I was a teenage girl when I first heard God calling my name, so I’ve always been drawn to the story of God calling Mary, a teenage girl, to become the mother of the Messiah.
I’m still intrigued at Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel in Luke 1:26-38, where his first words to her are, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary found his words troubling, and puzzled over his greeting. Gabriel made sure she hadn’t missed a key point by repeating, “you have found favor with God.” I love her chutzpah! She boldly asked how she, a virgin, would give birth to the Son of the Most High. When the explanation came, she offered herself fully to cooperate with God’s desire: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
Why did God favor Mary? What about this particular young woman pleased him and caused him to entrust her with an enormous and costly mission? She was poor, young and female. Why would God’s cosmic plan require someone like Mary?
From the way the story unfolds, it’s clear that Mary knew herself and she knew her Lord. From this first encounter, she intuited that she had a choice in the matter and willingly stepped into the role God invited her to play, even as she identified herself as a servant.
She soon visited Elizabeth, and prophesied an expansive vision:
“My soul praises the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.” (Luke 1:46b-49; 52 NIV)
This prophecy, often referred to as the Magnificat and envisioned as a song, reveals something wonderful about Mary. She rises to praise God and rejoices in her Savior, recognizing that God has been mindful of her humble state. God saw her humility and granted her favor.
“From now on all generations will call me blessed” may sound boastful, as if she’s envisioning eternal fame for herself. But read it carefully. No, she’s not relishing the thought of all generations being impressed with her; she’s celebrating that all generations will recognize how blessed she is to have been the recipient of the Mighty One’s great things. All will see that God brings down rulers from their thrones but exalts the humble, and that’s worth boasting about! She is among the humble who are lifted up by God.
The essence of humility is rightly understanding ourselves in relation to God and others. Mary shows true humility by welcoming God’s call and answering yes. She doesn’t hold back in false humility but steps up to fulfill an amazing role for the glory of God.
As God has entrusted me with wonderful responsibilities in his kingdom, I’ve lived in awe that this gracious God would choose me. I’ve lived the dream—the dream of participating with God in blessing and healing this world he loves. With each succeeding privilege of service in God’s church, I’ve been more deeply humbled to recognize that my Lord has stooped down to lift me up, for his honor and glory.
One of the most hilarious and humbling moments of my life happened a few months ago. Shortly after having been elected a bishop in the Free Methodist Church USA, I was in Brazil for a global Free Methodist gathering. When the Brazilian bishop announced that for the first time in our 160-year history we have a female bishop, the crowd went wild! They roared—shouted, high-fived, jumped up and embraced one another and danced in the aisles. It was crazy! I could hardly believe their enthusiasm.
After the event ended, dozens of Brazilian men and women asked to take selfies with me. Women wept for joy. Young men exclaimed, “This changes everything for our wives, our daughters, our granddaughters!” I realized in that moment that surrendering to God throughout my life, echoing Mary’s words, “I am the Lord’s servant; let it be to me as you have said” is being used now to encourage others and pave the way for important changes. Barriers to the full participation of women in the leadership of God’s church will not fall quickly or easily, but my election brought hope that one day Brazil’s Free Methodist Church will elevate women to roles appropriate to their gifts and calling.
What an honor to allow God to position me where he wants! What a gift to be God’s servant! Who am I to be given the privilege of representing my sisters around the world? Now it was my turn to cry tears of overwhelming gratitude. In that moment of exaltation, God allowed me to experience my deepest humility.
In July 2019, Linda Adams became the first woman to be elected as a Bishop for the Free Methodist Church USA, serving the North and North Central United States and overseeing Latin America. Prior to her election, Linda served the Free Methodist Church as Director of International Child Care Ministries (ICCM) for eleven years. ICCM is a child sponsorship initiative serving approximately 20,000 children in 33 countries around the world. Before taking up leadership of ICCM, she served churches in Michigan, Illinois and New York. Linda is earned her Master of Divinity (1991) and Doctor of Ministry (2000) degrees from Asbury Theological Seminary.