Ray could tell by my face that my speaking engagement did not go as well as I had hoped. My preparation was whole-hearted, and my presentation practiced, but somehow it fell flat, and I was beating myself up. Ray tenderly led me to Mark 14:3-8, where Jesus and Mary have a significant encounter. Then he gently asked me, “Did you do what you could? Then Jesus finds your offering beautiful.”
Mark 14:3-8 tells of an encounter with Jesus six days before his crucifixion. It is the Saturday night before the Triumphal Entry, and the plot to kill Jesus is heating up, gaining headway.
Jesus is in the house of Simon the leper, “reclining at table,” which may imply a banquet or special feast, where guests lie with their heads near a low table. There would be rugs and pillows on the floor for comfort, so guests could rest on their arms with their feet pointing away from the table. John tells us that Lazarus was also there, and Martha was serving (John 12:2).
Mary comes to Jesus with an alabaster flask of ointment. It was pure nard and “very costly,” imported from India or Arabia. The Bible says this ointment was worth almost a year’s wages for a laborer. Think pouring out your or maybe your husband’s salary for ten months in one night! We read that Mary poured it over Jesus’ head, filling the whole house with the fragrance.
Some present were indignant, calling it a waste, and scolded Mary publicly. After all, think of all the good this could have done for the poor. They thought their anger was righteous. “Why was the ointment wasted like that?” (Mark 14:4).
But Jesus defends her!
Imagine what a luxury it would be to have someone attend to your hair in this hot and dusty climate where there was little chance for bathing, much less washing your hair. What a comfort it must have been to Jesus.
Then Jesus says six of the most liberating words in the Bible. “She has done what she could” (verse 8).
What ministry will cost you
Ministry is costly, draining us physically and emotionally. Your investment is a fragrant offering to Jesus that He regards as beautiful. Ministry is exhausting—that’s why I call it an offering. An offering has value precisely because it costs you something.
It will cost you physically. It is strenuous. There are late nights at meetings, counseling, conferences, prep for teaching and leading, and weekly staff meetings. Ministry workers serve on Christmas and Easter and often Thanksgiving, too. Ministry will tax you physically. Your ministry is a physical offering to your Lord. Do what you can – with humble devotion – and Jesus will see that as beautiful.
It will also cost you emotionally. Ministry drains your heart as much as your body. Sometimes your heart grows even wearier than your body.
You don’t want to burden your husband or an understanding parent or loving friends or co-workers. But you need to talk things out, sometimes even cry things out. That’s okay. Bring it all to Jesus. Do what you can. Jesus sees the sacrifice of a burdened heart as beautiful. Ps. 138:3, “On the day that I called, you answered me, my strength of soul you increased.”
Like every other woman in the world, you only have so much physical and emotional energy. We are limited, and Jesus knows that. He knows it, but sometimes we don’t. Do you spend as much time fretting over how you’re doing as I do? Do you worry about your effort and results and words and actions and attitudes? “I wish I had… I should have… If only I had…” The questions and accusations spin inside my heart, and I waste so much emotional and spiritual energy, of which I already have a limited amount!
False pride or conviction from the Holy Spirit?
I need to decide – you do, too – whether what I am fretting over is false guilt stemming from fear and pride or Holy Spirit conviction. Was not getting another three hours to work on this speaking engagement a sin that Jesus had to accept the punishment for on that cross so long ago? Were the nails driven into His hands and feet for whatever you’re fussing about? If the Holy Spirit convicts you, quickly turn to the cross, confess your sin, and ask for His healing forgiveness. BUT, if it is not a sin, if it is just your own false guilt, then listen to Jesus’ words to you: “Leave her alone. She has done what she could.”
– When your family responsibilities seem in conflict with your duties as a pastor’s wife, do what you can, and Jesus will find that beautiful.
– When women in the church seem to expect more of you than you had anticipated, more than you can even produce, rest in Jesus’ loving and glad acceptance of you and do what you can.
– When you feel spiritually dry, yet every time you try to read your Bible or spend more than 30 seconds in prayer, and your eyes start to glaze over with fatigue, do what you can.
– When Satan seems to whisper in your ear that you are a poor excuse for a Christian, that someone else could do a much better job, offer yourself anew to the one who will “quiet you by his love” (Zeph. 3:17) as he tells his Father, “She has done what she could, and it is beautiful to me.”
What does it mean to do what you can?
Well, look at Mary in our passage.
She got in close. Hebrews 10:22, “let us draw near with a true heart…” Psalm 17:4, “…hide me in the shadow of your wings…” Get in close, draw near to him. In the shadow of his wings is very near his heart!
I need to do this daily by meeting with Him in Bible reading and prayer. Don’t miss out on this. I’m so grateful to look back over decades of drawing near to Him. Was it always with a true heart? No, not always. But think of it this way: what if you ask your adolescent daughter to spend some time with you? She’s resistant but does it anyway. Isn’t that better than waiting until she is eager and full-hearted? And sometimes, doesn’t she have an attitude change along the way? Or think of the thousands of meals you’ve eaten (about 1,095 every year). Now, how many do you remember? But they still nourished you along the way.
Whatever you do, seek to get in close to Jesus. You’ll be safe there. He’ll defend you.
Her offering cost her something. What Mary did was very costly, and she gave it gladly! Let’s be willing to spend ourselves for the one who always defends his own. In light of eternity, the personal cost of our earthly sacrifices will shrink in our eyes. Jesus will find our sacrifices beautiful.
You serve a King who understands your limitations and knows that your frame is but dust. Offer him that fragrant, costly sacrifice, as Mary did, pouring it out at his feet. And then trust him. He will accept it and say, “You have done what you could, and it is beautiful to me.”
She didn’t think about those around her. We all like to play the comparison game. It’s not new. Think of Peter asking the risen Lord in John 21:21, “When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘…what is that to you? Follow me!’” Let’s not look to those around us for approval.
Nobody wins in the comparison games we play. We end up either proud or discouraged. Jesus wants to free us from excessive self-scrutiny, from false accusations that hover over us and haunt our fragile, tender hearts. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Do what you can and leave it with him.
So, let’s be women who learn to rest in Jesus’ loving and glad acceptance of us, not what other people expect of us.
In humble devotion, let’s draw near and present our offerings to our kind King. Let’s leave our false guilt and learn to rest in the affirming love of Jesus. He will find that beautiful.
And one day, he will present you holy and blameless and above reproach (Colossians 1:22) to his Father and say to Him, “Welcome her, Father. She has done a beautiful thing to me – she has done what she could.”
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