Stressed, or at Rest?
“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 10:41-42
Read Luke 10:38-42
I used to dislike today’s Bible reading! It confused me. It even made me mad at Jesus. Seems like Mary’s a slacker and Martha’s… well, Martha’s like me! So naturally I just kind of sidestepped this story and put it in the category of weird things Jesus said that no one can possibly understand.
It was only after I understood the doctrine of grace better that I saw in this episode a lesson for life. The lesson? As author Steve McVey says, “Being preoccupied with serving Christ more than with Jesus Himself is a subtle threat to every Christian.”
Before you put this in the “I’ll think about it later” category, let’s do some detective work. When Jesus came to visit Mary and Martha in their home at Bethany, Mary sat down at the feet of Jesus and listened intently to everything He said and watched everything He did. She was focused on Jesus. “But,” Luke says, “Martha was distracted with much serving.” What? Hit pause for a minute. Luke reports Martha was “distracted.” Distracted from what? From Jesus! What was it that made her distracted? Serving Jesus! See how this story can mess with the head of someone as performance driven as I can be?
So she complains to Jesus about her sister not doing enough work. And does He say, “Martha, Martha, what you are doing is very good, and what Mary is doing is good too. My followers should be a healthy combination of the both of you”? Uh, no, that is not what He says. What He actually says is, “Martha, Martha you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.”How many things? One.
Now before you jump to the conclusion that Jesus doesn’t want people to cook and clean, let me ask you this: If He had asked Mary for a drink, do you think she would have sprung to her feet and helped Him out? Of course! But she started with — and stayed with — a restful focus on Christ. It’s when we leap into action for Christ without focusing on Jesus and remembering His love for us — without asking Him if He even needs or wants our busyness — that we drift into Martha-ism. Remember that movie Fatal Attraction? You could call this syndrome “Fatal Distraction” — distraction from our first love.
To say I can relate to Martha is the understatement of the century.
After the intellectual and emotional breakthrough I already described, it still took a while for the idea of grace to influence my life at a practical level, especially (and ironically) my life as a pastor.
One evening after yet another day at church “being distracted by many things” I came home, fell onto the couch, and thought I was having a stroke. My wife rushed me to the hospital where we discovered that I was having an anxiety attack — the first of several.
The doctor (who, I found out later, attended our church) asked me if I was resting.
He asked if I was getting sleep, exercise, eating a healthy diet, spending time in meditation.
I said I was just too busy.
He prescribed medication and a thorough reorientation of my thought process. I began to read Bible verses every day that reminded me of God’s sufficiency.
I’m still in the process of renewing my mind, but I learned on that day that if I do not focus on that one thing, Jesus Himself, I am very vulnerable to burnout and bitterness. I am much happier, even while busy, if I am focused on Jesus and His grace to me.
In what way do you relate to Martha?
In your own words, describe the “one thing” that Jesus says is needed.
Spend some time in prayer today at the feet of Jesus, just gazing at Him, in a spiritual sense. If you’re not sure how to do this, start by imagining Him present with you (He really is present, you know!) and then just say thanks. See what happens next.