Life Lessons: Martha
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.”
Of all the characters in the Bible, Martha is my kindred spirit, both in service and sin. I get Martha. I understand her point of view and if pressed to guess, I would say she was a 2 on the Enneagram scale. We might even share that 1 wing! See, Martha was a helper. A doer. An organizer. You would want Martha running the church potluck, the 4th grade bake sale and the charity gala. I bet Martha was always busy, going and doing everything she thought was necessary for her and others to function in the best way possible and yet, this smart woman seemed to miss something crucial.
In Luke 10, she’s referred to as distracted and I think for me that is what is so relatable. There’s the old adage that, “If the Devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy” and it rings true in her story and mine. Don’t misunderstand me. I believe Martha is a great example of a strong Christian woman but just like her modern counterpart, she wasn’t perfect and this is what she has taught me over the years…
You can sin doing godly things.
The Gospel teaches that you can’t get to heaven by works for many reasons including that it’s easy to look like you are doing amazing and godly tasks all while harboring a sinful motive. Remember, in Matthew 23 when Jesus chastised the Pharisees for being whitewashed tombs? They looked like the most upstanding in the religious community and yet they were dead on the inside. I know many who walk the halls of the church every Sunday, participate in a dozen ministries and are as lost as a goose because they’ve missed the point. “Doing” isn’t what we are ultimately called to as believers. You can bless others and still be sinning in the process.
Personally, I believe the challenge is found in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things…” Sometimes we really need to stop and ask the Lord to show us the heart stance in our actions. Are you on that committee because you want to be or because your pride has made you believe you are indispensable? Did you volunteer to set up that event because you know you can use your talents and be of service to others or because you want the praise of the pastor? Do you feel like your good deeds in public will help hide your secret sins? Are you more concerned that the next Women’s event is impressive or impactful?
This is exactly what we see in Luke 10: 38-42. Martha is rushing about, being of service to everyone yet absolutely missing what is going on right under her nose. Her sister, Mary, is listening to the Messiah speak truth and Martha is concerned that the table isn’t set and the coffee isn’t made. A big, life changing event is occurring for Mary and yet Martha is trying to drag her away until the to-do list is complete. I’ve been there… on both sides but I know myself well enough to know that I can get my priorities mixed when I’m busy or stressed. Heart posture is critical in service.
Busy doesn’t mean productive.
This concept piggybacks off of the above idea because often we make ourselves busy with a list of good things that we aren’t called to do. Either they aren’t of importance in the grand scheme or maybe WE aren’t called to do them. As a 2 on the Enneagram, I have a hard time saying no when someone asks because I enjoy helping and I feel guilty but this has put me in a spot more than once of being spread so thin that I wasn’t truly effective anywhere. What is better… to give 100% to the mission the Lord has given you or to give 10% to that mission and 9 other missions you have taken on yourself?
I’m also chronically plagued with being hyper-focused on extraneous details. Believe me, details matter but at some point you have to accept that perfection doesn’t exist in a task and that 1 Wing is acting up. Not once in my decades of event planning have I EVER had someone tell me that the way I matched the undertone of the tablecloth perfectly to the centerpiece changed their life. However, I HAVE had someone tell me how loved and invited that felt because of the thought or effort put into an event. Once again, the heart posture matters. Don’t run yourself ragged being busy and not being productive. Ultimately, ask the Lord to give you discernment in where you should place your energy and time and seek godly friends to hold you accountable in your service. I have friends who will say everything from, “You can’t add one more task to your plate.” to “No, the kids musical doesn’t need period authentic shepherds’ robes. That curtain will work just fine.” Listen to that wisdom!
Are you worried about what worries the Lord?
If we look again at Luke 10, we can see Jesus speaking to Martha about her concerns. He says, “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed- or indeed only one.” Translation? “Child, what are you doing?” Are you a worrier? Do you mull things over in your mind until you are sick with anxiety? Do you worry over the unimportant, trivial or uncontrollable? If you answered yes to any of these questions then we could probably enjoy a very stressful chat over coffee.
I’m a planner so I like to prepare for life’s hiccups and needs. This is actually what makes me a great event planner and host because I truly think of the small details that don’t seem to cross other people’s minds. When we have a Bible Fellowship event I go through my mental list of things I’ve picked up on recently in conversation that could make this event run smoother for all those attending. Tim just lost his job but has asked what to bring so I will assign him ice because it’s cheap and I’ll also make a mental note to thank him profusely for bringing something so important to show him that he is valued. Marie just started a new diet and I want to be supportive so I’ll make sure we have a fruit and veggie tray. Derek mentioned that he loves Reese’s Cups so I’ll make sure to throw those in the candy dish and Jessie is extremely shy so I’ll make sure all activities have a group element so she doesn’t feel put on display and uncomfortable.
Yes, I do this for everything I’m involved with from my classroom to my committees and these are good things to be concerned with BUT when these worries become less about my mission and more about how I think the world should function is when I get in trouble. The Lord doesn’t tell you not to have concerns but rather not to worry about what is outside of your GOD-GIVEN purpose. See, I also worry that Caleb is going to show up and eat half the food which is tacky and that Sally isn’t going to RSVP which is also bad manners. I worry that Robert will be thirty-five minutes late when he’s bringing the dip and Thomas will arrive two hours early before we’re set up and just get in the way. Those things will worry me to my core when those things are not relevant to the mission the Lord has given me. He has asked me to be hospitable and to show others His love. Those other things shouldn’t worry me because they aren’t a part of my mission. I’m not called to help Thomas with his social skills or help Caleb understand appropriate etiquette or help Robert learn to set an alarm. Speaking of purpose...
If God gave you a talent, He gave you a purpose.
As I’ve grown in my spiritual life I have realized that nine times out of ten God’s purpose for every ministry He has placed me in is to use my talents to show His love in a tangible way. I had a Bible Fellowship teacher years ago that said our spiritual life should go from our heads (knowledge) to our hearts (acceptance) to our hands (fruits) and I think that is a great foundation for understanding your purpose. In this modern age of social media comparison, we’ve been tricked into thinking either our purpose has to be extraordinarily over the top OR only some people have a God-given purpose while the rest of us are just meant to go to church and behave. In this passage of Luke, Christ makes it clear that HE is the ultimate concern of life, right? Our church has a brilliant motto of “Love God, Love People, Serve Both” and that is a better compass towards what we are called to do than anything else. If you fix your eyes on God, everything else will be directed correctly.
Maybe you feel called to the foreign mission field… that’s incredible and if that is truly your purpose then go but it’s alright if you’ve instead been called to the little league field, you know? Yes, the unreached need to know of Christ and His sacrifice but little Johnny at first base may also need that same information so be the tangible picture of Jesus to him. When I think back on some of the great men and women of faith in my church, I can’t help but see people who knew exactly where they had a talent and were open to how the Lord wanted them to use it...not to how they wanted to use their talents.
I see Miss Bonnie and Miss Ruth, who must have rocked a million babies over several decades in the nursery. Can rocking babies be a mission field? It sure can when you are helping those babies feel loved and allowing their parents to attend classes and services that allow them to grow spiritually which in turn will allow those babies to see spiritual examples in their homes. Ripple effects… I see Mr. Bill, who potty trained every little boy that passed through his Sunday School class while his wife ran the little library upstairs. These areas may seem small in the grand scheme of eternity but I promise they left their loving mark on many because I still remember them three decades later. I see a nameless lady who held a scared little girl during the Easter program because the banners and crucifixion were overwhelming. She showed a little love for a few minutes and disappeared but let me tell you, every time I see one of those banners I think of her kindness because even as an adult I’m still kind of freaked out by those things. Lasting ripple effects of the mission you’ve been GIVEN not the one you create...
Hold your purpose loosely.
The Lord didn’t chastise Martha for wanting to be hospitable or for using her gifts to care for others but rather for getting confused on how to live out a purposeful life. Imagine all the insight and truth she missed while busy in the prep work. The Lord was clearly speaking but she was too busy to hear… Have you ever been there? Or has the Lord laid a clear opportunity in front of you but you missed it because you were busy doing something else or worse yet, did you ignore it? I’ve had to make a conscious effort to “be available” literally and metaphorically when things crop up that aren’t in my time schedule. See, I have a habit of being overly honest with my replies when the reality of the situation calls for something else. For example, I’m setting up for a church party and Thomas, who arrived two hours early, comes up and wants to talk. Everything in me wants to ask him to wait patiently because I have a prioritized, time sensitive list that I need to complete before everyone else shows up...on time, mind you… but what if the Lord was giving me a chance to reach out and show love… to offer a listening ear… to show the same kindness He shows me every time I cry out to Him? Is following through with my plan more important than following through with His? Of course not!
Yes, the Lord has given me skills that make me a great planner and organizer. Yes, the creativity He put in my veins comes in handy with children’s choir productions and limited budgets and yes, I believe that “hospitality” is part of my mission field BUT that doesn’t always look the way I think it should. Don’t grip so tightly to what you think you are supposed to do that you miss what the Lord is trying to do through you. We don’t know the background of what was going on in Martha’s home that day but something tells me she wasn’t trying to do the bare minimum. She loved Jesus and held Him in high regard so I get that she probably wanted to provide the very best. The best food with the best presentation….Maybe she was trying to pull out the good dishes or the nice linens? I can totally see where that would happen because let me tell you, that is exactly what I’d be doing and yet, that isn’t what she was called to do at this moment.
Perhaps, the Father had words to be spoken directly into her heart that would help expand those talents into a ministry for the Kingdom but she was just too busy to listen because she thought she was already achieving all she was called or capable of doing? Perhaps, she felt that just sitting and listening was wasteful when there was so much to do and just perhaps, like me, she struggled with the command of Psalm 46:10...Be still.
If Martha’s struggles resonate with you the way they do with me, I want to encourage you to pray for discernment in your purpose and the execution of your GOD-GIVEN mission. I pray that you will be surrounded by some wonderful godly friends to hold you accountable, slow you down and remind you that you, too, can sit at the Father’s feet for a while.