As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”-Luke 10:38-42
Luke chapter 10 is an interesting chapter. It starts with Jesus sending out 72 of his disciples, because “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” They go out to preach the good news of the kingdom of God, to heal the sick and cast out demons—all the things they have been watching Jesus do. In other words, He calls and appoints them to be active in ministry. So far, so good.
Next in the chapter is the parable of the Good Samaritan. A religious teacher looking for a loophole wants to know exactly which people he is required to love. He knows that God commands him to love his neighbor, but “who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells a story about a Samaritan, an outcast from Jewish society, who shows more love to a person in need than a priest and a Levite, who were supposed to be more spiritual than other people. This love is shown in practical ways: binding up the wounds of an injured man, transporting him to a safe place, and paying for his ongoing care. In other words, active ministry. He is praised because his pity moves him to action.
Reading those two stories, it seems safe to conclude that God wants us to be doers. It’s not good enough to sit around and think deep thoughts about God and memorize Bible verses. God sends us out to help the hurting, proclaim the truth, and share His love with our hands, feet, and mouths. This resonates with me, because I am a doer. When God knit me together in my mother’s womb, He gave me a generous amount of energy. I don’t mind working hard, and I like accomplishing things. I enjoy feeling like I have completed a task God called me to do. I take seriously passages like the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 and the Ten Minas in Luke 19. I’m driven by the thought that one day I will hear God say, “Well done.”
But there is a balance. Like all good things, hard work and accomplishment can be taken too far. Like all good things, they can become idols. That’s why, right after those stories about the importance of doing, Luke ends chapter 10 with a story about the danger of doing too much. And the danger is this: if we’re too caught up in the tasks that need to be done, we can miss Jesus, even if He’s sitting on our couch.
This resonates with me too. Maybe you imagine that full-time pastors are people who walk around in constant communion with God, and I wish it were so. But the reality is that, like Martha, we are often distracted by the preparations that have to be made. Sunday services, sermons and lessons take planning. Ministries and meetings require preparation and leadership. I’m blessed to be a part of a busy, active church. I believe much of our activity is God-honoring and fruitful. But in the midst of all that, it’s easy to miss God, because someone has to arrange for childcare and make sure the chairs are set up.
And it’s not just pastors. How many parents are busy getting their kids to Awana and youth group, but have no time to sit still and listen to the One they want so badly for their kids to know and serve? And like Martha, how often do we complain about it, and are even tempted to blame God for all the chaos? “Lord, don’t you care that I’m so busy and overwhelmed? There’s so much to do!” What if His answer would be the same as it was to Martha? “Who told you to do all that? Do you know for sure the other things wouldn’t get done if you spent time with Me first?”
Like Martha, I am often distracted. I am often worried and upset about many things, because I forget that those things won’t last. Those needs will be met, those problems will be solved, those tasks will get done, and new ones will arise in their place. Mary’s choice to sit at Jesus’ feet is the better choice because she is choosing the eternal over the temporary. “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” We will never regret taking time to connect with Jesus. We will always be glad we did so, now and in eternity. And there really is no danger we will waste our days away sitting at his feet. God is a realist. I’m sure that eventually everyone got dinner that night, and Jesus probably helped do the dishes. The next day, there were more opportunities for active service. Active service is important. But staying close to the One we serve is essential. This week, how will you find time to be still and listen to Him?