As someone who has a very fair complexion, summertime has rarely ever meant tanned skin. For me, laying out in the warm rays, although relaxing in itself, requires layers of sunscreen unless I want to look something like a strawberry. When I was a teenager, I persisted in believing I could gradually gain that sun-kissed look given enough baby oil. Yeah, right. I finally learned my lesson after enough painful nights of trying to fall asleep with a vicious sunburned back and days of putting up with dry, peeling skin layers. Occasionally, I still have the opportunity to wear the ever so luxurious farmer’s tan (burn in my case), but for the most part, I’ve decided sunscreen is a blessing rather than the bane of my existence.
So when it comes to my skin tone, an alabaster summer is a regular occurrence for me. However, this year, it means something different.
In three different places, scripture records an unforgettable occurrence of a woman with an alabaster container of perfume. Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:1-9 and John 12:1-8 all record the same event from three varying, yet synonymous, perspectives: that of Mary, Lazarus’ sister, anointing the feet and head of Jesus as he dined at the house of Simon the leper.
We first learn about Mary when Jesus comes to the house of Mary and her sister Martha. While Martha was busy trying to show her love for the Lord by doing things for Him, Mary wanted just to be with Him. While I am sure Jesus appreciated the meal Martha was preparing, He knew that relationship isn’t built on works but on intimacy, and He commends Mary for her willingness to pursue what was most important—time with Him (Luke 10:38-42).
Undistracted by the wealth of her family and their high-profile friends in the Jewish community, Mary knew she needed Jesus. Mary’s story, though, doesn’t end there. She also experienced hard places of wondering what God was up to and witnessed things beyond her imagination (John 11:1-7, 17-45). Because she knew places of closeness with Him and times of questioning, she chose to live outside the boundaries of others’ opinions—both those of her sister and those in her community. She believed in the glory of Jesus and His great love for her, and so she willingly laid down all that was valuable in order to pursue Christ.
Like Mary, I want to grow in what it means to sit at His feet and spend time with Him. And I want it to learn it from an alabaster summer.
While doing things for the kingdom is important, true service begins with our intimacy and worship. It is so easy to define our ministry activities as our time with Christ. We justify that since we’re doing things for Him, we must be close to Him. But doing things for Christ isn’t the same as knowing Him or loving Him. I can wash my husband’s clothes, clean the house and make His favorite meals—and those can be an expression of my love for Him. But I can also do all of those things and not make him a priority in my life or even be committed in love to him. The same is true in our relationship with Christ
Mary’s story also shows us that worship reveals and purifies our motives. Claiming they cared about the poor, some of the disciples, specifically Judas, resented Mary’s worship. In truth, he cared only for what he could gain. Our willingness to focus on Christ reveals places in us where we care too much about ourselves and our desires. Setting aside time for Him makes us deal with the heart of why we serve Him—is it to have our needs met or because we are truly captivated by Him?
In thinking about Mary’s sacrifice, we can see that Mary’s gift represented her life. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 4:7 that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.” He is the treasure in us—our relationship with Christ is not about us having life all figured out. He longs to fill us—the alabaster containers of our humanity—with who He is.
As we think about how to live out this truth in our lives, consider the following characteristics of alabaster:
• Its soft quality makes it pliable but also fragile.
• Because it is soluble in water, cleaning (if not handled properly) can often mar the quality of the stone.
• “Each vein of alabaster has its own unique colour and characteristics”1
• Trying to mix alabaster with other elements to add support can often destroy the alabaster.
“Damage often occurs when alabaster is combined with other materials in the construction of an object. For example, a constricting wooden or metal frame or mounting bracket can impart stress on the alabaster, resulting in breakage. Old repairs often were made with metal pins or ‘cramps’ in the form of large staples, inserted into holes drilled in the alabaster. When these expand with temperature fluctuations or corrode from moisture, they can break the alabaster. Other repair materials found on alabaster objects can also cause further damage. These include plaster, and various adhesives that can shrink and become brittle over time.” 2
Battered by life and plagued by the enemy’s lies, we may feel broken with little to offer. However, the image of the alabaster box filled with precious ointment stands as a vivid picture of our lives once we are filled with the treasure of Christ’s Spirit in us. An unrefined stone, we have been bought with the blood of Christ. Any attempts to “clean” or “save” ourselves end only in greater brokenness, and the walls of protection we build in our own strength serve only to damage our ability to be the woman Christ has created us to be. But like Mary’s alabaster box, our true value comes from the life of Christ in us.
That brings me to the point of an alabaster summer. While summer is a great time of year for hanging out with friends and relaxing in the cool of a summer night, I want it to be about more than making great memories with those I love. I want to be changed in His presence.
To me, an alabaster summer is about:
INTIMACY—to discover more about who God is and what He believes about me
SATURATION—to be filled continually with His Spirit and experience the restorative power of His presence, so much so that it permeates everything I do
TRANSFORMATION—to know the healing power of His word and be changed by His truth.
With this vision in mind, I am going to go after a few key areas in my spiritual life and I invite anyone to join me.
1. Quality and frequency of our time spent with Him
• Is time with Him a priority in our day?
• Is our quiet time truly quiet (in other words, are the cell phone, email, facebook, television, and conversations with others a distraction or do we separate from those things during our time alone with the Lord?)
• Do you place we time in the Word above your time in other resources (Christian books, sermons, twitter, doing ministry)? While these are great resources, they cannot replace time in His Word.
2. Transparency and focus in prayer
• Are we honest with God about our needs and desires?
• Are we honest with God about our sin and our feelings/actions toward others?
• Do we take time to hear His opinion and pray according to His direction?
3. Quiet meditation on His Word and Rest (spirit, soul and body)
• Do we like silence?
• Do we seek out opportunities for rest (which is different than sleeping)?
• Do we look for God’s creative input into our lives?
Perhaps a bit unusual for a summer challenge, there are no guidelines for a set number of chapters in the Bible to read each day, hours to pray, service projects to complete, souls to win or times to fast. However, all of these disciplines--study, prayer, giving, evangelism and fasting—are intrinsic parts of our spiritual walk and should be a natural outpouring of a greater understanding of His love and character as we mature in Him.
So, if you so choose, I encourage you to join me on this summer journey. While the most important thing will be a hungry heart, I also encourage you to have a journal ready, find a Bible reading plan and let go of control. The God of the universe stands ready and willing and He loves to be with you.
My heart has heard you say, "Come and talk with me." And my heart responds, "LORD, I am coming." - Psalms 27:8 NLT