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.