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He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. -Ephesians 1:4
It is very important to understand at the outset of this book that God can and will use anyone whose heart is fully yielded to Him. There will never be a time when God will pass over a child of His who is truly seeking to follow Him! But at times we can limit God through our perception of ourselves. Sometimes when we think about having a heritage of faith or a godly heritage, we are looking at it from a human perspective. When we are asked about our family or what type of heritage we have, we often think only of our immediate family or the people that we knew through the years. Many people, when pondering their background, naturally think about their parents and the parental relationship and influence over their lives. Some of us can look a little farther and see a loving and godly grandparent who has prayed faithfully for us. A few of us may not even know our family heritage because of extenuating circumstances. Maybe God has grafted you into another family. There are so many factors that can play a role in our heritage-but all of these things are too often limited by our human eyes.
God is not limited to our vision of the present or even the recent past! God can trace our lives all the way back to Adam. His view of heritage is far different from ours. God works in a much larger context for our life than most of us realize. What God places firmly in our heritage can often shape and influence our lives deeply. This is certainly true of Mary.
A HERITAGE OF REVIVAL
I (Henry) have often wondered why God seemed to have placed a constant burden in my life for a great revival-especially among native Indians in the nations of the United States and Canada when I was ten. Later in my life, as I meditated and stood before God, I was made aware of my heritage regarding revival and spiritual awakening. About five of my relatives on my father's side graduated from Spurgeon's college in England during a time of revival under the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Working alongside Spurgeon and others, they did church planting across England. In addition, my uncle and aunt were missionaries in Northern China, in Harbin and Manchuria, during the great Shantung revival. This same uncle baptized me and later became my pastor during the time of God's call on my life.
God has given me a heritage that included great hearts for revival. I also think about my layman father's godly life as a businessman and a church planter. He also had a sensitive heart cry for prayer and sought for many years to see a mighty movement of God in revival.
I now see my heritage in a different context. My family's spiritual heritage was to place in me a heart cry for both church planting and revival. I led our small church in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in western Canada to start thirty-eight new churches. And later I was asked to direct the office of prayer, revival, and spiritual awakening for our Home Mission Board (now known as the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, working to reach North America for Christ), and encourage our thousands of local churches to prepare and pray for revival. I have had the privilege of being present for a number of deep touches of God in revival. On the front edge of my life, to this day, is a heart cry for revival.
Everywhere I speak, I now urge believing Christians to stand before God and let Him show them the heritage He has placed in their lives. I pray that God would reveal to them how He has pressed specific tendencies or a spiritual theme in their families. I also pray that God would show each person how to honor the Lord and know what He is doing in and through their lives. And then I encourage them to live out this revelation, this heritage, faithfully to the glory of God.
A GODLY HERITAGE
Clearly, God uses any life that is fully committed to Him, regardless of culture, upbringing, and family heritage. Everyone is responsible for his or her own choices in life, and there are many examples in Scripture where God greatly used someone who had a difficult home life and many past mistakes. There are just as many examples of people who had a nearly perfect heritage who completely missed God and His work around them. In fact, it was John the Baptist who warned the multitudes in Luke 3:8-9: "Bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones."
So, although heritage is very important from God's perspective, being used by God is dependent on our obedience and love for the Lord. God's work in our lives is not limited by our background but by the decisions we make in our lives.
When we look at the heritage of having a Christian family, we look at the family members who are the most closely connected in our lives-parents, siblings, and sometimes grandparents and other close relations. Having that immediate Christian family brings specific blessings that are obvious and visible. When God begins to work in a child's life, He has a strong foundation on which to begin. Children who grow up with the love and security that should be found in the Christian home, who learn Bible verses and songs about Jesus, have a stronger foundation of belief and faith than those who have many struggles and challenges in their early years. The child who sees the love of God lived out daily in the life of the family does not question God's love when he encounters the Lord. There are far fewer barriers for this child to come to the Father with an open heart. As Christian parents, it is our job to walk carefully with the Lord and to be the daily example that would lead our children to Christ.
Most of us have no knowledge of the heritage that spans the centuries. This type of godly heritage is seen most clearly in the deliberate recording of Jesus' lineage in Matthew 1:1-17 and also in Luke 3:23-38. The fact that God traces Jesus' heritage back to "Adam, the son of God" (Luke 3:38) and to Abraham (Matt. 1:1) is very significant. God wanted all people to know that from the moment of creation, He was carefully watching over the heritage of the Messiah, which would in turn mean that God was carefully watching over the heritage of Mary and Joseph as well! For God's ultimate redemptive purpose, it was important that Jesus have that traceable heritage for all to see.
This type of historical heritage has always been important to God's people to establish the link back to the blessing and promises of God. Since God had promised back in Genesis 12 to bless the seed of Abraham, it was important to be able to trace one's family heritage within the line of Abraham. The Old Testament is filled with many passages relating to the lineage of people to validate their call in life, whether it was as a king, a prophet, or another leader of God's people. Many times in Scriptures we hear not just of Abraham, but of "Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph." The heritage of Abraham was passed on and received and lived out to the blessing of God's chosen people.
The Old Testament also places great importance on the line of David. When God chose David, He also chose all his succeeding generations. God promised that someone would always "sit on his throne." Not everyone who received this legacy from David lived it out. But Scripture mentions several who did. Second Chronicles 17:3 specifically mentions Jehoshaphat, 2 Chronicles 29:1-2 talks about the life of Hezekiah, and 2 Chronicles 34:1-2 tells us of the walk of Josiah. All are traced back to the faithfulness of King David. It is equally important to note that there are actually more kings listed from the line of David who did not follow in the godly heritage, but did evil in the sight of the Lord. Some examples are Ahaz (2 Chron. 28:1), Manasseh (2 Chron. 33:1-2), Amon (2 Chron. 33:21-22), and Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin (2 Chron. 36:5-10).
The New Testament continues to place importance on lineage. Along with the detailed account of Jesus' heritage, Zacharias's heritage is mentioned as having Abijah, a Levite priest of Nehemiah's day (Luke 1:5), and Elizabeth is of the lineage of Aaron, a significant priest in the beginning of the covenant people (also in Luke 1:5).
Mary was one who had a strong and solid foundation in her life. For her to have responded so completely with trust and faith in the Lord shows that she was well-grounded in the Scriptures at a young age. Mary's response in her "Magnificat" song in Luke 1:46-55 shows her deep understanding and training in the ways God has worked both historically and powerfully through His chosen people. (We will discuss this in greater detail in chapter 7.)
She came from the tribe of Judah and was also greatly influenced from the priestly lineage of Levi, which traditionally was always seeking to obey and fulfill the Law. It is important to understand her heritage as we seek to know how God could trust her at such a young age with the assignment of bearing the Savior of the world.
We first discover Mary's life when we read about her encounter with the angel Gabriel, who was sent by God to announce the blessing of Christ's birth (Luke 1:26-27). God, however, had been planning Mary's life and her contribution to His redemptive plan since the beginning of time. Ephesians 1:4 tell us, "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love."
God could have chosen anyone, any place, and any time to fulfill His plan of salvation. He could have chosen to use someone who was from an honored city like Jerusalem. Jerusalem had long been the center for God's chosen people, yet the city with the great temple was passed over. At the very least, it would seem logical that God would choose someone from the region of Judea. Yet God bypassed Judea, the region of the great kings and the city of His historical blessing, and instead chose a simple girl from a simple family in Galilee. He selected the city of Nazareth, which, at that time, was seen as one of the most corrupt cities to be found in that entire region. This is what prompted the statement by Nathanael in John 1:46 after hearing that Philip found the Messiah-Jesus of Nazareth: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"
For Nathanael, this was a valid question. The city of Nazareth, now thought to have had around fifteen thousand people, was sitting near the crossroads of two great highways. These roads were frequented by many travelers, including Roman soldiers and Greek merchants who did not carry the same values and morals as God's people. Was there anything good in Nazareth? Yes! God was at work in a life that was prepared to follow Him in obedience! God is not limited by location, environment, cultural climate, or our expectations.
Mary was a simple, ordinary young woman who was chosen by God for an extraordinary moment in history. She is considered by many scholars to have been around the age of fourteen. As with all girls in those days, Mary was taught the duties of a mother and homemaker from an early age. Her parents had done their best to secure her future and had betrothed her to a man named Joseph, who came from the house of David (Matt. 1:1-16). God has always linked believers together (2 Cor. 6:14). Although girls typically were not formally educated, it is clear that Mary's parents taught her about the Scriptures and her duties and responsibilities to God. Her love and obedience to the Lord were evident in her initial response to His messenger, which revealed a pattern of obedience and a heart that was pure before the Lord. In the early years of her marriage, there were also many examples of how Mary and Joseph sought to fulfill the Law, and even in Jesus' early years He was instructed in the importance of going to the temple.
Although there are not many passages relating to Mary's heritage, we can see that she was brought up in the fear and love of God by godly parents. We would like to take a look at what the Scripture does include about Mary's family, specifically her cousin Elizabeth.
OUR FAMILY'S HERITAGE
Little did I (Henry) realize that my uncle and aunt's time in China during the great Shantung revival would impact me greatly. The Shantung revival, where several hundred thousand people came to know the Lord in a personal way, deeply impacted China and many other nations of the world. This new understanding of revival would help confirm to me God's assignment in my life for revival and spiritual awakening in our day. God continues to use my family in my life.
The influence of heritage on many is well documented. I meet this regularly as I travel throughout the country speaking to different groups of people. All of my children are now actively involved in Christian ministry, and I see this surfacing in our grandchildren. The influence of their heritage on each of them is humbling to see.
Being aware of this, my wife, Marilynn, and I seek earnestly to leave a strong Christian legacy for our children. Several things in our lives seem to be evidenced in our children, whether they like it or not! The love of music, books, and missions; the love for God's people; wanting to disciple others-these are just a few things that have always been important in our lives.
I tremble to see some of our weaknesses that also influence our children. Our heritage includes both the positive and the negative.
I see many adults being careless in their influence on the next generation: obsessions with money, material things, career choices, prestige, pride, sports, etc. Most of these are not bad in and of themselves. But when these are the dominant traits in their lives, to the hindering of the will of God, misplaced priorities are seen as well in their children. Seeing this error later in life becomes a grief and burden to parents when they do not seem to be able to influence their children in the things of God. They had set their own hearts and lives in other directions, and their children followed in their paths.
We must always take great care with our walk with the Lord, trusting in His promise to help and care for us along the way. The Bible gives us some clear direction for our lives on this aspect of how the Lord provides spiritual and even physical preparation.
The apostle Peter was so essential to the early Christian movement. After the Resurrection, Jesus stopped and took extra time with Peter, trying to prepare him for what he would face. Peter needed to have no doubt in his love for the Lord and in his assignment to feed the flock that would soon come to know the Lord. Peter's stand for his faith in Christ would be the cornerstone for the new church, and Jesus sought to prepare him for the cost that would be involved. Peter's first reaction was to compare what the Lord had told him about Peter's own future to what was in store for John. He asked, "But Lord, what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me" (John 21:21-22).
There is an inherent danger when we take our eyes off Jesus and begin comparing our lives to others. Did Jesus love John more than Peter? No! But they did have different assignments from the Lord.
Our circumstances, environment, family life, health-none of these things should be a gauge for understanding God's love for us. Does God love some people more because He gives them a Christian home while others have a miserable family life? No! There are many examples today of women who went through very difficult experiences early in life. Yet because they allowed the Lord to help see them through it, they grew in the Lord in ways that others do not. Although no one would wish for a difficult situation, some aspects of God's mercy, grace, forgiveness, and compassion can be understood no other way. If you have not had a godly heritage, look to the Lord and trust Him to use your difficult experience to bless and encourage others. A godly heritage can start with you! If you do have a godly heritage, thank the Lord for what He has given you now, and look to see how He will use that in your life and the lives of your children.
Excerpted from Prepared to be God's Vessel by HENRY BLACKABY CARRIE BLACKABY WEBB Copyright © 2007 by Henry Blackaby and Carrie Blackaby Webb. Excerpted by permission.
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