The clock was ticking, demanding her urgent attention, and yet she sat still. Martha breathed deeply and tried to close out the clamor of her to-do list. Rest. She wanted to start her days with rest.
Martha was seeking deliverance from what she called, “hurried sickness.” As obligations waited, she chose to drink in peace. The sun felt warm on her skin as she watched a tiny lizard scale her garden wall. It would probably be hotter later in the day, but now the temperature was a perfect 75 degrees. The intoxicating scent of the native chocolate flowers hung thick in the early morning air.
Quietly, she sipped her tea and meditated on a simple passage in the Psalms, “Early will I seek you.” Pure wisdom grew and took root in Martha’s heart, and in her morning solitude she heard God whisper to her of his steadfast love.
When life is hectic it may seem counter-intuitive to carve out time to listen to God, but it is essential. In the gospel of Luke chapter 10, there is another Martha who uncovered this important lesson.
She will forever be remembered as the woman who mistakenly believed serving Jesus was more important than listening to him. Scripture says Martha was distracted by much service, anxious and troubled by many things. But, she missed the one thing necessary, hearing Jesus speak. In contrast to Martha’s behavior, her sister Mary grasped the importance of living in the moment.
Mary rightly discerned Jesus didn’t come to town to teach every day. How did Martha miss this connection? Did she honestly believe Jesus needed her to cook for him when in the chapter before, Luke 9, he had easily fed five thousand without her help?
Did she believe it wasn’t a woman’s place to study theology or sit under such a great teacher? Did she not understand that Jesus’ message was for people just like her? People who are responsible, but who first need their own cup filled before they can meet the needs of those they loved.
For whatever reason, Martha initially pursued service over rest. She will later grow to value what Jesus values. And like the Martha of the Bible, we need to see the strength to touch others’ lives flows from those moments we spend sitting at Jesus feet.
We need to revisit this story with fresh eyes. Look at Luke 10:38-42.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” ESV
Service is not an evil endeavor. Jesus delights when we serve him. It is the much serving which can cause us to develop deaf ears. When we only serve and never take the time to listen we put our spiritual lives in jeopardy. So, what are some of the dangers revealed in this story of exhausted service?
When we only serve, we are tempted to question God’s goodness.
Look at Martha’s confrontation of Jesus in verse 40. “Lord, do you not care…?” Of course God cares. God is good all the time. He is always concerned about our real needs, but when exhaustion has overtaken us, we are easily convinced God doesn’t care about us.
Only pulling away from the hustle of life allows us to regain our perspective. If we neglect this sweetness, our spiritual deafness increases. It won’t be long before we feel free to boss God around. Look again at Martha’s next comment in verse 40, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me.”
Not only has the fog of serving left Martha questioning Jesus’ purity and holiness, but it has also clouded her judgment about her place in their relationship. Jesus’ sacrifice grants us the authority we need in prayer, but we do not control God. He can meet our requests in a multitude of ways. We must come in humility. We must wait on his answer, his timing and his provision.
Bossing God will destroy our ability to hear him speak.
When we only serve, we are tempted to judge others.
Mary was acting with the purest motives when she sat listening at Jesus’ feet. And yet, Martha could not see what was happening. When we are weary, tired and don’t find time for our own spiritual refreshment, we will feel free to sit in judgment over other people’s motives and actions. So, the absence of genuine spiritual peace can wreak havoc on all our relationships. We will constantly misread our loved ones’ intentions, especially their pure intentions.
Frantic speed will blind us and make it easy to condemn others.
When we only serve, God’s voice is muffled.
Most people’s hearing will diminish with age. Embarrassing things happen when we smile and nod at people, when we really didn’t hear what they said. Like the loss of hearing, we cannot successfully navigate our spiritual lives on partial information.
Satan doesn’t have to completely silence God’s voice for us to become disabled. If he can just muffle it, we will be unsure of God’s plan or assignment.
Sometimes God will speak with great clarity about our future, but he withholds the details. It takes great patience and faith to wait on his full revelation.
Martha believed Jesus was the Messiah, but she did not value his words. Jesus spoke to her and commended Mary for choosing the better way. Martha had chosen to only hear half of her Messiah’s message.
Martha’s story has unearthed three risk factors found in a hectic life. Exhausted service will tempt us to question God’s goodness, tempt us to judge others, and muffle God’s voice. Time spent listening to Jesus is the key to living and serving well.
1) Think back to the modern Martha at the beginning of our lesson. What actions or attitudes enabled her to hear God speak?
2) What might change if we could start our day with rest?
3) What might change if we valued hearing God speak?
Luke 10 ends with Jesus praising Mary’s heart. Look again at verse 42, “..but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken from her.” In Jesus’ promise to Mary we find such tenderness and joy. Maybe we could make this promise our prayer:
Lord Jesus, like Mary I want to choose the good portion, the one thing which is necessary. Don’t let it be taken from me. I ask these things in your name, believing they are your will for my life. Amen