeemable illness, unredeemable divorce, unredeemable death, unexpected pain, unexpected loss and you’re thinking, “there’s nothing good that can come from this and there’s no way this can be used to make anything good…

We’re reminded that God sent his son into the world do something extraordinary in the midst of the uncertain.

To bring light in the darkness.

To bring hope to the hopeless.

How do we remain steadfast in hope and confident when things appear to be uncertain and maybe even falling apart around us?

We do what Mary did.

  • We surrender our plan to God’s greater plan.
  • We receive support and encouragement from those whom God has placed in our life.
  • We worship our God who is good and faithful.

When we draw close to God in worship (even in the worst seasons of pain and suffering), he empowers us to face our greatest challenges.

When life hands you unexpected things, how do you respond?

How does worship play an important role in cultivating our faith when giving thanks is complicated?

How have you seen worship catalyze your hope in God and ability to trust in His goodness and faithfulness when your circumstances and emotions lead you to feel otherwise?

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Having Hope is Hard

Don’t you love it when everything works out according to your plan? When things run on schedule? When your life obediently follows the course you’ve mapped out?

  • You find the cutest shoes…on sale…and they have your size!
  • You get the job promotion
  • You make the team
  • You meet “the one”
  • You’re trying to have a baby and get pregnant

It’s just a lot easier to have hope when things go the way you expect them to go.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy to be hope-filled when things don’t go the way you planned. It can be challenging to hold on to confidence in God when the course of your life takes an unexpected turn that doesn’t seem to make sense.

Seasons when…

  • You lose your job
  • You don’t make the team
  • You receive an unexpected health diagnosis
  • Your marriage hits a breaking point
  • Your kids are struggling
  • You lose a loved one

How do you remain steadfast in hope when things appear to be falling apart around you?

How do you remain confident in God when your life takes an unexpected turn and you feel like it’s spinning out of control?

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated Thanksgiving and after last year’s Thanksgiving debacle, I decided to keep things really simple – a quiet day at home with the family followed by a leisurely Thanksgiving dinner. However, I shouldn’t have been too surprised when I received an unexpected phone call around 2pm.

One of our children had borrowed Gregg’s car. Because of the holiday, there were unanticipated parking restrictions (which our child failed to notice). Upon returning to the car, our child discovered that it wasn’t there. It had been towed to an undisclosed location. Our quiet afternoon turned into a frantic search for our car, a rushed meal and a family field trip to the impound yard.

Thankfully, my family is much more adaptable than I happen to be. They were able to take this unexpected inconvenience, adjust their schedule and laugh through their way through it.

But how do you respond when life knocks you down hard and just getting out of bed in the morning is a victory?

How do you hold firm to hope and reclaim your joy when the laughter ceases, darkness shrouds your life and God seems distant?

At the beginning of the book of Luke, we’re introduced to a young teenage girl named Mary. You’re probably pretty familiar with the story, but try to see it with fresh eyes for a moment.

 

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. Luke 1:26-27

 

Before this encounter, it had been 400 years since the Jewish people had heard from God. Four hundred years of waiting and hoping that God would hear their cry for help.

For 400 years, God had been silent and seemingly inactive.

How do you maintain hope and faith in God when God seems silent and there is no evidence of His activity in your life?

The challenge is for us to learn to trust him when it’s hard to find him.

When we can’t make sense of our lives.

When we’re handed events that don’t seem to fit into our plans and desires.

So after 400 years of silence, God breaks his silence and speaks to Mary, a teenage girl, and reminds us that even when God is silent, He is not necessarily still. 

And even when God is silent, He’s still at work to accomplish his plan.

And even in the darkness and confusion, He’s able to bring light.

When we meet Mary in Luke 1, Mary’s life was pretty much planned out.

  • She was getting married to a wonderful man named Joseph.
  • She was planning her wedding (well, probably not like we would plan a wedding, but she probably dreamed about her wedding day).
  • They would have kids and start a family.
  • Joseph was a carpenter so she was guaranteed great furniture.

Mary’s life appears to be seemingly normal and somewhat average – not much different from any other teenage girl in town.

Read now, as her life dramatically begins to change.

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. Luke 1:28-29

Interestingly, when the angel approached Mary with, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you,” scripture tells us that Mary is troubled, confused and disturbed.

Why would Mary be troubled by such an AWESOME greeting?

 

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”              Luke 1:28-33

 

Honestly, Mary probably didn’t hear anything after, “You will conceive and give birth to a son”. How crazy is this? Can you even imagine the thoughts racing through her mind, the questions she had, the fears? In a brief five minutes, Mary’s world is COMPLETELY turned upside down and FOREVER changed.

Yet in the midst of what may appear random and chaotic, the angel assures Mary that this will happen.

God provides Mary with certainty and assurance in the midst of her greatly troubling and confusing circumstances.

Put yourself in Mary’s place and attempt to identify with the wide range of emotions she must have experienced in the months following this interaction with the angel.

Consider the turmoil, the shame and the relational conflict Mary had to confront during her pregnancy as an unwed teenager from a devout Hebrew family.

Ponder the judgmental criticism that was probably tossed her way.

Reflect on some of the labels that were given to her by the community. People can be so mean.

Try to relate to the extreme loneliness she must have faced as she confronted her new reality.

How did the community view her? How did her friends treat her? How did her parents respond? How should she approach her fiancée with this one?!

How do we remain steadfast in hope and confident when our life circumstances change and our life seems uncertain and maybe even like it’s falling apart around us?

In part two, we’ll read Mary’s insightful and hope-filled response and God’s abundant provision.