The Best Work
Martha, Martha, thou art, anxious and troubled about many things; but one thing is needful, Luke 10:41
Let us be frank: work for the Lord has its attractions. It can thrill you when crowds gather to hear you preach. If instead, you are compelled to stay at home, occupied from morning to night with mundane affairs, you soon began to think: “How meaningless life is ! How grand to get out and serve the Lord! If only I were free to go round, preaching!” But that is not spirituality. It may be no more than a yielding to natural preferences. Is it not possible that much of our so-called service for Him is simply the pursuit of our own inclinations. We are so restless we cannot bear to stay at home, so we run around doing Gods work for our own relief. We may be doing our utmost to serve our brethren, and we may be laboring to save sinners, but one thing is needful. Are we first ministering to him?
Jesus has made a visit to the home of His dear friend Lazarus who lived with his sisters Mary and Martha. I’m sure that the purpose of His visit was just to spend time with His friends, perhaps even just to rest from His work and enjoy company and conversation. I seriously doubt He wanted or expected an elaborate meal or entertainment. He just wanted to be with those He loved and who loved Him.
Martha represents those of us who want everything to be perfect and in place when guests come. The house needs to be spotless, the food exquisite, and the activities designed to provide the greatest pleasure. There in nothing wrong with that until it becomes more important than giving our guest the best gift- our time and ourselves. I’m sure that there are many of us who exhaust ourselves when we know we’re having guests in our home to the point by the time they arrive we’re too tired to enjoy the time with them and sometimes when they leave, we say to ourselves that we’re glad they came but we’re just as happy now that they are gone and life can get back to normal.
All that is driven because of pride. We want to excel in our preparations. We want our home and meals and activities to be the best. Again there isn’t anything in desiring to honor our special guests and I’m sure that’s what Martha had in mind. Like us, her failure wasn’t in what she was doing; it was in the fact that she made an assumption that she knew what her guest wanted and expected. Boy, did she miss the mark. I’m sure that Jesus appreciated all her efforts. I’m sure He understood her motives. And I’m equally sure that He was disappointed that Martha was so busy trying to give Him what she wanted Him to have rather than taking time to seek to know what He really wanted. There have been times when I’ve been invited to someone’s home for a meal and I know that there was a lot of preparation that went into that event. I’m sure that the house got an extra dusting and the meal was carefully prepared and my invitation for me was deeply appreciated. That my friend would go to such trouble for me was indeed humbling. I didn’t attend just for the sake of a free meal. I accepted the invitation just to spend time with my friend. We could have ate peanut butter or bologna sandwiches with a glass of water and I’d have been fine. It wasn’t so much about the meal as it was about the company. But I have a confession. There have been those occasions when I’ve had to eat food that I really didn’t like because my friend was valuable to me and I didn’t want to hurt them. How I wished they had asked what I liked rather than assuming I liked what they liked. True story. Some years ago I was invited to a dinner that was such a challenge. I’m not a great fan of sweets. Given a choice I’d take fresh fruit over cake or pie. Not that I don’t have an occasional sweet tooth. This particular meal, however, was a sugar laden meal. Everything had sugar- even the vegetables. This couple loved sugar and this was their normal cooking style. I enjoyed spending the evening with my friends but I sure wish they had asked me about the food.
When Jesus came to the home of Lazarus, I’m sure He didn’t wish an elaborate preparation. I have no doubt that He would have been happy to share a normal family meal. His greatest need and desire was for Martha to join Mary as she sat and listened to His conversation.
What does Christ want from us? Are we so busy doing things, activities and such that they have become our focus? Are we like the parent who is so busy making a living, providing for the needs of the family, preparing meals, doing laundry or cleaning house that we have no time for the personal touch? Are we giving to God and others everything except ourselves? When we gather as the church is the building’s appearance, perfected ritual, or exceptional activities and programs more valuable to us than just spending time with God? Is getting successfully through the order of service so important that we miss the purpose of gathering?
In His message to the church of Laodicea, Christ makes the following observation:
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
Here is the Martha church that is so busy with activities and programs that it has missed the importance of the invited guest. It’s so busy that it doesn’t hear when the guest arrives and knocks on the door. It’s time for an evaluation. Is the occasion more about what we’re doing or is it more about who our invited guest is. May it never be so. May we have the attitude of Mary who said, “Having Jesus in our presence and enjoying having Him as our guest is more important that what meal we are planning or how clean the house may be.”
We talk a lot about burnout as church workers. Could it be that the reason for that is that we have become more focused on activities and how they measure up in comparison to others rather than reminding ourselves that the primary reason Christ came and broke down the barrier between us and God is so we can enjoy each others company more than we feel compelled to work?
It’s easy to find our fulfillment in what we do rather than who we do it for. There is a sense of accomplishment when we’ve completed something that receives notice by others. As a preacher and musician, I can tell you that there is a sense of satisfaction when you made the point, hit the note vocally or played the notes with no mistakes. But if that becomes our goal- not taking anything away from working toward excellence- we’ve missed the point as much as Martha did. Nobody but us truly know our motives, even in the work of God. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians says:
“Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.”
Philippians 1: 15-18
The point is that the gospel is preached but how sad it will be for those who labor for any reason than that which stems from their love of Christ. Those who labor from love may become weary but never burned out. They may become frustrated but never cease. The secret is to remain in His presence and from that place go out and do the work given to you to do and as soon as that task is finished, go back and sit at His feet again.
Dr. John Thompson