Discipleship and the Holy Spirit
- Not feeling up to what God is doing in you?
- Often the discipleship journey we are on is undesirably difficult.
- The Bible does seem to say that God is very intentional and present with us on our journey.
- Mary’s journey was difficult, but the Spirit overshadowed her and helped her.
- Her journey was unique, but we can anticipate that fellowship and help from God in our journey.
Have you considered Mary, the mother of our Lord? Her faith in the face of fear and a difficult calling is both exemplary and a worthy model for our own journeys.
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:26-29 ESV).
A Mile in Your Shoes
How have you experienced your Christian walk so far? Have the joys been obvious or obscure? Are the challenges painful or inspiring? Has it given you a sense of community or isolation?
Every person’s journey fits in the bigger story of the gospel, but each story has its own peculiar shape, its individual facets.
School and work challenges. Loss at home. Painful church and community dynamics. Struggle with sin. Opposition because of your faith. Doubts or other difficulties in your relationship with God.
Each of us faces different complications to the work God has given us.
It doesn’t matter if you are a pastor, a parent, a friend, a casual witness to your faith, a teacher, a tradesperson, a healthcare worker… a student. Any vocation you’ve taken up, involves what Paul calls “the work of the Lord.” He encourages the church at Corinth to “Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:58 NIV).
Paul’s challenge comes after a long treatise on Christ’s resurrection and our own. The work of Christ means that we can live vibrantly and engage in work that has real meaning in his kingdom. And his work is guaranteed and sealed with his Spirit (II Corinthians 1:22).
So how do we take hold of that hope?
And what does Mary’s example show us?
The Mother of Our Lord
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth… ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’” (Luke 1:26, 30-33 ESV).
Are we very used to this story? When we hear it, do we breeze past how risk-laden and confusing this would be for Mary? Or do we grant the idea lip service (“Mary would be the centre of scandal!”) without reflecting deeply?
Not only would this experience jeopardize her betrothal to Joseph and bring the reproach of her community, it was also confusing and improbable.
“And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’” (Luke 1:34 ESV).
She asked the most natural question. How can this happen?
In light of her later comments, I think it’s right to hear her asking humbly. It isn’t reluctance or defiance (one might think of Moses or Zechariah’s doubting and defiant questions). She is not trying to escape this calling.
Neither is she suppressing her confusion and apprehension. How will this be? What Gabriel reveals is far from comprehensive. It’s purposeful. It’s resolute. It’s glorious. But it is far from a full explanation of the plan. And Mary is both nervous enough to be concerned, and brave enough to ask.
Gabriel welcomes her engagement, honouring with a word of explanation.
“’The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God… Nothing will be impossible with God’” (Luke 1:35, 37 ESV).
The Holy Spirit with Mary and with Us
Compare that to Paul’s words to the church in Corinth, words that we can appropriate for our own spiritual journey:
“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan… and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come… we live by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:1-7 NIV).
In both instances, the Holy Spirit is a key player.
Mary was familiar with her mortal flesh. She knew that she could not give birth to this child without God’s help. She probably also had in mind how difficult it would be for her mortal heart to bear the weight of her community’s scorn.
The believers in Corinth also lived in mortal flesh. They, and we too, may have experienced discouragement and even despair facing the enormity of what God has given us to live in. In our weakness and inconsistency, we are not in ourselves enough for what God has put before us.
But Gabriel gave a message of hope: “’The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God… Nothing will be impossible with God’” (Luke 1:35, 37 ESV).
It was not Mary alone who would bear the Messiah into the world. God in all His greatness and lovingkindness would come upon her and overshadow her, not in a way that erased her, but brought her ‘under His wing’ and helped her.
“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:38 ESV).
Her response rings with the sound of Paul’s declaration: “We live by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7 NIV).
Faced with a complicated, risky, enormous calling, Mary was comforted by the promise of the Spirit’s powerful help.
While Mary’s calling, her journey, was unlike what any of us will ever face, the Spirit who comes upon and overshadows us, is the same. And her response of faith is one we can emulate.
Never Walk Alone
Following, Gabriel’s revelation, Mary was not left alone. She enjoyed the presence of the Spirit who brought the Son to be borne within her.
Similarly, she enjoyed the fellowship of Elizabeth, her cousin, another faithful woman familiar with the reproach of her community and the strange goodness of God (Luke 1:5, 6, 25, 56).
As you walk whatever journey that God has given you, do not walk alone. You are welcome to lean on the Spirit of God, the same Spirit who was with Mary. You are also welcome to lean on the people of God who are dependent on the same Spirit as you.
It is good and right to feel too small, too weak… but that need not be the final word.
“’The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you… Nothing will be impossible with God’” (Luke 1:35, 37 ESV).