Someone has to do it. Church as we know it doesn’t just happen. The hard work, the preparation, the planning, the executing all have to be done. Not everyone gets to be so lucky to just sit in a pew and be spoon-fed the Word. Some of us have to serve. Isn’t serving the spiritual thing to do? Then why do we often feel so spiritually dry when we work so hard to make sure everyone else gets to have a good worship experience?
When Jesus comes to her house, Martha does everything she can to make the environment perfect for a visit from God, Himself (Luke 10:38-42). But the work proves to be straining enough that she becomes upset. In all her hustle and bustle, she freed her sister, Mary, up to simply sit at Jesus’s feet and learn. Mary definitely got the better deal. Jesus says so Himself. Who wouldn’t, if they could, choose to sit at Jesus’s feet over being stuck in the kitchen making sure everyone can eat?
As I have read this story in the past, I have always assumed that Martha was upset with Mary. And it seems that she may have been. But she doesn’t go to Mary and say, “Come help me.” She instead goes to Jesus and asks, “Don’t you care?” Many of us resonate with Martha on this one. We do all the planning, the preparation, and the execution so that others might have a good worship experience and it seems like God pays attention to them, but we wonder when Jesus is going to talk to us. When am I going to hear from you, Jesus?
Because Mary gets the better “portion”, I often assume Martha was wrong to be “serving.” And maybe she was. But Jesus never tells her to join Mary at His feet. And we know that it is necessary to have someone doing the behind the scenes work. So is it wrong to be Martha?
The simple answer is: Not all the time, but it can be. Like we have said already, Marthas are necessary. And I would argue that if you are called to vocational ministry or to volunteer at your church than you are called to be Martha at times. But we must recognize our need to be Mary. If we are always working behind the scenes or even up on stage so that others may experience God and we forget to sit at His feet ourselves, we will miss out, burn out, and, like Martha, begin to question whether Jesus cares.
So how do we live out our call to be Martha while still fulfilling our need to be Mary? It is definitely easier said than done. And the answer is probably different for everybody. But I do have a few suggestions on how to, as one pastor put it, “have our Mary moments in this Martha world.”
- Keep it simple.
After she issues her complaint, Jesus says to Martha, “…you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.” Martha’s problem was not that she was working too hard or that she didn’t have the help she needed. It wasn’t even that she was anxious. Martha’s problem was that she lacked focus and the discernment to see what was most important.
If there is anything my generation lacks, it is focus. And running a ministry can be very complicated. It is easy for us to get stuck trying to keep too many balls in the air at once. We do so many different things that we end up not doing any of them well. And, even worse, we don’t grow because of any of them. It is time we focused on what is important, drop what can be dropped, and pass the rest on to others who have the time. This frees us up to go sit and listen to Jesus.
- Practice Sabbath
The Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27), but we so seldom use it. Some of us are too busy to have Sabbath in our life. This is a problem that needs to be corrected. Others of us have the time, but are not disciplined enough to actually take it. We use excuses like, “I want to wait until I really need a break,” or “I don’t want to be too legalistic about it.” But it’s not legalistic to take the gift that God has given you. You just have to trust God enough to believe that when He says you need it, you do.
- Really Pray
We assume that church leaders, whether they are staff or laypeople, know how to pray. But I’m not sure that is always the case. Sure, every church leader knows how to “talk to God.” But I am not talking about the quick prayers while driving in a car or even the prayers we say in church. The kind of prayer I am talking about can only happen after the first two suggestions are implemented. We must learn to stop and spend time with Jesus. Like Mary, we need to be able to forsake everything else and just sit at Jesus’s feet.