Archive for the ‘On My Mind’ Category

Answering the following questions will jumpstart the next chapter of your life.

Is This In My Control?

You can save yourself a lot of agitation by sorting out what is in your control and what isn’t.

Your actions, words, and thoughts are in your control. Other people, the weather, and some life events are not.

Whatever you’re facing, ask, “Is this something I can control?” The answer will tell you if it’s worthy of your concern.

You’ll be happier and more productive if you focus attention on the things you can control and avoid getting bent out of shape by the things you can’t. Freedom comes from letting go of the things that are beyond your control.

“God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7 ESV).

Is This Worth Worrying About?

Worry saps stamina, triggers health problems, torpedoes optimism, impairs judgment, and smothers gratitude.

Worry doubles your trouble: if what you’re worrying about doesn’t happen, you’ve lived through it once needlessly; if it does happen, you’ll have lived through it twice.

Worrying will change neither your past nor your future but will poison your present.

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Mt 6:27 NLT).

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything . . . If you do this you will experience God’s peace . . . His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6–7).

Is This the Most Important Thing to Me?

What’s the most important thing to you? If you don’t know the answer to this question, you have no way of knowing if you’re putting first things first.

What is most important to someone else doesn’t necessarily fit you, so avoid living by their priorities.

When you know what the most important thing is to you, you are positioned to say “No!” to less important things and opt out of races that don’t move you toward your goal.

Nail down what the most important thing is to you; own it. The biggest danger is self-deception—telling yourself something is the most important thing when deep down it isn’t. Get honest.

The most important thing in life is to know what the most important thing in life is.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2).

Is This Who I Want to Be?

Blunt fact: you are what you say and do.

Blunt truth: you’re not good if your words and actions are bad.

Measure your stature by asking if what you’re saying and doing exhibit the kind of person you want to be. Do you judge? Gossip? Spew negative thoughts? Is this the person you want to be?

Stop yourself mid-stride when you’re about to say something critical or do something hurtful and ask if this the person you want to be?

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned, forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Lk 6:37).

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable . . . think about these things” (Phil 4:8–9).

John Glenn. Everyone knows the name of this American hero who flew fifty-nine combat missions in World War II and twenty-seven in Korea; first American to orbit the earth, and the oldest man in space when, at seventy-seven, he flew with the Space Shuttle Discovery crew; four-term U.S. Senator from Ohio.

His history of accomplishment is on exhibit at Ohio State University’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs. One panel features his high school civics teacher, Harford Steele, citing the prof as the person who taught him the importance of public service—in Glenn’s words, “igniting a fire in me that never did go out.”

Flags weren’t lowered when Harford Steele died, but it was his influence that caused American flags to be flown at half-staff for nine days all over the world when John Glenn died on December 8, 2016.

Remember Joseph, the Levite from Cyprus? Probably not, because you don’t know him by that name. You know him by his nickname, Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement.”

You might never have heard of the apostle Paul if Barnabas hadn’t given him a boost. On Paul’s first trip to Jerusalem after his conversion, he was shunned. The church wanted nothing to do with him; thought he was a fraud. But Barnabas stood up for him, and he was accepted. Later, when Paul was isolated in Tarsus, Barnabas recruited him, brought him to Antioch, and then accompanied him on his first missionary journey.

Then there was John Mark. You’d probably know nothing about him if Barnabas hadn’t taken him under his wing.

After jump-starting the careers of these two evangelists, Barnabas faded into the background. He never wrote a book or letter that found its way into your Bible, but it was his encouragement that launched the ministries of two men who, combined, wrote half of the New Testament.

A common ingredient in the lives of people who have lived up to their potential is the gift of encouragement. Someone believed in them, supported them, ignited the fire.

For John Wesley, it was his mother, Susanna.

For John Quincy Adams, it was his father, John.

For cleric Henry Ward Beecher, it was a teacher who taught only one year in the rural elementary school he attended.

For humanitarian and author Stanley Mooneyham, it was a County Superintendent of Schools.

For Paul Harvey, it was his widowed mother Anna and his beloved elementary school teacher, Miss Harp.

For American Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, it was her grandparents, Ron and Nellie Biles.

Not to take anything away from your fine gifts and commendable accomplishments, but you are who you are and are doing what you’re doing because of the influence of a parent, grandparent, teacher, friend—a Harford Steele, a Barnabas.

Most of us are not beacons, just small lights: not playing on the big stage, but filling an important, though unheralded, role on a small platform. Whatever the part, someone saw something in us, believed in us, encouraged us.

For me, it was parents, friends—and other early influences: Mrs. Womack, my First Grade Sunday School teacher; Vance Mitchell, my Jr. High Sunday School teacher; Clarence Nelson, an elder in my boyhood church.

For you, it was ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_______________________________________

Lower the flag. Thank the Father.

Alive Forever

Apr
2018
07

I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend.
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.
—Louisa M.R. Stead

I love that old hymn. Trust isn’t easily achieved, and it doesn’t survive unchallenged. It’s tested when life dumps you in a dark patch where the wind blows cold, and your world is lonely.

The words of ’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus were written in the darkest stretch of Louisa Stead’s life. Louisa, her husband Malcolm, and their four-year-old daughter Lily were enjoying a beach picnic when a boy’s cry for help came from the waves. Malcolm rushed into the surf but was no match for the pull of the tide and the terrified youth. Malcolm and the boy drowned as Louisa helplessly watched.

In the excruciating days of emotional convalescence, the young widow wrote: “’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus . . . and I know that Thou art with me, Wilt be with me to the end.”

Jesus knows the helplessness—and desertion—you feel when your world is falling apart. He knows how painful it is to pray and wonder if you’re being heard. In the inky loneliness of Gethsemane, he prayed—three times—to be delivered from the agonizing ordeal coming at him.

The answer to his prayer was silence.

Instead of being saved, he was seized. Instead of being defended, he was denounced. Instead of being acquitted, he was convicted.

Instead of being answered, he was abandoned.

A few hours later he was impaled on a cross. Battered and bloody. Suffering and dying.

Had his trust been misplaced? “He trusts in God,” antagonists sneered; “let God deliver him now, if he wants to” (Mt 27:43 NRSV).

Silence.

“My God . . . why have you forsaken me?” he cried.

Silence.

Still, with his last breath, he declared his trust: “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”

Three days later, God honored that trust with a spine-tingling, heart-stirring, world-changing Sunday. Grieving women who had watched him die on Friday trudged to the tomb on Sunday. It was empty. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” an angel asked—“He is not here; he has risen!”

You, reader, are in that triumphant story. Jesus is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep . . . in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:20, 22). “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (Jn 11:25 NRSV). “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (Jn 6:47 NKJV).

Experiencing a tough time? Clothed in trust, you’ll get through it.

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His word,
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Trust him. Take him at his word. Rest upon his promise.

Here is his promise: “Because I live, you also will live” (Jn 14:19).

And that life, my friend, will be forever.

Sooner or later nearly every church is contaminated by contention. Like cancer, it infiltrates furtively at first and goes undetected. But eventually, it metastasizes and permeates the body, resulting in severely depleted strength. Or death.

Toxic Intruders

Paul used a lot of ink exhorting Christians to encourage one another, build each other up, love one another. He was following up on Jesus’ instruction: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34–35).

Satan’s most effective tactic for destroying a church is to infiltrate it with those who are divisive. He chooses intruders carefully: they are often persuasive, charismatic, invariably wearing a mask of love.

And they are toxic!

Don’t ever be influenced by destroyers of unity. They are contagious—a hazard to your spiritual health. “I urge you, brethren,” wrote Paul, “note those who cause division . . . and avoid them” (Rom 16:17).

If you give a sympathetic ear to the disrupter of unity, you become a partner in the crime of conflict. “[D]on’t invite him in and give him the run of the place. That would just give him a platform to perpetuate his evil way, making you his partner” (2 Jn 10–11 MSG).

Paul counseled Titus that after trying twice, “have nothing more to do with a person who causes conflict, because you know that someone like this is twisted and sinful” (Ti 3:10–11 CEB).

If you get sucked in by a divisive person, you will be polluted. Don’t bathe in dirty water.

Proverbs 6:16-19 tags seven things that are detestable to God; the final one being a person “who stirs up trouble among brothers.”

Don’t give a divisive person the keys to your church.

Friends or Foes?

Now, let’s switch gears and talk, not about church matters, but about those you hang out with. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, widely considered Germany’s greatest literary figure, said, “Tell me who you spend time with, and I will tell you who you are.”

You may think you’re strong enough to buck the pull of the profligate, but that’s naïve. The apostle Paul said it this way: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Cor 15:33 ESV).

The words and actions of those you spend time with influence your disposition, decisions, and direction. It goes both ways: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prv 13:20).

The character of your companions rubs off on you, for good or bad: work behind the perfume counter, and you’ll smell like perfume; work in the fish market, and you’ll smell like fish.

Ask this question about the company you’re keeping: Is this relationship moving me closer to the Lord or further from him?

Nor is it just about personal relationships. You are also influenced by what you read, what you watch, where you go. The environment you choose sculpts you into its image. It’s been called “the proximity effect.”

Choose your company carefully. “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow evil men’s advice, who do not hang around with sinners, scoffing at the things of God” (Ps 1:1 TLB).

Don’t Be Afraid

Feb
2018
03

To Abram, God said, “Do not be afraid . . . I am your shield” (Gn 15:1).

To Joshua, God said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Jo 1:9).

To Isaiah, God said comfort my people, telling them, “do not fear, for I am with you . . . I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you . . . (Is 41:10).

To his disciples, Jesus said, “my peace I give you. . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (Jn 14:27).

Now, reread those four verses—but this time, insert your name in each as the recipient of the message.

God is just as powerful and concerned today as he was in the days of Abraham, Joshua, Isaiah, and Jesus?

Do you believe God is in charge: all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful? That’s a “yes” or “no” question, not a question with conditions attached: not, “Well, yes I believe that . . . but . . .”

Another question: Do you trust God to do the right thing?  “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” asked Abraham (Gn 18:25). It’s a rhetorical question, the obvious answer being, “Of course he will.” Do you believe that?

When people listen to you talk, do they hear faith or fear? If they could read your thoughts, would they see serenity or despair?

Behavioral scientists assert that we see things that we’ve conditioned ourselves to see. If you’ve disciplined yourself to see God in control, that’s what you will see—you’ll be pleasant company and sleep well. If you’ve conditioned yourself to see doom and gloom, that’s what you will see—you’ll be unpleasant company and won’t sleep well.

Are you limping through life, worrying (synonym for fear) about everything from global warming to political corruption to catastrophic accidents to hangnails to you-name-it; refusing to face the uncomfortable truth that this deadly cancer is poisoning your faith? It’s not incurable but can be fatal left untreated.

Fear and worry suck the oxygen out of faith. When worry takes up residence in the mind, it resists sharing the space with faith.

God can change you if you’ll let him: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). That’s an inward change that God can make in you . . . but he won’t make it without your consent and cooperation.

So clean out the garage; take the negative junk to the dumpster. Purge the closets; get rid of the old duds and put some color in your wardrobe—you’ve been wearing drab long enough.

You choose what you believe . . . and what you don’t believe. Go back to the top of this essay and drink a dose of those four verses again. Put some zip in your faith.

If you truly believe God is all-powerful and that he will do what is right, that’s quite enough to ensure a calm and peaceful life.

Let’s write a prayer together. I’ll start. You finish.

Dear God, Many things in our world—excuse me, Your world—seem to be falling apart. Please grant that our faith may not fail. Help us believe in you unconditionally. When our faith falters, remind us to say, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid” (Ps 56:3–4).

You take it from there . . .

A century or so down the road, if the Lord’s coming is delayed until then, people will look back at our time on this planet with as much fascination as we look back on the time of George Washington, Thomas Edison, or the Wright Brothers.

They’ll wonder what life was like for those of us who were alive when John Kennedy was assassinated, Christiaan Barnard performed the first heart transplant, and Neil Armstrong became the first person to plant boots on the moon.

They’ll wonder what it was like to ride in a car that required a human driver and to fly the friendly skies in a tube that required a human pilot.

They’ll wonder what it was like before robots did the household chores, the refrigerator placed the grocery order, and ocean farming provided a big chunk of the world’s food supply.

They’ll wonder what it was like before 3D printers were as common and affordable as laptops, enabling ordinary mortals to sculpt a pair of shoes or a new kidney.

They’ll wonder what it was like before the DNA composition of patients was precisely mapped and medical treatment targeted to each individual.

And they’ll wonder what it was like in a world where average life expectancy was less than 100 years.

Fascinating!

But those of us living in the here-and-now have a full plate navigating the next twelve months.

So cheers to a New Year and another chance to get it right.

It’s too late to change your past but not too late to change your future. At the beginning of a New Year, you have 365 blank pages—each to be scripted with God’s guidance: “his mercies begin afresh each day” (Lam 3:23 NLT). What plans does he have for you this year? Have you talked to him about that?

Time is beyond your control. You can’t bring it back once it’s gone. And you can’t stop its progress—can’t slow it down or turn it off. All you can do is use it. It’s like money in your pocket—you can spend it however you wish, but you can only spend it once.

With the flip of the last page of last year’s calendar, you buttoned down the end of what was and signaled the beginning of what is to be. You will be creating memories in this New Year. Make them good ones.

A lot of things happened in 2017 that you weren’t expecting. The same will be true this year. But that doesn’t mean you are left alone to helplessly face an uncertain future. “The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand” (Ps 37:23–24 NLT).

On Christmas Eve 1939, four months into the gloom of World War II, King George VI calmed jittery Brits in a BBC radio broadcast. He closed his oration with the preamble to Minnie Louise Haskins’ The Gate of the Year . . .

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God,
trod gladly into the night.

As the old year died and the new one is born, surrender the old to history, and seek God’s guidance for the new.

Reach for his hand; put yours in his: “That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

Happy New Year!

 

Only Six Miles

Dec
2017
02

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”   —Matthew 2:1–2

♦    ♦    ♦

We know very little about these Magi [wise men]. In fact, all we know is in Matthew chapter two: they appear in verse one and disappear in verse twelve.

We don’t know for sure where they came from; just “from the east.” Most likely Persia or Babylon: in either case, a trip of close to 1,000 miles.

We don’t know how long it took them to make the trip. Best guess among commentators is about two years.

We don’t know if they travelled alone, or with an entourage. Probably the latter.

We don’t know how many there were. Every Christmas pageant you’ve seen and Christmas card you’ve received pictures three, an assumption based on the three mentioned gifts they brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. A Far Side cartoon had four instead of three—but they sent the fourth packing, because he brought fruitcake as his gift.

We do know that “Magi” was the name given to priests and wise men of the Medes, Persians, and Babylonians (see Daniel 2:12, 18, 24, 27; 5:7–8) and that they were students of the stars; experts in astronomy and astrology.

And we know they made a very long trip to pay homage to baby Jesus and worship him.

They didn’t know his name, or exactly where he was, but assumed that information would be easily obtained in Jerusalem.

When news reached Herod’s ears that these foreigners were asking, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” he was alarmed and laid plans to eliminate the pintsize competition. Herod’s M.O. was to execute anyone who was a threat to his throne. He orchestrated the murder of his brother-in-law, his mother-in-law, his wife, and his sons, among others. Now an old man, with only months to live, he was on the hunt for a wee baby.

Herod called a meeting of the chief priests and teachers of the law [scribes] and asked where Christ was to be born. The answer was a no brainer for these authorities in Jewish religion; they knew the prophecies regarding the Messiah by heart. He would be born in Bethlehem, they said, for that’s what the prophet Micah had announced seven hundred years earlier. That’s the information the king and the wise men wanted.

Bethlehem was only six miles from Jerusalem; less than a two hour walk.

So off went the wise men on this last leg of a long trip.

Wouldn’t you think the teachers of the law would tag along—if not outrun—the Magi to see this child of prophecy? They had been teaching about the coming Messiah for years. Now they hear that he has been born—just six miles south in Bethlehem—and not one of them slipped on his sandals.

Herod feared him. The Magi sought him. The scribes ignored him.

Six miles from the fulfillment of prophecy. Six miles from salvation. Six miles from eternal life.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come . . . Only six miles.
Let earth receive her King . . . Only six miles.

O come, all ye faithful . . . Only six miles.
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem . . . Only six miles.
O come, let us adore him . . . Only six miles.

Six miles from the Savior . . . Only six miles.

University freshman Ben Byrum was lonely.

Ben had been to a nearby church a few times but didn’t feel connected or wanted. He decided to go one more time. He would walk in and sit down. If no one spoke to him before the service started, he would walk out and not return.

A countdown timer at the front of the sanctuary indicated the time remaining before the service would begin; five minutes to go.

People wandered in, gathered in cliques, slapped backs, gossiped, chuckled. No one spoke to him. Occasionally someone looked his way. He hoped they would smile or nod; he would count that a greeting and stay. Didn’t happen.

With thirty seconds remaining, Ben got ready to leave. He would go back to his room and stay there alone for the rest of the day.

With fifteen seconds left on the countdown clock, his math professor, seated two rows in front of him, turned around, smiled and said, “I’m glad you’re here, Ben.”

He stayed.

He doesn’t remember the sermon or what hymns were sung. What he remembers is being noticed. “People may forget what you say,” said Maya Angelou, “but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Don’t make the mistake of limiting this to Sunday morning church. Everyone wants to be wanted. Everyone needs to be noticed. Being ignored is rejection, pure and simple. And it hurts.

♦     ♦     ♦

A man in his thirties left his San Francisco apartment, walked to the Golden Gate Bridge, and jumped to his death.

A suicide letter, found on the dresser in his apartment said, “I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I won’t jump.”

You have to wonder how far the walk was from his apartment to the bridge and how many people he passed on the way—any one of whom could have saved a life with a smile.

♦     ♦     ♦

At 9:00 p.m. on a November night in 2015, Desmond Powell was walking home from a basketball game in Manchester, New Hampshire. Approaching the Granite Street Bridge, he saw a man sitting on the cement railing over the Merrimack River, 100 feet below.

“Hey buddy, what are you doing?” Powell asked.

“I’m gonna jump,” the man said.

For the next ten minutes they talked, the stranger alternating between crying and staring at the churning black water below. “I’m having a rough time,” he said. “I don’t have a job, I’m hungry, and I’m addicted to heroin.”

Powell inched closer, expressed his concern and told him the two-year-old daughter he had told him about loved and needed him. He held out his hand. The fellow gripped it and climbed down.

“I’m Desmond,” Powell said. “Let me buy you something to eat.” They ate and talked. After a while, the man said, “Desmond, can you call the police so I can get help?”

Fifteen minutes later, the police arrived. As he climbed into the patrol car, he turned to Powell. “Thank you,” he said. “You are my hero.” (This story excerpted and edited from Reader’s Digest, September 2017.)

Today let it be your smile, your “hello,” your word of encouragement that makes someone’s day.

My Lord and My God

Oct
2017
07

Scene I AD 33 (John 18:17, 25, 26)

“For the third time,” said Peter, “I do not know this man, Jesus! How many times do I have to tell you?”

Scene II — Two Months Later (Acts 4:17–20)

“This court has reached a decision. We order you not to speak of this man, Jesus, again. We charge you to remain silent about him?”

“With all due respect, sirs, that isn’t going to happen,” said Peter. You crucified him, but God raised him from the dead. We must speak about what we have seen and heard.”

Fear caused Peter to deny Jesus. The resurrection caused him to defy those he had feared.

The crucifixion left Jesus’ disciples terrified. They huddled behind locked doors, fearing they would be next. That changed when he unexpectedly appeared, showed them his crucifixion wounds, and said, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day” (Lk 24:46).

They were never the same after that. Floggings, intimidation, threats, imprisonment, and death risks were powerless to silence them.

He had risen! He was alive!

Thomas spoke for them all: “My Lord and my God!”

Scene III — AD 1980

B.R. is in his usual pew. His business empire has expanded impressively through the years. He’s good—very good—at what he does. It demands his time and energy. But he’s always in church.

Why? Because his sensitive heart keeps reminding him that there is something more important than earthly achievement. He is determined to live so that it won’t be all over when it’s all over. He believes that Jesus died for his sins, was buried, and was raised (1 Cor 15:3–4).

And his response is: “My Lord and my God!”

Scene IV — Today

You don’t get to see him and his crucifixion wounds—at least not now. But your blessing is as certain as those who did. “Because you have seen me,” he said to Thomas,” you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection hasn’t changed your world, but it has changed you—beginning the moment you surrendered your life to him.

“[A]ll of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:3–4).

A new life! Death of the old you; resurrection of the new you. Same old world; but brand new you. You wear the same clothes, travel the same streets, go to the same job, encounter the same people. These things haven’t changed. But you have!

At times, you still struggle with the old habits, battle the old disposition, wrestle with the old anxieties. But you gain strength as you go. With sins forgiven, earth’s appeal diminishes, and heaven’s increases.

Let Jesus’ promise sink into your soul: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (Jn 6:47 NKJV).

“My Lord and my God!”

Gus Niblack was already elderly when I met him; one of the best men I’ve known. When I’d ask how he was, he’d stiffen his spine, throw his head back and say, “The Lord has been partial to me!”

I don’t doubt it. God has often singled out specific people for favor.

In Old Testament days, he had his eye on some chosen individuals; favored them, blessed them, and used them.

There was Noah. God was fed up with human corruption and decided to wipe out the whole rotten bunch. “Noah, however, found favor in the sight of the Lord” (Gn 6:8).

God told Noah to build a boat. He was a farmer, not a carpenter. Building that boat chewed up decades of his life. When it was finished, he floated around in it for a year, shut in with a whole lot of togetherness with seven family members and a whole lot of animal manure.

There was Moses. God told him, “I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight” (Ex 33:12).

God told Moses to take the fight to Pharaoh, get the Israelites out of Egypt, and lead them to the Promised Land. Moses was a rancher, not a leader. He spent the next forty years—one-third of his life—herding a million impossible-to-please whiners.

Being favored by God is a high honor, but it doesn’t come with a promise of health, wealth, and happy days. When Noah and Moses said yes to God’s plan, they were saying no to their own.

When we turn the page and find ourselves in the New Testament, we meet up with Mary, mother-to-be of Jesus.

Angel Gabriel showed up at her door and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored!” (Lk 1:28).

He told the mystified teenager that she was going to give birth to a son. “He will be great,” said Gabriel, “and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David . . . his kingdom will never end” (Lk 1:31–33).

God favored Mary as he favored no other. But the price she paid for the honor was horrific. She was engaged to be married: had mapped her life in domestic frocks; a calm life in a quiet Nazareth neighborhood. With that knock on her door, she was faced with the probability of being dumped by her betrothed, shunned by her friends, and disowned by her family.

Nine months later, she made a miserable trip to Bethlehem to answer a government census call, gave birth to her baby in a barn, and made a rushed trek to Egypt to shield her child from Herod’s boy-baby death decree.

Thirty years after that, she watched her nomadic son throw together a ragtag team of nobodies. Own the throne of David? He doesn’t even own a donkey. His kingdom will never end? Will it ever even begin?

In another three years, Jesus grew intolerable, and Mary grew gray. Simeon’s prophecy that her soul would be pierced became terrifyingly true as she watched her son die the death of a criminal.

The only other time the Greek word citing God’s “favor” of Mary appears in the New Testament is in Ephesians 1:6, where we are told that God has “freely given” (favored) us with his grace in Christ. Mary was highly favored by God. Paul tells us that we are too.

Mary filled a unique role in God’s redemptive story. But saying yes to God’s plan meant saying no to her own.

We have been favored by God. The only way we can honor that favor is by being willing to say yes to his plan—and sometimes that may mean saying no to our own.