Joy to the World: The Surprising Way of Love (Luke 1–2)
by Mike Bickle
3 months ago
When the Father sent Jesus to the earth, He released the angels to proclaim in the sky His glorious plan to fill the earth with peace and goodwill for His people.
There was . . . a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ”Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:13–14)
Yes, the Father has a glorious plan for the earth, the nations, and for our life, that will bring great joy to the world. But one of the keys to that is the way people respond to His leadership.
When we think of “joy to the world,” we think of the Christmas story. And we’re so familiar with the Christmas story and so familiar with the story of Mary’s life that we’ve ended up looking at them through sentimentality. And we sanitize the stories.
Mary had remarkable supernatural encounters—a visit from the archangel Gabriel, prophetic dreams, and more. But when we read her story at face value, we see that she had tremendous challenges, setbacks, and difficulties that are not often highlighted. Mary’s story is meant to be read as a model of how to steward the favor of God—of how to respond to God’s leadership while He is releasing His favor in our life.
When we think of Mary, we think of the famous event that happened when Gabriel appeared to her to declare that she was highly favored by the Lord and blessed among women.
[Gabriel] said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28)
If anybody was under a banner of God’s favor, it was Mary. And she responded to His leadership in a remarkable way. So, what does a life that has the favor of God on it look like? Mary had the most remarkable prophetic history of anyone besides Jesus Himself. When she was about 18 years old (maybe a little bit younger, we’re not sure), she experienced several supernatural encounters related to God’s calling on her life and how He was going to use her.
The angel of the Lord spoke to the shepherds about the birth of Jesus, and the shepherds told Mary what had happened (Luke 2:8–20). That surely touched her heart in a deep way. And I’m guessing, because Mary was just a young woman, she might’ve thought, “Wow! This is going to be amazing, even fun. This is going to be a blessed life.” And the Lord would say, “Yes, but not exactly like you’re thinking.”
Mary said yes to the Lord and trusted His leadership. But she did it in the face of surprising setbacks with hardships throughout her life, including painful false accusations against her character. She was mistreated even by the people of God. But she stayed steady.
Just like Mary, we must choose to trust God’s leadership in how He releases His promises in our life; they are often fulfilled in a way and at a time that differ greatly from what we expect. Often delayed, God’s promises are progressively released, stage by stage, in the context of difficulties that cause us to cling to the Lord in a way that helps us to grow in love and humility. Many of God’s promises are released partially in this age and will be fulfilled in fullness in the age to come. This often causes us to need to realign our heart in agreement with God’s perfect and loving leadership, thereby causing love to mature in us. Mary believed that God was using her to change history, but this was not the same as her becoming mature in love and humility. Throughout her life, she often had to choose faith and obedience that expressed her love and humility.
Take a moment and consider the challenges and pains that Mary faced. First, Joseph and others in her “youth group” in Nazareth assumed that she was lying about how she had become pregnant. We know that the rumors about her pregnancy lasted over 30 years. The Pharisees in Jerusalem reminded Jesus that “they were not born of fornication,” thus implying that He was—since they had all heard the rumors about Mary’s youthful fornication associated with Jesus’ birth (John 8:41). At some point in her story, her husband, Joseph, died, leaving her a widow with at least five children (Matthew 13:55). Jesus’ four brothers did not believe in Him during His early ministry, which means that they did not believe their mother’s story about Jesus’ birth (John 7:5). The family situation with Mary’s other four sons was challenging enough to lead Jesus to entrust Mary to his disciple John instead of His brothers (John 19:26–27). And then she suffered the anguish of watching her firstborn son put to death on the cross.
And the Lord did choose Mary for the indescribable privilege of giving birth to Jesus and raising Him. But she probably did not at that time understand the implications of the prophecy that Simeon gave her about a sword piercing her soul.
Then Simeon . . . said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34–35)
She probably was not aware that the Lord was jealous to develop her character in a deep way in the fires of affliction as a part of being favored by Him. He was doing two things at once in His grand plan over her life.
We know Romans 8:28 so well, but I want us to pay close attention to it.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. (Romans 8:28–29)
We have all heard over and over that “all things work together for good to those who love God” and embrace God’s purpose for their life. Notice what Paul said about God’s purpose for our life in verse 29, “to be conformed to the image of His Son.” In essence, Paul is saying: “Let me tell you what God’s purpose is. Yes, He’s going to use you. Yes, He’s going to bless you in various ways in this age, but His ultimate purpose is that you would be transformed into the image of Christ”—in a summary sentence: to become mature in love and humility.
Well, God’s plan for our life includes Him blessing us and using us for the advancement of His kingdom. And He is also deeply committed to seeing us grow in godly character. Think about it, the only thing that He gives eternal rewards for or that we bring with us from this life to the age to come is our godly character and actions—our growth in love, humility, generosity, servanthood, etc. We don’t bring our bank accounts. We don’t bring our social media footprint. We don’t bring our properties, trophies, or awards. We only bring what we’ve developed in love and humility with the Lord.
We often get captured by God’s plan and promises to use us and bless us. And we lose sight of the fact that He is deeply committed to developing our character to express Christlikeness. And sometimes we get stuck on one track: “God, bless me, use me. Bless me, use me.” And the Lord’s response is: “I am, but I’m also developing you.” When we stand before the Lord on the last day and all the information is out on the table, we’ll see how important it was that He led us in a way that developed our love and humility. And we will be so grateful for it on that day!
Yet in this hour, we pray: “Oh Lord, go a little easier.” And He asks us, “Do you really want Me to? Because when you see how valuable that love and humility will be forever, you will be grateful that I developed you. I didn’t just use you and bless your circumstances.”
The Lord wants us to understand there’s a bigger storyline than Him using us and blessing our circumstances. He is conforming us. He’s working on something we’re not paying much attention to. He’s bringing us forth into new dimensions of love. God has created the optimum environment for our life so that we can grow in love and humility.
Everything, everything will work together for good. The mystery. The setbacks. The surprising difficulties. The delay of provision. The delay of God’s promises unfolding. Even our own failures—when we respond to Him in our failure and give ourselves to Him and set our heart to love Him. When we commit to God’s purpose for us, He uses our failures to kind of ricochet back to conform us in love and humility.
Some of God’s promises for our life are released only partially in this age and in fullness in the age to come. They are often fulfilled in a way and at a time that are very different from what we expect. And of all we see is this life. But our story is bigger than this life.
One of the most quoted phrases in the Bible is “the Lord is good.” That is the declaration. The Word says the Lord’s mercy or faithful/steadfast love endures. When everything else is left behind, God’s love over our lives will be proven true. And we want to declare that each step of the way. And we have to if we’re going to grow in love and humility. Because often the obstacles are so intense, so surprising, and so discouraging! And the Devil says, “God forgot you. You’re disqualified. He doesn’t care about you. The whole thing’s a lie. Your life is worthless.” But we say, “The Lord is good. His leadership is perfect. His steadfast love will outrun all of my problems. It will endure. It will outrun all of my despair. It will outlast all my failures. That is my story. That is my declaration. And that’s the banner I’m going to live under.” And that’s the story of Mary’s life.
Over what areas of your life do you need to proclaim, “The Lord is good”?
This blog was taken from Mike Bickle’s message Joy to the World: Trusting the Father’s Leadership. If this resonated with you, consider watching his full message on our website.
Mike Bickle is the founder of the International House of Prayer, an evangelical missions organization based on 24/7 prayer with worship. He is also the founder of International House of Prayer University, which includes full-time ministry, music, and media schools.
Mike’s teaching emphasizes growing in passion for Jesus through intimacy with God, doing evangelism and missions work from the place of night-and-day prayer, and the end times. He is the author of several books, including Growing in Prayer, Passion for Jesus, God’s Answer to the Growing Crisis, Growing in the Prophetic, and Prayers to Strengthen Your Inner Man. Mike and his wife, Diane, have two married sons and six grandchildren.