‘My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.’ (Luke 1:46-47)Read the whole of Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1 When someone compliments you, how do you respond? Mary’s sister says she is blessed because she ‘believed what God said, believed every word would come true!’ (Luke 1:45 MSG & See There’s Something About Mary). Mary’s response? To break into song. Instead of congratulating herself in how trusting she is, she lifts her focus onto the Lord.Sometimes our response to a compliment might be to reject it: ‘Oh no, it was just luck’ we say. Yet Mary agrees with Elizabeth, saying ‘from now on, all generations will call be blessed’ (Luke 1:48). She accepts the truth – that God has lavished her with favour – and gives God the glory. Humility is not, as Richard Foster writes, a crippling self-abasement but the ‘ability to live as close to the truth as possible’ (In Prayer: Finding the heart’s true home).
Humility flows from service
The previous exchange that took place between Mary and the angel gives us a clue as to where her humility comes from: ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ she says (Luke 1:38). The role of a servant is hard work; yet it is the path to freedom. As Andrew Murray writes, ‘His service is our highest liberty – the liberty from sin and self’ (In Humility: The journey towards holiness). Do we see ourselves as a servant? If we consciously offer our lives as a ‘living sacrifice’ to God, there is no room for resentment or the need to be thanked (Romans 12:2).
Jesus knew that humility is something we grow in, as suggested by the word ‘learn‘ when He encourages us to ‘learn from Him’ because he is gentle and ‘humble in heart’. As we see most evidently in the example of Christ Himself, He affirms that ‘whoever humbles himself will be exalted’ (Matt 23:12; 11:29).
Magnifying the Lord
‘My soul magnifies and extols the Lord,
What does Mary mean by ‘My soul magnifies the Lord’? The meaning of the word ‘magnify’ here is to extol or glorify (see Psalm 69:30).
There is something about worshiping God that helps us to grow in humility – to see ourselves as God sees us. As we exalt our Saviour, we recognize who He is and who we are in light of His glory. Through worship, we draw near to God in intimacy, and as Beth Moore writes, ‘true intimacy with God always brings humility.’
So, how do we cultivate the kind of humility Mary had?
To those of us who come face to face with our own pride when considering such a topic, the words of C.S.Lewis are heartening. He says ‘The first step is to realize that one is proud … If you think you’re not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed‘ (In Christian Behaviour). So, in the midst of an uncomfortable realisation, a glimmer of hope is found. Coming before God, we can then ask Him for the grace to serve sacrificially and worship wholeheartedly, knowing that one day He will exalt us.