As we have been thinking through the first chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, a statement in Mary’s Magnificat struck me as quite puzzling when I first began to ponder it: “My soul magnifies (literally- “enlarges”) the Lord!” How in the world can we enlarge God – the Creator and Sustainer of all things who measures our universe, which astronomers now estimate to be 156 billion light years in diameter, with the span of his hand (Is. 40:12)? Imagine how large that makes the Lord’s heart! I realize this is an anthropomorphic poetic image, but the point is clear – ain’t nothin’ bigger than God! So how in the world, or should I say universe, can I enlarge God? It is clearly impossible to make God bigger than he is yet, the Scriptures give us some clues as to how we can go about this process of “magnifying” the Almighty God.
Make God large in our mind’s eye
Luke 1:46 “Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”
To magnify or enlarge an object may mean to physically increase its size but it can also mean to view a particular aspect of that object with greater precision and detail. Remember your first look through a magnifying glass at a common object – say a bug of some sort – and all of a sudden the bug’s pincers took on B movie monster status. Or recall your first look at a paramecium swimming around on a microscope slide in biology class – getting larger and larger as you turned the lens from 10x to 100x to 250x. In the Magnificat Mary is turning up the magnification on the Lord and his wonderful mercy that reaches out to the humble of heart. She has had several days to ponder the implications of the amazing announcement of Gabriel and her mind’s eye is enlarging and focusing in on the reality that she, a nobody from the middle of nowhere, has been chosen by God to bring his child into this world of space and time!
As we walk through life, it is nourishing to our souls to periodically magnify an aspect of God’s nature – to put it under, as it were, the microscope of our mind’s eye. In Mary’s song she chooses to “rejoice in God my Savior”. As we live amidst the often daunting challenges and crises of this very broken world, it can be extremely encouraging to enlarge and rejoice in an aspect of God’s character. For example, if I have I just been given some bad news from my doctor, I can immediately “enlarge” the crisis (unfortunately, my natural tendency) or I can deliberately choose to magnify the Lord’s control over and care for my life. To enlarge and focus in on the fact that He has ALL my days mapped out (Ps 139:16) and nothing can “cut them short”. To magnify the reality that he truly does care for me (I Peter 5:7) and values me so much that he even knows the number of hairs on my head (Mt. 10:30) and that ultimately he gave his life to rescue me (John 3:16) and that everything is still under his sovereign control (Eph. 1:11).
It appears to me that whatever challenges we might face, we make a decision to magnify and enlarge something. We either enlarge the challenge and it assumes monstrous proportions (like a bug under a magnifying glass) resulting in stress, sleepless nights, and dreading the worst or we choose to magnify the Lord by enlarging and rejoicing in an aspect of his character that brings peace, comfort and perseverance in the midst of the crisis.
This process is not an easy one. Imagine how Mary could have magnified all the possible negative consequences of Gabriel’s announcement – possible rejection by her family, possible rejection by Joseph, possible social shame, maybe even death via stoning. Yet, despite all the possible negatives, she chooses to magnify God’s mercy and rejoice in his faithfulness for the humble and weak bringing her to a place of joyous praise instead of gloomy angst.
This process is also not usually an instantaneous one. In Mary’s case, it has been at least several days from the time Gabriel announced to her the good news until she bursts forth in praise magnifying the Lord after Elizabeth’s prophetic confirmation of her pregnancy. As we grow in maturity and our understanding of the Lord, the time needed to move from news to praise will likely shorten as we have a stockpile of evidence in our own life of God’s faithfulness in the midst of all types of circumstances and situations.
So, in your life at this moment, what are you magnifying and what is the result of your focus?
Make God large through gratitude
Psalm 69:30 “I will praise the name of God with a song, and I will magnify him with thanksgiving”
We can also magnify the Lord through remembering all that we have been graciously given by God. My wife is reading a book by Ann Voskamp entitled, One Thousand Gifts where the author recounts how a challenge to write down 1000 gifts of God to her totally transformed her life and her thinking about her Lord. According to David, we can magnify God by simply being grateful. Grateful for the breath I breathe, the food I eat, the family and friends I’ve been given, the freedom from guilt, the freedom from the tyranny of self-absorbtion, the good news that God really has accepted me, the joy of diving into a warm pool, the exctasy of physical intimacy, the truth that has been revealed to me, the smell of cinnamon rolls and garlic bread (not at the same time!), the smile on a baby’s face, a sunset over the aqua waters of the Gulf, a cool breeze after a Pensacola summer, etc. etc. etc.
God’s magnification comes when a life is lived “with thanksgiving” as the constant background music of all we do and say.
So, is the quiet, yet very real, background music of your life tuned to the key of discontent or gratefulness?
Make God large through sharing with others
Psalm 34:3 “O magnify the Lord with me, let us exalt his name together”
We can also magnify the Lord by urging others to join us in the process as we attempt to see, in a more detailed and intimate way, the various aspects of God’s wonderful character (the “name” of someone to a Hebrew represents the true nature of the person). Discoveries long to be shared. The biologist calling a fellow biologist over to the microscope saying, “You’ve got to see this!” The lover longing for her friends to meet her beloved, “You’ve got to get to know him!” The child of God made aware in a more focused way of the truly amazing grace of Jesus, “You’ve got to understand this!”
So, what does my life and what do my words magnify to others? Is it the amazing wonder of a God beyond our ability to comprehend in power, holiness, and glory choosing to become comprehensible in the form of Jesus Christ living, loving and laying down his life for arrogant rebels such as myself. Or am I magnifying myself, or some trinket that in 50 years will be all rust and dust, or some accomplishment that will be long forgotten not long after it is trumpeted by my lips. Far too often, I magnify the gifts of my gracious God more than the Giver himself.
It is my prayer for myself, and for all of us, that we learn to “enlarge” and “magnify” God over and above everything else that he has given us for it is in seeing his magnificence magnified that our hearts are amazingly transformed to become more like his (I John 3:2)!