We live in an accomplishment obsessed culture. We tend to judge ourselves and our lives on checklists. How much did we do today and how well did we do it. Did we get a ton done today or were we a failure? The sign of an accomplished person is how busy and successful they are, right?
Our Christian culture tends to carry this standard of judgment over to the church. We judge ourselves and others as Christians on how busy we are at serving and how well we do it. The test used to determine whether you are an accomplished Christian is also success and busyness. We check our special Christian checklist, complete with the fish on the back. Let’s see, did we get a ton of “churchey” stuff done today or are we failures to God. Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop, don’t you know?
Importing cultural standards into the church can lead us to miss a really important point. How busy we are and how successful we are is simply not how Jesus judges us as a Christian. We do not please Jesus through checklists and productivity. Rather, we please Jesus by loving Him and letting Him lead us. The Lord’s standard is simple. Love Him and listen to His voice and He will be well pleased with us as disciples.
The Lord’s standard is simple. Love Him and listen to His voice and He will be well pleased with us as disciples.
Consider the account of Jesus visiting Mary and Martha’s home in Bethany. We are probably familiar with it. Mary and Martha welcomed Jesus and the disciples into their home. With guests present, Martha played the good hostess and appears to do her utmost to make sure that everything was perfect. Haven’t we all been there? We want a church fellowship event to go so well that we never actually talk with any other fellow. Or we want people to feel loved and comfortable so much that we get mad at them if they are not following our plans.
We can guess that Mary was preparing the food and drink. She was making sure her visitors were all fed and comfortable. When your guests are Jesus and the first disciples, it is human to want everything to go as planned.
Meanwhile, Mary just sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him. It is quite a contrast.
One was working hard to literally serve the Lord and the other just sat around.
Which of the two are a better Christian?
Our flesh immediately says Martha. She is working hard and making sure things get done. The world would agree as she is laboring to host a luncheon. She has her nose to the grindstone and is taking care of business. Much of the church would agree as well. They would say that Martha has a servant’s heart and maybe even name a wing of the church after her if she does it enough. Unfortunately, Martha has a problem. She might be working her fingers to the bone but her motives are all wrong:
Unfortunately, Martha has a problem. She might be working her fingers to the bone but her motives are all wrong:
But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” Luke 10:40
For all of her hard work, Martha completely missed the point of Jesus being there. She was distracted with much serving. The focal point of her heart and life was shifted from Jesus to service. Busyness and success in service had become her goal rather than the Lord. Not even Jesus is going to get in the way of Martha serving.
What is worse for Martha is her skewed priorities are on display for everyone to see. She seems to confront Jesus openly over the issues. In her complaining, she not only turns on her sister but subtly questions Jesus. “Lord, you don’t care about me” and “Lord, you failed to notice my lazy sister over there” is essentially her message. It is quite an ugly sentiment to express.
To be fair to Martha how many times have we done the same.
“Lord, you don’t realize how hard I am working, why are you not making people work with me”
“Lord, don’t you realize that I need the money more than them?”
Insert any of the prayers that we offer up to God that should be more properly titled holy whining.
Despite this, Jesus doesn’t cast off Martha. He is patient and loving with her. He simply points out the error in Martha’s thinking and tries to reorient her back towards the important:
And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Martha serving the meal means very little when compared with Mary following Jesus. They are both serving, but Jesus only commends Mary. Why?
She has chosen to focus on Him alone even if it means just sitting at His feet and listening. She just sits and adores him. Not because it is a noble task or a spiritual discipline, that is checklist again, but because Jesus is just that great. Mary surely would have gotten up and served the meal if Jesus had asked her to at that time. He did not ask though. Her focus was just on listening to Him and following His leading…not Martha’s.
The productivity experts would choose Martha as the superstar of this account. Many church committees would agree. She is just working so hard. We love our hard working people both in and outside the church. Hardwork is a good thing. I am not saying otherwise.
Yet, Jesus makes a point to say that it is Mary who has chosen the better thing. She is following Him whether that means sitting or working. Whether it means staying or going, speaking or not speaking, singing or not, lifting hands or not ultimately doesn’t matter in itself. It is only harkening to our Savior’s voice that matters.
Love of Jesus will lead to service but service does not always lead to love of Jesus.
Seek the better thing. Rest at the Lord’s feet today and every day. Come to Him and let Him commend your resting at His feet.