We all know the Christmas story and most of us are familiar with the events that led up to that wonderful, blessed, and holy night. We know how the angel Gabriel appeared to a young girl named Mary and informed her that she would be the earthly vessel that God would use to bring His Son into a lost and dying world.
We are told in Luke chapter 1 that this confused Mary. How could she become a mother when she was still a virgin?
Some of you may have a similar story where you knew God was directing you to something beyond what humanly made sense. As a result of following God, you became a first hand witness to God’s amazing love, grace, and power
However for many of us, we have only witnessed that life of faith and obedience from afar. We have, to this point, remained comfortable in our Christian life, not ever doing something drastic that did not make logical sense. Sure we exhibit a measure of faith from time to time and we occasionally are witness to God’s supernatural provision. But how often do we step out in faith and trust God for the impossible?
That was part of a discussion we recently had in the small group that I’m a part of. And that left me wondering how do we know when God is asking us to step out of our comfort zone and believe Him for greater things? On the one hand, it is easy to say that God always wants us out of our comfort zone and relying on Him. Not only is that very spiritual sounding, but it’s very true. However, I think we all agree that this is not the same for every person. For some, it might be selling everything and moving to a third world country. For others, it might be leaving a job they have been comfortable in to pursue something else. It may be starting your own business, always a risky endeavor. Or perhaps for you, it is beginning a new ministry. Whatever it is, my question has always been how do you know if it is God calling you to step out in faith or if it is merely an emotional ideal or something we think we are supposed to do as our next step in our spiritual maturity.
I’ve always marveled at God’s Word, the Bible. It is almost uncanny how that each time I go through some questioning in my life, the answers are found in whatever part of the Bible I am studying at the time. Or on this case, being only a few days before Christmas, in the story that everyone is hearing at this time of year.
As I once again read Luke 1, I tried to imagine what Mary must have been feeling. Here she was a young woman with her whole life in front of her. I’m sure she had her plans all laid out. She was going to marry Joseph in a great traditional Jewish wedding feast and they would settle into their life and live unobtrusively in the house that maybe Joseph himself had built. They would have kids and friends and live a life of peace and relative comfort.
But all that changed the night Gabriel came to visit. “You will conceive and give birth to a son. But not just any son. He will be God on Earth. Mary, not only is your life going to be turned upside down, but the whole destiny of the world is about to be rocked.”
When God steps in and wants to alter our destiny, it is for reasons that are far bigger than just ourselves. Too often we get caught up in an introspective view of God’s will and we miss the bigger picture of what God is doing. I hate to be the one to break the bad news to you. But quite simply, when God does ask you to do something big and drastic, stepping out of your comfort zone, it’s not primarily for your happiness, security, and prosperity. In fact it might not even lead to any of those.
It surely didn’t do that for Mary. Do you think in her time and her culture that Mary’s pregnancy before she was married was an easy, happy, secure, and prosperous time? Not a chance. She was shamed, scorned, and ridiculed. Yet she endured it all with joy in her heart because she did not focus on herself, but the greater good that was being given to the world.
What about us? How do we know when God wants to use us for the greater good? Mary had the constant reminder in the ever growing baby bump that God was at work. But we don’t have that constant reassurance in the form of a baby bump that God is working. How do we know that we didn’t fabricate the idea to step out on faith in any particular area. We don’t have that same constant reminder that Mary had.
Or do we? Whereas Mary had God the Son living inside her as a constant reminder that God was doing something special through her, those of us who are followers of Christ have God, the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us as a constant comfort and reminder that God is working inside us.
However, as we examine Mary’s encounter with Gabriel, I believe we learn some deeper truths that help answer the questions as to how we know when God is asking us to step out on faith and move way beyond our comfort zone.
“How can this happen?” Mary asked Gabriel. “I am a virgin.”
We often ask God that same question. We feel that He is asking us to do something out of the ordinary, to step out of our comfort zone of life, and step out on faith. Sometimes that step we feel God is asking us to take just doesn’t make sense. “God how can this happen? How can I do what you are asking me to do? How can my family survive when we are giving up a guaranteed income? How can I step into this ministry when I don’t have the background or the training for it? How? How? How?”
In Luke 1:35, Gabriel responded to Mary’s question with the same answer that centuries later God is giving to us. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
When God calls you to step out of your everyday life and do something uncommon that humanly speaking doesn’t make sense, that call is always followed by the Holy Spirit touching your life in a way that cannot be denied. We learn from Mary that when God touches our lives, He changes our plans, our passion, and our purpose.
Mary’s plans for her life changed drastically when God touched her life. Now she was pregnant and in many ways became the outcast of her society for getting pregnant before she was married. Her plans for a happy, comfortable, normal life changed the instant God touched her.
Many of us struggle with stepping out of our comfort zone to do something radical for God because it goes against the plans we have made for our lives. That’s a natural reaction and a natural reason to question whether what we think God is saying is actually what we are supposed to do. There is nothing wrong with being sure about something before you change your lifelong plans. However, once we know this is what God is directing, then we must accept the fact that God is changing our plans. However, just as Mary’s plans were changed so that the Son of God would come to Earth to save the world, God has a greater plan to accomplish by changing our plans.
When God touches our lives, He changes our passion. When Mary heard everything that Gabriel had told her, she responded by saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” In that instant her passion had changed. Not only did she now know what God wanted from her, but she now wanted it too. When we get to the point in our lives that we are willing to take that step and get out of our comfort zone, it will not be something we do begrudgingly because God will have changed our passion. We will now want it too. Those things that excited us before, those things that we took comfort in, and those things that we held on to for security, will fade away in the midst of a new passion.
Some of you have experienced what I am talking about. You have taken that step of faith and though there may still be at times some apprehension (don’t think for a minute that Mary did not have her moments of apprehension and feelings of inadequacy), you have felt that assurance that you were doing the right thing and you had an almost unexplained passion and excitement for what God was going to do. I know my family is going through those feelings right now in an area we believe God has called us to step out in faith. For those of you who know me well, you also know that this is a complete change in what I have believed in (not talking about a doctrinal thing). Yet, I feel a new passion and assurance that this step of faith is exactly what God wants us to do. As a result, I am excited to see how God is going to move and provide.
Finally, we learn from Mary, that when God touches our lives, He changes our purpose. No longer was she only going to be Mary, the wife of Joseph the carpenter. She was now going to be Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. Her whole purpose in life took a drastic change and her destiny would never be the same.
What is your purpose in life? Is it just to exist from day to day, not really making a difference in the world? God doesn’t call everyone to be a preacher or a missionary, but I do believe He calls everyone to make a difference in some positive way in their world. I know many of you are making that difference. But I also know for some of us that God is directing us to get out of our comfort zone, take a step of faith, and let God change, redirect, or focus our purpose in life.
What is God asking you to do? He asked Mary to be the instrument He used to bring His Son into the world. As a result, her plans, her passion, and her purpose were completely changed and the destiny of the world fell into God’s plans. If God is asking you to step out of your comfort zone and take a step of faith, then you don’t have to worry whether or not He is directing your or not. He will touch your life in a special way and your plans, your passion, and your purpose WILL also change. Are you ready to fall into line with God’s direction?
In closing let me leave you with the same words that Gabriel left with Mary. Luke 1:37 says, “For the Word of God will never fail.” Dare to trust God and take Him at His Word. He will not fail you.
Have a Merry Christmas and in these final days of the year may God surround you with His love, fill you with His grace, and capture your heart.