Every Advent, I re-read My Soul Magnifies the Lord by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The backstory of his meditations on Christmas springs from Mary’s visit to her cousin, Elizabeth, who is also with child. When Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, the child inside her leaps. Mary, knowing she is expecting the Son of God, cannot contain the joy in her heart. The church refers to her song as the Magnificat. It’s found in Luke 1:46-55.
And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior… Luke 1:46
Mary clearly distinguishes between her spirit and her soul. The oneness of the spirit and soul or the uniqueness of each has occupied theologians for ages. Lloyd-Jones sees the two as distinct.
The spirit, he writes, represents a perception that is different from knowledge. “The spirit is a compartment, as it were, of the soul that enables one to appreciate the unseen and the spiritual.” When the angel Gabriel brings astonishing news to Mary, she can’t get her head around it.
“How can this be?”
Yet, her spirit perceives that the message from God is good and right and she accepts what her mind can’t explain. In her submission to what her spirit perceives, Mary’s soul locks onto and zeroes in on God. Everything else is cropped out of the picture, and Mary’s soul becomes as an IMAX projector of the presence of God. God is magnified to degrees that even the babe in Elizabeth’s womb leaps at the sound of Mary’s voice. And the souls of Elizabeth and the yet-unborn John the Baptist enter into a fellowship of worship and joy.
Lloyd-Jones suggests such a capacity to worship resides in the spirit, He sees the soul as, “the way in which we correspond to one another and have fellowship and relationship”. I confess I stumble through the theological weeds that pastors love to camp in, but with a little reflection on the words of Mary, I learn that there is a knowledge that goes beyond what the brain can understand. When the spiritual and unseen are perceived by the spirit, the soul lights up and engages everything and everyone around it.
As a teacher, applications flood my imagination. Of course we communicate information to our students’ minds. Even Google does that. We can even assess it via pencil marks in little bubble sheets.
But, as a Christian teacher, I also get to see my students’ spirits rejoice in the Lord as it dawns on them how God created and keeps the world operating in the palm of His hand. The “Aha!” moments spring from perceiving His lordship over the events of history, the construct of language, the unity of math and science, the relational truths of honesty and kindness toward other people at recess, during lunches together, and on the sports fields.
Magnifying the Lord, however, is something beyond the wonder moments of perception. Do my students magnify the Lord? In all honesty, it is rare in their formative years. I’ve only seen a life that magnifies the Lord in the students who go on in life to make a difference for Christ in their generation. These students, in a variety of professions, introduce others to Christ and are able to influence outcomes in their community for good through their wisdom and excellence, whether it’s at the HOA level or in more visible arenas.
Of course we get delightful glimpses of this in the classroom. We see it in Bible classes when hard issues become easy issues as the children see the intensely personal love of the Father for His children; as they see how He lets nothing get in the way of fulfilling His promises. Their fearful doubts flee as they exhale for the first time in a right understanding of Scripture.
We see it in history and literature as they study the creation accounts, literature, history, world views and mythologies of pagan societies. They see cultures who desperately try to explain phenomena that only Israel had explained to them from the patriarchs and prophets of old, and only Christians understand rightly from the teachings of Christ and Scripture.
We see it as they read the medieval writers and accounts of great kings who thought great thoughts of God and heroically lived by them. Our students’ minds are informed, but their soul is fellowships with the David, Paul, Dante, and Alfred the Great. Even young spirits perceive the unseen and the spiritual.
To use Lloyd-Jones’ explanation, Mary “has a realization of something that, she says, has touched her in the very center of the most vital part of her personality.” That is the effect on a soul that sees some new aspect of God for the first time.
No, we can’t test for such things with bubble sheets read by computers, but we can ask questions like this. How you would fill in these blanks about your children?
My (child’s) soul doth magnify __________________,
My (his/her) spirit rejoices in ___________________.
This could be encouraging or sobering. Now take out the parentheses and answer the question again.
May we all magnify the Lord to those around us this Advent season, and may all our spirits rejoice in God, our Savior!
Jeanette Faulkner teaches 7th Grade at Grace Classical Christian Academy