Finding God’s Will in Humility
Transcribed sermon by Fr Samuel Fanous
Passage: Luke 1:26-38
What is God’s will and how do I accept His will in my life? The story of the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus Christ to Saint Mary is a beautiful and practical answer to this question that many of us have asked. God could have chosen a multitude of ways to send His Son to the earth, yet He chose St Mary, of all the billions of people. The Annunciation gospel gives us a glimpse into why she was the greatest of all time.
The Archangel Gabriel greets her saying, “Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28)
What a greeting this was! Saint Mary lived in the temple so we can presume that she lived and breathed the Scriptures. At the appearance of the angel with a greeting as such, surely she would have known that big news was coming.
When the angel appeared to Gideon in the Old Testament to tell him that he would conquer an army of ten thousand with 300 men, he said, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valour”(Judges 6:12). In the seemingly impossible, the assurance of this phrase was more than enough. Again, when God spoke to Moses to guide the Israelites out of the Egypt, He greets him saying, “I will certainly be with you” (Exodus 3:12).
In this moment, St Mary would have known that when the phrase, “the Lord is with you,”is used that a great mission and a great honour is to come, but this is not without suffering. St Mary was troubled at this greeting, she was twelve years old and spent her life praying in the temple and expected to live the rest of her life similarly.
The angel is now telling her that God has more planned for her. In her supreme humility, Mary is troubled because she can’t see how something so great will be achieved by someone so insignificant. Sometimes, we exercise false humility when we turn down a service because we’re not worthy, or we don’t think we’re good enough. This is very different to what St Mary says for her humility was sincere. She was troubled internally by the great responsibility but she knew that it was not her who was achieving this great act, but God.
She could have said, “No, I can’t do it, this is too much for me. I’m just a sinful person, how can I carry Jesus Christ?”But St Mary did not look to herself, she looked to God. It was not a matter of her unworthiness but God’s worthiness. She was not the one enacting the miracle but God was. She was simply the vessel, and that is the greatest display of humility that we hear when she says, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”
The first step to humility is recognising that no one is worthy. If there is any good within us, we don’t deny it but attribute it to the goodness of God. If I’m smart, I know that God gave me intelligence. If I’m good looking, I know that it was God that created me that way. Humility is not to say that I am the worst person and there is nothing good in me – that is all lip service. True humility is knowing that anything we have cannot be ascribed to ourselves. It can only be ascribed to God.
St Mary asks a question that may sound like she is doubting what the angel is saying when she says, “How can this be since I do not know a man?”
Zachariah asks a similar question, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years,”and is rebuked and made mute until the birth of his son, but St Mary is praised. There is a subtle difference however, Zachariah’s question is almost asking the angel to prove himself, while Mary is asking how it will happen. Mary is saying, “I believe you, explain it to me, if I have taken a vow of virginity, how shall I fall pregnant?”
Mary was filled with faith, which Zachariah was lacking. Her faith was one of the reasons why she was the greatest that ever lived. She placed her trust completely in the Lord, and we see glimpses of St Mary as an enigma in the gospel. Later when the wise men and shepherds come to Bethlehem to see Jesus, St Mary doesn’t say much, but ponders these things in her heart. Her entire life was devoted to serving God, with very little thought into the part she played. Many of our own problems stem from the fact that we are firmly attached to our own will. God cannot penetrate a heart that is instant on its own will. God gave us freewill and will not fight us for what’s best for us, we need to want His will above our own.
No matter what happened to St Mary, she pondered these things in her heart and said, “let it be according to Your Word.” She may not have understood what was happening but that was not a concern, for she was the clay in the Potter’s hand. No one could accomplish the will of God quite like St Mary, for she was the most obedient in existence.
How did she attain such faith and obedience? Because she had spent her life in the temple, pondering the Word of God. She lived with Jesus, the Son God for 30 years, she experienced Him and she pondered His words in her heart.
We live differently. We live outside the Word God. We live outside of a relationship with God and we have agendas that we are trying to complete. For some, it’s their career, for others it’s their lifestyle, their happiness or their families. We all have an agenda and when God’s will presents itself before me, I am forced to make a decision – will I follow God’s will or will I follow my own?
When you’ve lived your entire life satisfying your own will, it becomes nearly impossible to choose God’s will rather than your own will. For example, I know that it is God’s will for me to live in harmony with others and harbour no hatred in my heart, but there may be a grudge that I’m holding against someone. For as long as that grudge stands, I choose to put God’s will aside for my own.
God’s will be for me to spend time with Him in prayer, but that conflicts with my desire for sleep and my fatigue. So again, God’s will must be put to one side. There’s a conflict in our hearts night and day between my will and God’s will, and every time I give in to my own will, I am making it stronger. I entrench it further and it becomes more and more to see clearly.
If God asks you for something, surrender yourself to His will, just like St Mary who didn’t know what was to come. If you are called to serve, surrender yourself to His will and do it not because you are great, but because you are simply a vessel that will carry greatness.
So how do we know God’s will? Do we expect that we’re going to get a letter from Heaven to say take this job, or marry this girl? It will never happen that way. We can only know God’s will in our life when we subject ourselves to His will in the small things.
When you don’t want to pray and you pray anyway that is subjecting yourself to God’s will, or when you don’t want to fast, or serve, or forgive, and you do it anyway, you strengthen the will of God in the little things. God’s will then grow in your life and it becomes easy to recognize that the steps you are taking are in line with God’s will. If you’ve lived your own will your whole life but then want to get married, how will you ever know, if you have not lived God’s will?
Let us learn to live our lives like St Mary, as a vessel for the Master’s use so that His will becomes clear in my life in the little things so that the big things are under His control entirely.