Working Alone does not Impress Jesus
We live in an accomplishment obsessed culture. We tend to judge ourselves and our lives on checklists. We look at how much did we do today and how well we did it and then assess ourselves. Did we get a ton done today? Did we get too little? Did we succeed or fail? The sign of an accomplished person is how busy and productive we are. As a Christian, this should never be our standard. We should never judge ourselves in the same manner. It is never about what we do in Jesus! It is about who we are in Jesus!
Our Christian culture tends to carry the “what did we do” standard of judgment over from the world into 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?
Busy does not Equal Holy
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.
Mary and Martha
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. She is serving. She is working for Jesus and His disciples directly. She is working so hard that she is missing everything that is going on around her. She is serving Jesus so much that she misses Jesus. She probably feels like she is having a great Christian day.
Haven’t we all been there? We want a church fellowship event we are working to go so well that we never actually talk with any other fellow. We are doing church work or Christian work and toiling daily but realize that we have lost sight of why? We may want people to feel loved and comfortable so much that we get mad at them if they are not following our plans?
Mary was hard at work 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. This is what makes sense as the perfect disciple, right? The hardest worker is the best Christian. The most determined is the best Christian. The busiest Christians are the most awesome ones.
Meanwhile, Mary just sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him. What a lazybones, right? 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”. They may 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:
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 confronts Jesus openly over the issue. In her complaining, she turns on her sister and Jesus:
“Lord, you don’t care about me” “Lord, you failed to notice my lazy sister over there”
This 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?”
“Lord, why are my plans not working”
Insert any of the prayers that we offer up to God. A holy type of whining comes from us when we think our work is not being recognized. It is a mixture of losing sight of Jesus and lack of gratitude.
Despite this, Jesus doesn’t cast off Martha. He is patient and loving with her. He tries to teach her and bring her back to Him. 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? Mary is actually following Him. 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. It is because Jesus is just that great. She is doing what Jesus wants of her at that moment. 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. Hard work 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 the 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.
We please God by loving God. We please God by doing what He says – especially just rest in Him.