Part 17: Driving the Lesson Home

Letters on Spiritual Formation #17

Driving the Lesson Home

This is article is part of a series of letters on spiritual growth and maturity. To read the previous letter in the series, click here.


no Straight answers

When I would ask my father questions about the bible or theology, he would never give me a straight answer. He would maybe give a couple of thoughts, point out a verse or two, and then leave it at that. What I slowly learned was that he was giving me enough to lead me in the right direction, while at the same time allowing me to find the answer for myself. Whenever I found the answers I was looking for, they were mine. They weren’t my fathers, they were my own. I’m positive he could have told me in the moment what the answer was, but my quest to find the answer on my own caused whatever truth I was seeking to sink that much deeper into myself. I owned it.

I believe it is the same way with God. He allows situations to arise, pain to increase, dissonance to increase, all to prepare us to value the moment he will visit us with the truth we need to hear. The problem is we habitually turn our back and run the other way. If we dive into the gut-wrenching moments of pain that we encounter, God will use these circumstances in incredibly formative ways.

In fact, we can look at the example of Mary and Martha in John 11 for some insight.

The example of Mary & Martha

Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha had died and had been buried in a tomb for four days. Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick along the way. The bible claims that Jesus actually waited around two full extra days before he came. Imagine the pain of Mary and Martha. Jesus loved them very much and was very attentive to them. His ability to heal the sick had made him incredibly popular. It would only have been natural to assume that he would come running when he found out someone he cared for so deeply was suffering so greatly. Mary and Martha must have been bitterly disappointed when their brother passed away.

When word comes to Mary and Martha that Jesus was drawing near Martha went running out to where he was and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Martha went on to have a distinctly theological discussion with Jesus, and left all the more confused because of it. But the bible says something fascinating about Mary in the midst of this:

“So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.” John 11:20

Martha went running to ask Jesus why he didn’t come heal her brother, Mary waited. In fact, it wasn’t until Jesus called to her that she spoke with him.

“When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’  And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there.” John 11:28-31

Amazingly, in the midst of her pain Mary waited until Jesus reached out to her. In fact, as far as we know, she sat the whole time. This is maturity in the midst of pain.

Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” John 11:32-33

Mary said the same thing Martha had to Jesus but had an entirely different conversation. Martha wanted to know why Jesus had not intervened in her painful situation, Mary turned to him in her pain. In the verse famous for being the shortest verse in the bible, Mary’s heart moved the heart of Jesus to tears

“Jesus wept.” John 11:35

The next time we see Mary is in the following chapter and we are shown one of the most extravagant displays of worship in the whole bible:

“Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” John 12:3

The painful situation Mary walked through drove her to this intense display of love for Jesus. Her pain became a fragrance of worship that impacted everyone in that room, and then, throughout history.

Continue Reading Part 18…