How many of you share my struggle with distracting and anxious thoughts? Do you ever find yourself pretending to listen to someone but mentally scanning your to-do list? Have you ever gotten whiplash while praying?
“Dear Lord, thank you for this new day. Thank you for my hard-working husband [Oh, I need to tell him about that dental appointment tomorrow. I should text him, or I’ll forget. Oh wait, I’m praying.] Thank you for my sweet children. Thank you for Emma. Thank you for the way she’s grown and stayed so healthy [she’s actually grown a lot recently. Her skirts are looking miniature. She really needs some new clothes. Maybe I should take the kids to the consignment store today. What am I saying? Take all four—that would be a disaster. Oh, wait, I’m praying].”
Do you ever feel defeated by the overwhelming amount of activity and ministry in your life? In all the bustle, have you forgotten the “one thing [that] is necessary?” Jesus’ words, not mine (Luke 10:42).
Here’s the context. Martha generously welcomes Jesus and the disciples into her home. Martha was working hard to ensure their comfort—she feels the pressure to perform. As she bustles about ministering [“distracted with much serving”] she suddenly notices that her sister Mary is doing nothing—she’s sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening. Her indignation grows. Why isn’t her sister helping? There’s so much work to do. In mounting frustration and hurt, Martha approaches Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”
How does Jesus respond? He astonishingly chastises the wrong sister, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion that will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
Jesus gently steps on her toes . . . and mine. I’m afraid I often follow in Martha’s misguided footsteps. I get preoccupied with the “many things” of life. Good things. Family things. Ministry things. But if I’m not careful, all these things eclipse the “good portion” that God intends for me: Himself.
Like Martha, I find myself always doing and consequently worrying about something. But when I’m honest, I realize that these activities and worries often arise from my desire for control and placing my sense of worth in achievement. Like Martha, I often sacrifice relationship on the altar of accomplishment, and in so doing, neglect the “necessary” thing—communion with my Savior.
In contrast, Mary saw the incredible ministering opportunity (to serve Jesus and His disciples) and deemed sitting and listening to Jesus more valuable. Her relationship with Him trumped all her other responsibilities. Mary saw worth in simply being still and being near her Savior. Mary practiced the “stillness” of Psalm 46:10:
“Be still, and know that I am God. . . . I will be exalted in the earth!”
The ruckus of life seeks to destroy the stillness God calls each of us to enter, for it’s in the stillness that we reorient our hearts and let God be God. If we fail to still our hearts, anxious and distracting thoughts crowd out praying thoughts. Our minds stay busy with things to do rather than meditating on the things of God. In the midst of the clamor, Jesus commands, “Be still.” He gently lifts our chins to consider His glorious gaze: He urges us to lay down our petty pursuits in exchange for the ultimate pursuit, His exaltation.
Is it wrong to be busy? Certainly not. The Bible warns against the sins of the sluggard (Proverbs 6:6-11). We should be busy serving our family, ministering to the Body and reaching the lost. But if we are not careful, these good things become distracting things. They become anxious, ruling thoughts. They become idols of performance. Instead God calls us to serve him with an undivided heart. Like the Psalmist, we should beg God to “unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:11). In singleness of heart, we should pursue Him above all else and allow our works to flow from a heart devoted to Him.
While prioritizing your day, remember what is “necessary.” Learn from Martha’s misstep—don’t let work and performance rule and exhaust you. Don’t let the busyness of life crowd out your Savior. Instead, echo Mary’s choice—quietly settle at your Savior’s feet. Relish God’s goodness, seek His exaltation, and satisfy your heart with His lasting “good portion” because everything else is fleeting.