You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
Andy Hawthorne is a British evangelist, author, and founder of the Message Trust, an award-winning Christian mission organization dedicated to bringing the gospel message to the poorest neighborhoods of Hawthorne’s hometown of Manchester, England. He is the author of Diary of a Dangerous Vision, also a Survivor book.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
There Is No Plan B
Toward the end of a life full of amazing words and actions, Jesus said something that was remarkable even by his own standards. Talking to his Father, he said, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4).
It strikes me that, like Jesus, we really do all have a task to complete on this earth and that the goal of our lives should be to get as close to completing that work as we possibly can. Flip the thought over: Isn’t it absolutely amazing to think of all the good works we’ll leave behind when we die? What about all those plans and possibilities that were dreamt up for us? Can we really ignore them so easily?
Jesus’ good works here on earth didn’t start when he came out of the desert in a blaze of glorious healing, teaching, and saving. It was thirty years earlier that it all started, when he was willing to leave the glory of heaven and humble himself to float around as a fetus inside a little bag of waters in the womb of a young peasant girl. That’s how far he had to go in order to get right alongside us, to reach our level and literally put flesh on the bones of God’s master plan of salvation.
Throughout the rest of this book we will be looking at Jesus and seeing what we can learn from the way he reached out with words and actions. But first we need to go right back to the beginning and take a look at his mother. What can we learn from her amazing response to the call of God on her life?
There is no doubt that Mary was a remarkable young woman. How many girls in their early teens, as she probably was, would cope in such a faith-filled and chilled-out way in the face of such earth-shattering news? And it wasn’t as if the delivery was low-key. There was no email, no gentle chat with a familiar family member; just some forty-foot-tall shining white angel called Gabriel. (Okay, so the Bible might not say he was forty feet tall or shining white, but you’ve got to give an evangelist a little room to tell a story!)
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name 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 the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:30–33)
Let’s be fair: Mary was a risk. What if she had said “No thanks”? What if she got freaked out by the whole thing and changed her mind? What if she ran off and drank a bottle of gin or had a cold bath or found some other way of getting rid of the baby? There must have been others looking for a way of dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. What if Mary joined them?
The whole thing was a risk, and it’s not much different today. Imagine choosing you and me to share the most glorious news in the world and to deliver the kindness of God to a hurting world! What if we ran in the opposite direction? What if we gave up on prayer, stopped acting in faith, and acted in fear instead? How much of a mess the world would be in!
But that’s our God. He has staked everything on us getting our act together. He has bet the house on everyday idiots like you and me getting involved and taking our faith seriously. How amazing is that? How scary?
There is a folktale of the angels coming before God as Jesus ascended to heaven. They were asking him what the plan was now that Jesus’ time on earth was up. Who was going to carry on the work of building God’s kingdom? God points down to the ragtag bunch of anger-management failures, hotheads, and oubting Thomases. It’s them. They’re the ones to build it.
“But what if they fail?”
“There is no plan B.”
Those first disciples were the plan, just like that overwhelmed teenage mom, just like you and me. We’re the plan. We’re the potential. We’re the way this thing gets built.
Mary may have been young, inexperienced, and poor, but she was no failure. She had what it took to be used by God; she had a heart that pumped for him, a heart that beat in time with his own work. As the eyes of the Lord scanned Israel looking for a girl who would be suitable for the greatest responsibility in the history of the world, they rested on Mary.
I love Mary’s response to Gabriel’s words. I’m convinced that if we were to respond in a similar way when each of us met our own calling, we would see a lot more success and transformation going
on down here.
Four things stand out to me. First, there’s the whole sense of urgency that we get from Mary. Luke 1:39 tells us that her response to the overwhelming responsibility was to get ready and hurry to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house to tell them the good news. Look at the rest of the gospels, and you’ll see a whole lot of hurrying once people have received a word from the Lord. The gospels are littered with words like immediately, suddenly, and swiftly. Wouldn’t it be great if the church of Jesus was a bit swifter to respond to the command of God to go? How much better would things be if we were to go out of our meetings with a little more pace and passion and deliver the good news in words and actions to this generation? For Mary there was no option. God had spoken, and she started to hurry.
That hurrying carried on over sixty miles of difficult terrain, but it was worth it. Once she arrived at Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house, Elizabeth’s baby started jumping for joy in the Holy Spirit. As if she needed it, there was Mary’s massive confirmation that this wonderful miracle really was taking place inside her. In one quick trip Mary demonstrated a truth that lies at the heart of all Christian living: We have to understand the importance of sacrifice and obedience. If God puts people on your heart, don’t just pray for them; go to them quickly and watch what he does. If God puts an neighborhood or a people group or a country in your mind, go quickly; don’t wait until every piece of the jigsaw puzzle is in place
and every penny is in the bank. Step out. Do it. Risk it.
After thirty years of doing this stuff, I can testify that if it’s the Great Commission you’re working on, God really will bankroll the work. Right now his eyes are searching the earth looking for people with a heart for the lost, hurting, or broken of this planet. And when he finds them and sees that they are ready to obey the call and go sacrificially, he will strongly support them (2 Chronicles 16:9).
The second thing that gets me is Mary’s excitement. We’ve just had a few of our team return from a large youth prayer event in America called The Ramp, and to be honest I’m slightly worried they might spontaneously combust. They’re so pumped that every talk we give is now greeted with whoops and hollers American style, and they’re spending literally hours and hours of every day in prayer, worship, and sharing Jesus with people who don’t know him. They’re not doing it because they’re paid or because they are bored or because they think it might just be a bit of a laugh. They’re doing it because the reality of who Jesus is and what he did has burrowed deep under their skin. And when that happens for real,
any aspect of our lives is a candidate for transformation.
I’m quite jealous of their passion right now. Granted, some of it may seem a bit over the top, but I’d rather have overenthusiasm than the numbness that comes from being lukewarm. George Verwer
put it better when he said, “It’s easier to cool down a furnace than warm up a corpse.” I’d rather be a furnace for Jesus, and passion and excitement have always been the currency that young people
Luke carries on with the story:
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was
filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord
should come to me?” (Luke 1:41–43)
Elizabeth’s joy was palpable. She was telling Mary that she was the most blessed person on the planet, that she had been given the most privileged job that’s ever been given. Because Mary had not been tripped up or freaked out by the news, nor did she feel lukewarm about it—choosing instead to believe, trust, and act—Elizabeth could see that things were going well. There’s a truth in here somewhere, that when we hold on tight to God’s promises and believe that they will come through in spite of all the troubles and opposition around us, then we end up being blessed. So many Christians get disillusioned and discouraged when God’s promises aren’t fulfilled according to their schedules. It can be tempting to
do the opposite of Mary and give in to disillusionment and defeat. But there is no life to be found down that route.
I think Mary knew that, because instinctively she joined in with Elizabeth’s excitement, bursting into a song full with joy and optimism.
Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has
been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me
blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 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. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” (Luke 1:46–55)
For most of my life I’ve been a member of my local Anglican church. Just occasionally I’ve had the joy of sitting through the 1662 prayer-book service. As the name suggests, this is a very old bit of kit. Over 350 years have passed since it was scripted by a bunch of evangelists called the Reformers. They were trying to reach people with the gospel, dragging services out of the world of outdated Latin traditions. They used the language of the street, and in its day it was a truly dangerous and radical thing to do. Their
motto was “always reforming,” and that’s what they did, constantly bringing the services up to date, refusing to settle and be stuck in a rut. There was just one problem: One by one they were burnt at the stake for their efforts. Three and a half centuries later many churches are still using the same services. I’ve got a sneaking feeling that Thomas Cranmer and his fellow Reformers are in heaven right now slapping their heads, wincing their eyes shut, and shouting,
I know I’m on thin ice with some people, particularly those who love the poetry and reverence of the 1662 prayer-book service. And just because it’s not my cup of tea doesn’t mean God doesn’t like
it. But I’m sure that what matters more than whether we like the worship service or whether it’s got robed choirs and bells and smells or screaming rock bands up front is whether the people outside the church can understand and connect with it. If that’s not possible, we should do exactly what the Reformers did: Kick it out.
But I’ll say this for the 1662 service: It nearly always includes Mary’s song, called the Magnificat. This is an amazing collection of words held together by full-throttle joy, passion, and excitement. Sadly, in my experience, it usually gets sung to a miserable tune by people with very long faces, which is weird because this is a song of excitement and over-the-top joy and passion.
“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.…” The word rejoices here in the original Greek language is agallio. It’s the same word that’s used in Luke 10:21 when Jesus is freaking out with joy as the disciples return from their first mission and report that “even the demons submit to us in your name” (verse 17). It literally means “to leap for joy, to show one’s joy by leaping and skipping, demonstrating excessive or ecstatic joy and delight.” Mary is, in short, quite a happy girl at this point! In fact, it would appear that,
despite the challenges of her pregnant state, she is beaming with excitement and almost bursting with this song of joy and praise to God.
Let’s be fair, even with the hassle and hard work, Christianity is a phenomenally exciting thing. Living on the cutting edge of God’s purposes, dealing with all the opposition that comes with trying to reach out into our communities, following Jesus’ great commission to tell the world the good news … these are the ingredients that lead to the most real, most inspiring, most satisfying experience of all. Let’s not lose the sheer joy and wonder of what this good news of Jesus can do in the darkest of communities and the most
broken lives. Put another way, the gospel works every time; it’s lost none of its power. As Paul says, we’re plugged into “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
When you think about that, it’s understandable that every once in a while—just like our young men returned from The Ramp—we need to get a little overexcited.
Right now the developed world is suffering from an epidemic of excess that is squeezing all the joy out of so many lives. Look around and you’ll see it: an excess of alcohol, drugs, sex, debt, and isolation that is literally killing people. How about confronting that with the excessive, ecstatic joy and delight that only Jesus can bring?
The third thing that is obvious from Mary’s response to God’s call is her love of Scripture. She is thirteen or fourteen years old, yet she just oozes the Bible. This song she bursts into certainly feels as though it’s off the top of her head, but it includes no less than twelve different Old Testament passages.
It’s clear that Mary didn’t just skim her way through Scripture. She memorized it and held it in her heart, getting to the point where it really was “living and active” and “sharper than any double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). The same can be true for us, if only we’d get Scripture off the pages of our Bible and running through our blood. Would life ever really be the same again if we managed this? Why not make a commitment today to learn more of the Bible? How good would it be to be able to know it, live it, and breathe it, so that what pours out of us is God’s Word, pure and simple—whether we are on the streets or facing times of great excitement, challenge, temptation, or failure?
I’ve got a feeling that one of the key reasons Mary was chosen for this amazing task was that she loved God’s Word. And from the moment she became a mother to God’s child, she showed her child how to do likewise.
At her coronation Elizabeth II was presented with a Bible by the Archbishop of Canterbury—just as it has been with all the kings and queens of the British Commonwealth. As he presented it, he uttered these words: “Your Majesty, here are the lively oracles of God, the most precious thing this life affords.”
And that’s the truth. We might not spend much time getting into the Bible, and we might completely forget to treat it with the respect it’s due, but it really is the most precious thing on the planet. It’s the only thing I know of that contains the keys to a worthwhile life here on earth and an eternal one to come. We might want to be used by God for high and holy purposes that last forever, but without immersing ourselves in God’s Word, we’re never going to make it. It is this, and not our own man-sized dreams and visions, that must direct our plans.
The last thing to stand out, as we look at this passage right at the start of Jesus’ life on earth, is Mary’s humility. Her song isn’t full of arrogance or ego but humility and sacrifice instead. It reminds me a lot of David’s song when he was dragged out of obscurity as a shepherd boy to rule a nation:
Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign LORD, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign LORD?
(2 Samuel 7:18–19)
Of course the answer is yes—it is exactly God’s usual way of dealing with men and women. Reading the Bible, I get the feeling God just loves to stun the humble with his awesome intervention.
Gideon was the least in the lowest family but went on to defeat the Midianites. Amos the gardener made his status clear with these words:
I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” (Amos 7:14–15)
There are others, too, and I love every single story. But it’s more than mere entertainment or good drama. If you and I will get to the place where God really does get all the glory—like Mary, David, Gideon, and Amos—then maybe we’ll find ourselves involved in greater things than we’ve experienced so far.
One thing I’m sure of is that right now the Lord’s eyes continue to range the earth. He’s not on the hunt for talent, giftedness, or sexiness; just a humble heart and a life willing to react quickly and obediently to his Word. When he comes across that, he’ll strongly support it. You won’t find yourself giving birth in the way that Mary did, but you will give birth to some God-sized visions for your community. Bit by bit you will stop living a life plagued by small-minded and insular views. Instead you will live large, bearing
the fruit that he chose for you on the day he went out of his way to select you for eternal life.
Ephesians 2:10 makes this absolutely clear: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Maybe some years in the future, when old age has settled upon you, you might be able to inch a little closer to saying to God, “I’ve brought you glory by
completing most of the work you gave me to do.”
Isn’t that really what life is all about?
1. If someone looked at your bank statements, Internet-browser history, or phone records, what would he or she say are your priorities? Try doing the exercise yourself or—if you’re brave enough—give someone else permission to do it for you.
2. What place does the Bible have in your head and heart? Do you know it? Do you like it? Do you feel as though you need it to help you through the day? If you’ve answered no to any of those, don’t worry or feel condemned, but do make up your mind to do something about it. Talk to someone at church who is wise and trustworthy and who knows the Bible. Ask him or her to help you get to know it better.
3. Are you feeling as though everyone else has a God-given calling and you do not? Are you still waiting for God to deliver you a dream that matches your hopes and expectations? Stop. Think back over the last seventy-two hours: Have there been times when you have ignored things that God may have been prompting you to do? Are there conversations you avoided, situations you backed out of, or things you simply ignored? If so, you need to repent and rediscover a little more obedience. Or are you struggling to think of anything that God might have been speaking to you about? If that’s the case, you need to know this: God doesn’t stay silent for long. Talk to someone about how you can learn to hear him better.
4. Humility is a hard thing to measure—particularly in ourselves. But it’s worth having a go. Are there people or places or tasks that— deep down—you know you go out of your way to avoid? Are there areas of your life that you’ve fenced off from God? Are there dreams and ambitions that you can’t let go of? If so, take a look back at Mary’s reaction to her unexpected pregnancy. How do you think she would respond in your situation?