Christian life can take us many places, but it doesn’t have to take us away from God.
It happens, but we know it shouldn’t. The demands of life, work, relationships, church and ministry spiralling into a messy fight against the clock and our exhausted bodies. Deadlines to meet. People to love. Sunday services to wake up early for. More people to love and serve. We’re highly strung and distracted with all the work; we make excuses for our missing Sabbaths.
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)
Surely you know the story of Mary and Martha. You probably heard it first back in Sunday School. Martha opens her house to Jesus when He stops by her village with his crew. She gets really excited and, like a good host, gets down to making the whole party comfortable and well-fed.
Then Martha complains to Jesus that she’s so busy doing all these important things for Him, while her little sister is just slacking off, sitting at the feet of Jesus. But Jesus actually stands up for Mary, saying she’s chosen the better thing!
My conclusion from Sunday school: That being a Martha is bad, being a Mary is good. And since then, every time I open the Bible to that passage, I feel all guilty and confused, wondering how I could be a Mary despite my overflowing inbox of responsibilities – should I seriously not be doing anything?
And then one day my eyes were opened. I was in a very busy season of life, having committed to multiple projects at once – the modus operandi of a Singaporean young adult – and found myself back at Luke 10:38 during a not so quiet time for the soul. Here we go again, I thought. Here’s God trying to tell me I need to be a Mary and not a Martha.
If we rush to serve and do all these good, important things on our own strength, without first drawing strength from our divine Source, we become like Martha on that day – flustered, drained and complaining.
But He wasn’t. For the first time in my twenty-something years it dawned on me that Martha’s problem was not that she was doing all these things – it was her response that revealed a deeper misalignment that Jesus wanted to correct.
You see, it is inevitable that as Christians, we will be called to actively serve in the Kingdom. Martha was called. Mary was called. Their job that day: To host the incarnate presence of God.
But if we rush to serve and do all these good, important things on our own strength, without first drawing strength from our divine Source, we become like Martha on that day – flustered, drained and complaining about our co-labourers who seem to be enjoying a greater restedness than we have had in the whole year.
Work in itself is not bad. It’s okay to be busy. But to obey is better than to sacrifice, so Jesus has called us to choose the better thing over the good thing – to put first things first. We don’t need to serve to be saved, but our service needs to be borne out of a deep relationship with Him.
We need to be Mary before we’re Martha. Time with God must precede our service unto Him.
It is the one thing that David talked about in Psalm 27, to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of his life, to gaze upon His beauty and to inquire in His temple. It is the one thing Jesus wants of us, as He commends Mary for her choice, the choice to tell Jesus that no amount of busyness will stand between us and Him. It is peace in the midst of ministry, calm in the eye of the storm.
We’ll need to be both Mary and Martha in the course of our day to day – sometimes we’ll need to sit, sometimes we’ll need to serve. But we need to be Mary before we’re Martha. Time with God must precede our service unto Him, be it at work, home, church or wherever it is He’s called us to. We must be Mary first, because only then can we be the woman Jesus exhorted Martha to be, no longer worried and upset, good and faithful stewards in the building of His Kingdom.