Saturday, November 21, 2015
When I was a little girl, the best part of my birthday celebration was always blowing out the candles on the cake. Why? Because my parents always said “Make a wish!” and I believed that whatever I asked for in that moment would be mine.
But I attached a series of foolish superstitions to that belief. First, I had to make the wish silently – any wish spoken aloud would be null and void.
Second, it had to be the first wish that entered my mind after the magic words were spoken. I had to focus on a clear thought of what I actually wanted, and make sure that no extraneous idea entered my mind.
(It was like someone asking you not to think of a pink elephant – what is the first image your brain envisions, no matter how hard you try to stop it? Or like the scene in Ghostbusters where the monster who will destroy civilization takes on the form of the first thought that pops into the main character’s head – the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man).
Third, no one could speak between the invitation to “Make a wish!” and the completion of the entire ritual, meaning blowing out all the candles.
Fourth, every single candle had to be completely extinguished. Woe to the prankster who put candles that would relight on my cake! Their well-intentioned idea of a joke would result in my missing that year’s opportunity to wish for the single most important thing I wanted.
But, thankfully, decades later, I was saved by placing my faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6). In Him, I have all I need (Philippians 4:19), and the unspeakable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15) of eternal, abundant life (John 3:16; 10:10). I no longer need superstition, ritual or wishful thinking, for I am saved by grace, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9) I have the sure hope to be found only in our Saviour (Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:3).
Still, thinking about making a wish while blowing out birthday candles reminded me of times in the Bible where God granted a wish for one of His children – a limited-time opportunity of unlimited potential.
Jacob literally took matters into his hands and wrestled with God (in human form) all night, until He promised Jacob a blessing. That blessing led to God changing his name from Jacob (meaning supplanter) to Israel (meaning “of God”), for he became the father of the 12 tribes of Israel, God’s chosen people (Genesis 32:24-32).
God offered Solomon a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ask for whatever he wished, and He promised to grant His request. Solomon could have asked for power, victory, or wealth, but instead he chose wisdom, so that he could be a good and just ruler of God’s chosen people. God answered Solomon’s prayer exceeding abundantly beyond what he could ask or think (Ephesians 3:20), making him not only the wisest man ever, but blessing him with riches and honor in addition (1 Kings 3:3-14).
God clearly values wisdom (Proverbs 4:5,7; 16:16) and is pleased when His children pray for it, so much so that He has promised to give it liberally to any of us who asks Him, without scolding us for needing it (James 1:5). He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5), so when we realize our own insufficiency apart from Him, He delights in giving us wisdom.
He has already given us the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5) through His indwelling Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14), so if we yield to Him by dying to our sin nature (1 Corinthians 15:31; Romans 7:23-25), He will lead, guide and instruct us (John 14:16-17).
What a blessing to know that He will always answer “Yes!” to our prayer for wisdom, no matter how often we ask, and without requiring any rituals or conditions from us. Another prayer He will always answer “Yes!” is the prayer of a sinner asking to be saved (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13). How amazing that His unconditional gift of mercy, love and grace is free to all who ask!
And that brings me to the verse that has become part of my daily prayer, because I believe it is one of His most powerful promises. Jesus said:
If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. (John 15:7)
Really? We can ask for anything and we will receive it? Yes, but this is a conditional, not an unconditional, promise. We must abide in Christ, meaning that we are saved and that our heart is right with Him, free of unconfessed sin. We must be as closely intertwined with Him as the branches are with the true Vine (v. 1). If we abide in Him and He abides in us, we will bear much fruit, but without Him, we can do nothing (v. 5).
The second condition attached to this amazing promise is that His words must abide in us. Clearly we cannot abide in Him, and His words in us, unless we are daily, devotedly, faithfully spending time in His Word and in prayer (Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Hiding His Word in our heart keeps us from sin (Psalm 119:11), for we are cleansed by the washing of the Word (Ephesians 5:26). His Word delights us (Psalm 119:16), guides us as a Light to our path, and shows us His plan for our life (Psalm 119:105).
In other words, if we delight in God and His Word, He will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4), because He is what we desire. So, claiming John 15:7, what should we wish for?
If we abide in Him and His words in us, we will value heavenly things above material things, and we will not be tempted to ask for riches, power, success or other worldly rewards (Matthew 6:20-21). If we abide in Him and His words in us, we will have faith that He will work all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28); joy in the Lord (Romans 5:11); and the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
These will keep us from the sins of unbelief (Mark 9:24) and discontentment (Philippians 4:10-13), so we will not be tempted to spend this promise foolishly in worrying over what He has already promised to provide (Matthew 6:8; 25-34). So what should born-again believers (John 3:3-8) in and on Christ who are internalizing His Word ask him for?
Lord, let me be in the center of your perfect will, which is the best blessing I could possibly have.
I believe this prayer acknowledges His infinite love (1 John 4:8), wisdom (Psalm 139:1-6) and power (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17,27)), wanting to do and able to do what is best for and with us, for only He has access to and control over all pieces of the puzzle. It recognizes that He is Lord of our life (Luke 1:38), and that He knows best how to bless us. Even Jesus yielded to the will of the Father, not only for His own life (Luke 22:42) but for the lives of all of us who have trusted Him (John 17).
Praise God that we don’t have to make a wish, follow childish superstitions, and hope in vain to have our deepest desires satisfied. God can and will grant the gift of salvation to every sinner who realizes he is lost and in need of a Saviour! He can and will grant His child the blessing of being in the center of His perfect plan for our life if we abide in Him, and His words in us, and if we ask Him!
© 2015 Laurie Collett
Saturday, November 14, 2015
Just as God portrays His Triune nature in patterns of three throughout His Word, His nature, and His creation, it is not surprising that there are three women named Mary in close association to Christ in His earthly ministry. These are Mary, mother of Jesus (Luke 1-2), Mary Magdalene, Jesus’s disciple from the time He cast out seven demons from her (Mark 16:19), and His close friend Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus (Luke 10:38-42; John 11:2). These women were bound to Jesus by love as His family, follower, and friend.
There are also three additional women named Mary described in less detail in Scripture, but also worthy of mention. One of these is referred to as "the other Mary" (Matthew 27:61), also known as the mother of the disciples James and Joses (Matthew 27:55-61); and as the wife of Cleophas (John 19:25). The second is the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12); and sister to Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), who opened her home to the disciples to meet for prayer (Acts 12:12). The third is Mary of Rome, whom Paul thanked for her "many labors" in support of his ministry to the Roman Christians (Romans 16:6).
These three women: the “other Mary,” the mother of John Mark, and Mary of Rome, are known for their association to Christianity by being relatives of the first missionaries and by their service to the early church. All six of these women have much to teach us about the Biblical ideal of womanhood.
“Mary” in the New Testament is the Greek equivalent of the Old Testament Hebrew names “Miriam,” given to the sister of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 15:20-21), and “Mara,” the name Naomi adopted to reflect her great sorrow in bereavement (Ruth 1:20). The name means bitterness, sorrow, or trouble, reflecting the pain, grief and tribulation each woman bore, though in differing circumstances.
The root word of this name is the same as for the spice known as myrrh, a bitter, fragrant and costly herb. In symbolic terms, myrrh may represent the bitterness of childbirth, mandated by the curse of sin (Genesis 3:16); the joys of motherhood (Proverbs 23:22-25); and the priceless value of Biblical womanhood, exemplified by the Proverbs 31 woman.
Myrrh was one of the gifts presented to Jesus as a young child to symbolize that He came to die (Matthew 2:11); it was offered to Him on the cross (Mark 15:23); and it was used to anoint His body for burial (John 19:39-40). And yet it was also included in the holy anointing oil used in Old Testament worship (Exodus 30:23; Psalm 45:7-8); it purified women such as Queen Esther (Esther 2:12); and it perfumed the marriage bed. (Proverbs 7:17-18; Song of Solomon 1:13,3:6;4:14).
In keeping with Divine triplets in Scripture, there were three Marys present at the crucifixion of Jesus (John 19:25). Mary, mother of Jesus, came to the cross by submission to God’s calling her to carry His Son (Luke 1:28-38). Mary Magdalene came by Christ’s mercy as He freed her from demonic possession (Mark 16:19); and Mary of Cleophas came by her relationship with Christ’s followers, for she was the close relative of two disciples.
These three Marys present at the cross of Christ therefore represent the three-step process by which every born-again believer (John 3:3-8) comes to know Christ and places their faith in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6). First, we have some association with Christians who share the Gospel with us; then we ask Christ for His mercy to forgive us and spare us from eternal death that our sins deserve (Romans 3:23); and finally we submit to His perfect will for our life (James 4:7), all through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Praise God that He gave us victory (1 Corinthians 15:55-57) over sin, death and hell! Three Marys witnessed the evidence of His resurrection firsthand as they came to anoint His body at the tomb, only to find that He had risen! These three were Mary Magdalene (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10; John 20:1), Mary the mother of James (the “other Mary;” Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1), and the mother of Jesus, as one of the women that were with Mary Magdalene at the cross (Luke 24:10).
Each of these women has a unique story, yet with common themes that illustrate how we can lead lives pleasing to Lord Jesus Christ, as we shall see in subsequent posts. Like the three Marys, may we turn from the bitterness of sin to the joy of salvation and the blessings of serving Him!
© 2015 Laurie Collett