You can skip the next paragraph if you already know it.
Jesus is at Martha's house. Her sister Mary sits at Jesus' feet, listening to what he has to say. Martha is getting hot and bothered in the kitchen. She marches up to Jesus and says, "Lord, don't you care that I'm doing all the work, while Mary just sits there?" Jesus says, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing matters. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:38-42
Huh? So it's okay for me to do all the work while my sister just sits there? Why is it better for her to sit listening, while I do the serving? Who's going to get all this done if I don't???
Maybe, like me, you feel a little sorry for Martha.
In this brilliant talk by Anna Moss,* she explains that busyness vs. sitting still isn't really the issue. It's that Martha has forgotten who the dinner is all about - who life is all about:
Martha is distracted. She's so distracted that she's forgotten that the dinner is all about Jesus.Doesn't that sound familiar? We can be so busy serving Jesus, that we don't even stop to see him:
She's trying to serve Jesus, but her serving has stopped her even seeing him. It's stopped her relating to him. It's stopped her listening to him.
He's right there in her living room, and she's not seeing him. She's not hearing him.
Instead of being amazed that Jesus, the holy one of God, has come into her home to share a meal with her, she's worried and distracted by sandwiches and dip.
Maybe you can relate to Martha. You slog away at church, faithfully and consistently, trying to serve, and it just seems that no one notices, or even acknowledges what you're doing. You start feeling resentful, maybe even a bit self-righteous: "I'm the one who's regular and reliable. I'm the one who turns up when others pull out."It all becomes about me - my schedule, my strength, my achievements - rather than about Jesus:
Or maybe you persist in your marriage even though it's tough. You work hard with your parents and children. But it feels thankless. You feel unappreciated and overlooked: "Maybe God doesn't care I'm doing all this." Your serving can end up damaging and breaking relationships, rather than blessing and building them.
We end up distracted from Jesus when we try to do it all ourselves.
Have you become distracted? Have you stopped coming to Jesus as the empty, broken person that you are, in daily need of his help and his grace in your life? Have you stopped seeing him as your treasure? As the one that you just can't do without?
Sometimes we want to fit Jesus in with our schedule, into where we're comfortable, and into our need to feel competent and in control.We don't like to feel needy. But Jesus wants us to receive from him:
We had our third child last year, and recently I went back to work at my church. I wanted to go back feeling strong and competent, on top of things, and in control. I wanted people to say, "Wow! How do you do it all?". I wanted to serve God from a position of strength; but instead, I felt weak and vulnerable. I didn't want to feel that way.
But let me say this: there is no other way to serve him. He doesn't want us bustling around, self-reliant and self-absorbed. He doesn't want us to give on our terms, in ways that make us look good and feel in control.
When it comes to Jesus, we can't rely on the things we've achieved. We can't rely on our qualifications, or how well our kids are going. We need to respond to him on his terms, not our own. We don't have anything to offer him. We come to him with empty hands.
It's easy to give people things we want to give them. We want to give Jesus our competency. We want to give him our agenda. We want to show off our abilities.In the end, the story of Martha and Mary isn't really about whether we're busy or not, but about our attitude to Jesus:
But what does Jesus want to receive? How does he want to be served? What really communicates our love for him?
He wants to give to us. He wants to determine what's best for our lives. He wants to redirect our hearts, and for us to treasure him more than any plan we've ever made. He wants us to be needy for him.
But being needy doesn't sit comfortably with us most of the time. Personally, I find it easier to stay busy; easier to keep active, and to feel useful.
It's easier to feel needed and useful than to feel needy and broken. It's easier to serve others with our competence, on our terms, in ways that we feel comfortable, than to admit how desperately messy, needy, and weak we really are.
You see, at the heart of this story isn't the question, "Are you too busy?". It's a deeper question about our attitude, not so much a question about our activity.Our lives are busy, and sometimes we can't avoid this. But even then we can turn to Jesus and receive from him. I was so encouraged by Anna's story of her friend:
So on the days that you're flat out and really busy; or when you've got time to sit, rest and read your Bible; what matters is that we depend on Jesus. That we choose his agenda, whatever the day. That we choose to trust him, and rely completely on his grace.
When Jesus comes to their house, who's the host? It's not Martha, is it? It's Jesus. It's always his party, not ours. He wants to give, and he wants us to receive.
Martha wants to give him food; but he's the only one who can give the food that really satisfies, the food that will never be taken away. He wants to give us the good portion, the very best of gifts: eternal life.
He wants to set us free from the treadmill of having to achieve and needing to please. He's come to serve.
We can choose what is better in the midst of all the things going on in our lives.
One of my closest friends is a single mum with four young kids. As you can imagine, there's a whole lot of running around, and not a whole lot of sitting round for her.
She shared with me recently how hard it is to keep trusting Jesus when things just seem so wrong. She often feels overwhelmed, and she wonders how to keep going.
But she said this: "I have to keep trusting Jesus. I've got no where else to go but to him. I have to trust that he's big enough for this. It can be a fight to trust, but I know that he's in control of my life, that he cares for me, and for my children. I often feel so weak, but I'm in his hands."
Things can feel like they're unravelling, but with Jesus, I can keep going. He wants to serve us. He's big enough to give us what we need.
Where else have we to go, but to the feet of Jesus? Choose what is better. Don't miss the mark. Listen to him, and let him serve you.
* This is from Anna Moss's talk from Equip 2013. I highly recommend these talks. I found them very encouraging.