My mom, an elementary school teacher, taught until she became pregnant with me. During her pregnancy, she had a few health concerns at the beginning. Thus, the doctor recommended that she quit teaching in order to take care of herself and better fulfill the demands on her at home.
After that conversation with the doctor, my mother stepped away from her teaching job and became a stay-at-home mom. She always talked about going back to teaching. She had bins of elementary school materials “just in case.” However, except for a few subbing jobs and brief temporary positions, my mom never went back to her former career.
Certainly, I am thankful for her sacrifice. I know that she missed teaching and put aside a job she was very good at to better serve us at home. Indeed, we admire those who give of themselves to make our lives better: police officers who put their own safety on the line to make our community safe; nurses who work overnight shifts to care for patients; military men and women who leave their families for months to go on deployment. These individuals have our admiration because we know the personal cost of their choices.
A Woman Who Gave up Much for Jesus
A woman in the Bible who sacrificed much for Jesus was Mary of Bethany, as told in Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, and John 12:2-8. After Jesus raises Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, from the dead, they hold a dinner where Jesus is in attendance. During the dinner, Mary goes quietly into the room where males are reclining with Jesus around a table and pours an expensive bottle of perfume over Jesus’ head and feet. She then wipes his feet with her hair.
Many in the room are shocked or offended by her lavish display of affection. The disciples complain that the money from the sold bottle of oil could have been given to the poor. Others see her behavior as inappropriate, as Jewish women normally wore their hair bound. Jesus, however, defends Mary’s action. He is pleased by her costly gift to Him and remarks that she has done a “beautiful thing” and her action will be told “in memory of her” wherever the Gospel is preached (Matthew 26:13).
Surely, when others jeered at her, staring at her in scorn, she could have retreated in fear and chosen not to pour the nard on Jesus. But she persevered, and in doing so, she ministered to Jesus. As a result of her anointing of Him, the beautiful fragrance of her act filled the entire room. Despite their disapproval, others were unable to erase the lingering effects of her gift.
What Mary’s Act Teaches Us About Serving Others
When we read this story, it’s easy to skim through the details without getting the full effect of their meaning. Mary not only gave away a very expensive jar of oil that cost her a great deal in terms of finances (a year’s wages to be exact), she gave away that which was even more precious: herself. She used her own hair to wipe Jesus’ feet.
While God will ask for our money or resources in our service to Him, He will also ask us to sacrifice other things: our time, reputation, dreams, and personal goals. When we act kindly to others and act as the “hands and feet of Jesus,” those acts require us to give of ourselves. For instance, we may be in the grocery store just trying to get our shopping done when God nudges us to speak to someone. We may be enjoying some time with our kids at the playground when we encounter a woman who is lonely and wants to share her story.
We want to be compassionate, but our flesh screams against giving ourselves to the work of God because the gift will cost us something. In her New Day, New You devotional, Joyce Meyer explains that she felt called to give away a pair of earrings. She didn’t want to give the earrings. She wanted to keep them for herself, but she felt the Holy Spirit tell her that the free gift we give to others is never free for us; it will come at a price. Ultimately, though, we can give up whatever God asks of us because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross.
In America, we always want to know, “What’s in it for us?” Most of the marketing campaigns are designed to lure us with promises of “You need this. You deserve this. It’s all about you.” We can have that same approach in our spiritual life. Following God’s call is desirable if there is something in it for us. And unquestionably, we gain everything when we follow God. The Bible is clear about the blessings and benefits of following Christ, but it comes at a cost of losing worldly possessions and pursuits (Philippians 3:7-10).
To follow God requires us to allow God to strip away our own aspirations and ideas about how He will use us. While not all of us are called to a vocational ministry role, all of us are called to serve others and share the love of Christ right where we are. As Chrystal Evans Hurst said in a Proverbs 31 Ministries She Speaks conference, ministry isn’t about a stage or a book deal; ministry is about people: your neighbor, the person sitting next to you in the waiting room, your atheist family member. Personally, I can get so focused on “ministry” as far as the work I do in writing blog posts — and I do consider that ministry — I can neglect the people that God has put right in front of me.
A song that’s been running through my head this week is “Open Hands,” by Laura Story. The lyrics say this: “I’m not afraid of what I’ll lose / My greatest joy is finding You.”
Maybe we’re afraid to live with open hands because we’re afraid of what we’ll lose, but here’s the amazing thing about God: When we give it all, we aren’t left empty-handed. When we are kind, God repays us for our kindness and takes care of our needs (Proverbs 11:25).
I am not saying this as a prosperity message; we shouldn’t give to just get from others. But I am saying that when we give of ourselves, God fills us up in return.
Mary’s gift didn’t just minister to Jesus. Her gift has ministered to millions of people — through the Word of God. As Jesus predicted, the fragrance of Mary’s act affected not only those in the room that day but scores of others who have read of her story in Scripture.
However, to give her gift, she had to break the seal holding tight the jar of nard. She had to break past her societal inhibitions and say no to her flesh that would tell her that such a gift was insane and extravagant. She had to fully empty herself to best give herself to Jesus.
Similarly, it’s when we allow ourselves to be broken open for others, when we offer to use our own hair to wipe the feet of Jesus — God can use that which we are holding onto to minister to others. Because that which we release in the service of God for His glory, however costly, is that which comes back to us in full measure (Luke 6:38). In contrast, that which we hold onto that God asks of us, is that which we will eventually lose.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be a person willing to give my life to Jesus in such a way that I am grateful and happy to give away whatever it takes without lamenting the cost.
Related Bible Verses:
1 Corinthians 15:58 (MSG): “My dear, dear friends … don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for Him is a waste of time or effort.”
Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.”
Deuteronomy 15:10 (NLT): “Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.”