Luke 10:38-42; John 12:1-11

The story of Mary follows on from that of Anna in the previous study. Mary probably saw Jesus regularly during the three years or so that He toured around the country with His disciples, preaching and teaching. From John's gospel, it is clear that He regarded her family as His friends. (John 11:5) Luke's gospel tells the story of the first time that Jesus went to their home and we read that, "Mary seated herself at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching". (Luke 10:39) Just like Anna, Mary chose to spend time with Jesus to the exclusion of everything else. However, when her brother, Lazarus, died suddenly and Jesus hadn't made it back to their house in time to intervene, Mary was in shock and unsure of how to react. When Jesus eventually arrived, it was her sister, Martha, who went to greet Him first and Mary "stayed at home". (John 11:20) There she was surrounded by friends and neighbours who had come to console and comfort her and, for a while, her priorities were divided: go to Jesus or stay and mourn her brother.

In this study, we're going to look a little deeper into what it means to develop an intimate, personal relationship with the living God. At the same time, we shall see that events can throw us off course occasionally and we need to be ready to put His agenda first and not our own.

Sitting at His feet

  • Mary knew what it was like to sit at Jesus’ feet - to adore and worship Him.
  • Mary knew how to respond to the draw of the Holy Spirit and make Jesus the priority of the day.
  • Mary knew Jesus well enough to know the kind of service that He would need at any particular time.
  • Mary knew that serving was not as important as knowing Jesus closely. (Titus 1:16)
  • Mary was willing and keen to obey Jesus, whatever anyone else thought - even her closest companion- without any excuses or justification. (1 Samuel 15:22)
  • Mary knew that worship at Jesus’ feet was the only way to strengthen her for what was coming.

Growing in love

Mary learned of God’s love for her through watching Jesus’ behaviour towards all manner of people and listening to His teaching, which was so different to the religious people of the day. She absorbed God's love simply through being around Jesus, but she also made a choice to listen to Him as much as possible. Her understanding of God’s love caused her to love Jesus more and more and this must have been sealed when her own brother was raised from the dead.

Imagine having been close to Jesus but then suffering the sudden and unexpected loss of your brother. As if to make things even worse, the one person in the world who might have helped seems not to have been aware and was absent when it happened. Then He arrives and you discover that it's not too late after all. He calls your brother out of the grave and restores him to life! You then find that His action has put His own life at great risk. This is amazing love, displayed right before your very eyes. How might you react?

Giving everything

We don't know whether or not Mary's family was wealthy as such. They shared their own home and were able to provide regular hospitality for Jesus. They may have been in the habit of giving regularly to the poor. We don't know for sure, but we do know that, less than a week before Jesus was arrested, put on trial and sentenced to death, Mary took a significant quantity of expensive perfume and poured it all out on Jesus' feet, wiping his feet with her own hair. The perfume may well have been held as a long-term investment for her future, for this was common practice at the time. Nonetheless, she took what she had and gave it to Jesus wholeheartedly and unreservedly. We read that, "the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume". (John 12:3)

Again, we don't know what the general reaction was to Mary's extravagant gift. There must have been a sharp intake of breath, followed by a buzz of people muttering to each other. The disciple called Judas Iscariot was there and he certainly objected to what he described as a waste of money that could have been better spent on the poor. (The apostle, John, notes in passing that Judas looked after the common purse for all the dsiciples and would help himself to whatever went in it.) A few days later, Jesus was being forced to struggle up to the hill at Golgotha under the weight of a Roman cross on which He was to be crucified. As He sweated and struggled uphill, the smell of the oily perfume must still have pervaded His entire body, reminding Him of Mary's devotion and love in the midst of the hatred and fear that He felt pouring out of the crowd and the soldiers around Him.

Previously, Jesus had said to Martha: "Mary has chosen the good portion [that which is to her advantage] which shall not be taken away from her". (Luke 10:42 - Amplified version) We also need to learn how to choose the better place, when everything round us is busy. Mary’s whole focus was Jesus. We, too, can choose to live that way ourselves. As we do so, our desires and choices change to come in line with God’s will for us, which is the very best option for us. As we cultivate the presence of Jesus, we allow His presence to fill us, spreading like an aromatic perfume to all around us. (2 Corinthians 2:14-16) As we serve Him, so He serves us and uses us to serve others too. If we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all the things that we need will be given to us as well. (Matthew 6:33)

Let us pray

According to Jesus, our prayers should be simple and uncomplicated. He said that one of the key marks of effective prayer is to submit to God's will. “... not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39) It is not about us asking for what we want, but allowing God to tell us what we need and, therefore, what He has decided to give us. Another key aspect of prayer is that it should be something we do regularly: “Pray continually.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) We need to be in constant communion with God. “My sheep listen to My voice. I know them and they follow Me.” (John 10:27)

So we should pray:

  • Simply,
  • Not hypocritically,
  • To the Father,
  • Always - continually and therefore...
  • Everywhere,
  • In the Name of Jesus

Types of prayer

Prayer, like all communication, can take many forms:

  • Praise (Psalm 52:9; Psalm 68:3)
  • Worship (Psalm 100:2)
  • Waiting (Psalm 46:10)
  • Confession (Psalm 139:23)
  • Listening to God (Colossians 4:2; Ecclesiastes 5:1-3)
  • Intercession - praying on behalf of others (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
  • Petition - praying for others (Matthew 7:7; Genesis 25:21)
  • Thanksgiving (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  • Meditation (Joshua 1:8)
  • In the Spirit (Romans 8:26; Ephesians 6:18)
  • Jointly - in agreement with others (Matthew 18:19)
  • Binding and loosing (Matthew 16:19; 18:18)
  • In faith (James 5:15)
  • Privately - Jesus went to a place alone with the Father (Matthew 14:23)
  • Persistently (Matthew 6:6; Matthew 26:40-41; Philippians 4:6-7; Exodus 32:9-14)
  • With fasting (Luke 4:1-2; Acts 13:2-3)

Encouragement to pray

Every disciple of Jesus Christ should pray.

  • "Don’t be weary in prayer; keep at it; watch for God’s answers and remember to be thankful when they come." (Colossians 4:2)
  • And now about prayer. When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who pretend piety by praying publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. Truly, that is all the reward they will ever get." (Matthew 6:5)
  • "Don’t worry about anything. Instead, pray about everything. Tell God your needs and don't forget to thank him for His answers." (Philippians 4:6)
  • The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore be earnest, thoughtful women of prayer. (1 Peter 4:7)
  • "Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For the spirit indeed is willing, but how weak the body is!” (Matthew 26:41)
  • "So I want people everywhere to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from sin and anger and resentment." (1 Timothy 2:8)

Opposition to prayer

Opposition to our praying will arise in three areas:

Self: The self-life is what Christians sometimes call “the old nature”. (Romans 7:18-25)

Sin: It separates us from God and breaks our communion with Him. (Answer - 1 John 1:7-9)

Satan: Our enemy will always oppose our praying. (Ephesians 6:12) There was plenty of opposition to Jesus’ life work. (Matthew 26:36-46)

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