“Full surrender…is not giving up this thing and that, but the deliberate giving up of my right to my individual self. As long as we are slaves to our ideas of individuality we distort the presentation of our Lord’s teaching about discipleship.” -Oswald Chambers
This past week my Gospel Project Sunday School class looked at the Annunciation – when the angel announced to Mary that she would bear the Messiah. The lesson included this quote by Oswald Chambers, as we considered who Mary was and how she responded. Mary was young, probably a teenager, and probably poor. Mary would learned how to keep a home from her own mother. She also would have learned traditions of the Jewish faith in the same way, but she wouldn’t have had any formal religious education. At the time when Mary lived, God hadn’t spoken to His people for 400 years! For historical reference, the King James Version Bible was first published about 400 years ago from today. So imagine that the last time any new revelation had come was with the King James Bible!
However, when the angel came to Mary, she responded with faith. She first asks how it is possible, but her question is not out of disbelief, but out of confusion. When the angel explained how she would become pregnant, she responded with, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38), and she went on to sing a song of praise to God for His goodness and mercy.
Despite what was lacking in Mary’s religious training, she immediately submitted herself to God, and to His plan, despite the difficulty. Surely Mary knew that this would bring great hardship into her life. A young Jewish girl pregnant out of wedlock could be stoned! But even if her family had mercy on her and chose not to stone her, she would be disgraced. Her whole life would be marked by this event. Yet, Mary praised God for His goodness to her. Mary seemed to have an intuitive understanding that God’s plan was so much greater than her own life – that the momentary trouble it would bring would pale in comparison to the redemption that was coming.
This kind of radical submission is the calling of the Christian life. As Oswald Chambers said, we are not called to give up specific and individual things, but we are called to give up our very selves. Our culture tells us that our individuality is the most important thing that we have. We must find who we are, assert ourselves, and fight for our rights to do so. Interestingly, Chambers says that we become slaves to our ideas of individuality. In the end, individuality makes life a struggle – a struggle to maintain rights, to demand respect, to achieve recognition.
But in discipleship, God calls us to give up those rights. We take on a different kind of struggle. God’s “wonderful plan for our lives” looks less like prosperity and more like bringing in the kingdom of God. We look beyond our individual circumstances to see God’s plan for the world and we step into hardship in order to be part of this plan. Mary is not remembered for her individuality – a modern heroine might stand strong against social ills of her day and fight for her right to bear a child out of wedlock. Instead, she is remembered for her grace and submission in difficult circumstances.
We can look to Mary as an example of submission, even in our modern day lives. Our Christian lives may be marked by difficulty, but we continue to submit ourselves to Christ because we recognize that God’s plan is greater than our individual lives, and our suffering is part of His plan. Our truest freedom comes through our full surrender to God.
Picture by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=155990