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 only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." - Luke 10:38-41
When I first read this passage as a new believer, I was indignant. I was often that way when reading the scandalous stories of grace presented in the New Testament. I had immediately identified with the Martha in the story. I am the older sister, I am the one who's always the planner, the one doing all the work. I even had a little sister, who I of course thought of.. "my sister has left me to do the work by myself.. tell her to help me!".
Now, coming back to it again with a fresh experience as a visitor in someone else's ministry, I also have a fresh perspective on Martha.
The people of the ministry I got to visit tonight were without a doubt, passionate, driven, motivated to pour out on the young adults at the halfway house they minister to. However, Martha was in charge, not Mary. There were things to be done and keeping us busy, we were preparing a Christmas dinner for the house, the worship, the bible study, the gift giving. There was a well-planned agenda, and assignments, and handouts. Which by themselves aren't terrible things, these are useful in assigning tasks. But Martha was too busy being in charge to encourage others to speak, or challenge them to get out of their comfort zones and really talk to kids. There was another visitor to the ministry helping that night and she stayed in the kitchen the whole time, saying "I'm really more of a behind the scenes person." It seemed everything was too planned out. It almost seemed like a struggle against the Holy Spirit in the effort of sticking to 'the plan',
I do not dare to say that this was anything but a successful evening - however it was done, the Holy Spirit did move some kids ("That was nice of them.. they didn't have to come all the way out here to do this"). And it is my pride that I am trying to quash when I think to myself, "they could have done that better this way..". Who am I to judge what tool to use?
I completely confess to being a Martha myself. I can get possessive over my tasks, I want to control things to make sure they're done right, I want to plan to the nth degree. But I am trying desperately to be more like a Mary. Working like a Martha makes working for God very hard and tiresome. Working like a Mary makes working for God easy.
Instead of being possessive over my tasks or ministry, or even the success that I get to witness, God gets the glory. Being possessive over the work often makes you lose sight of why you're doing it in the first place. When it's only you completing the tasks (because you're possessive and don't let God help you), then of course the work is difficult and exhausting, because you are doing the work alone! When you let God own the work, however, it becomes easy.
If I try to control things to make sure they're done right, what if I'm denying someone else the opportunity to pour out onto the needy, as I know I enjoy doing? I need to remind myself, it's not the task on earth here that's important, it's the relationship with Jesus. Mary was lauded for choosing 'what is better'. She chose to strengthen her relationship with Jesus instead of preparing a meal. Really, putting both into perspective - the food doesn't really matter, does it? It's an earthly need that will always be there. Jesus was not always going to be on earth - maybe Mary realized that as she poured out perfume on Him to prepare Him for His burial (John 12:7-8). Either way, she had clearly made her priorities heavenly, not earthly.
And when the Marthas want to plan to the nth degree, we are not planning on God showing up. We are in fact planning that He WON'T show up. What sort of faith is this?? James 4 reminds us that it is not our will that plans and predicts tomorrow, but "if it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." Our plans are silly. Why would we choose to rely on them, when we could be relying more faithfully on God to work out the details?
I keep coming back to: "But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made." Even though Martha had a very respectable purpose - preparing a meal for Jesus and his disciples - her busy preparations were keeping her from actually knowing Jesus.
As we get into the holiday season, do we let the preparations of the holiday keep us from reveling in the purpose of the holiday? We celebrate Christmas to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Surely, our Savior could care less about plastic reindeer in the front yard and 20 colors of wrapping paper if it meant we were putting those things instead of celebrating and worshiping Him. Do these things, but only if they are not distracting you from the true and Godly reasons for our festivities.
I pray that I listen to the wisdom I am led to write - that I can hear the "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (Ps 46:10). I pray that in my preparations for Christmas, I do no lose focus of why I prepare.
It is a crazy thing in this world to plan on God showing up. But, this is really the only thing we're called to plan.