A few weeks ago we talked about how God uses our everyday life to build our spiritual character. We often think we have to add all this stuff to our lives in order to grow spiritually, but really we just have to be open to what God is doing everyday already.
Simply being aware of how God is working in our lives is not the only way to grow spiritually, nor should it be our only way. Today we are going to look at adding some things to our life that will build our spiritual character. Considering our chosen text for today...at first glance it may seem at odds with the idea of adding something to our lives...
It is found in Luke 10:38-42. Let’s take a moment and read it...
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.”This story always bothered me a little. I bristle a little just listening to it.
There are probably several reasons for this. The first is I am a doer. I like to keep moving and busy. The busier I stay the more productive I feel. If I take time to sit still for a day...by the end of the day I’m almost angry because I didn’t accomplish anything. I like to rest, but even my rest has busy-ness. I read, watch television, listen to music. It seems there is always something going on.
The second reason may have something to do with what Henri Nouwen says:
“As soon as we are alone,...inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again. Entering a private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distraction, we often find that our inner distraction manifest themselves to us in full force. We often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important.”Many of us don’t like to be alone because that is when all our inner voices start to speak. As long as we are busy we can hold them at arms length. We can pretend like they don’t exist.
But notice Nouwen says, “This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important.”
Remember when you were a kid and got sick. The doctor always gave my mother two medicines. The wonderful, heavenly, bubblegum flavored pink stuff and the horrible, nasty, sewer water green stuff. It was like the heaven and hell tour of medicinal treatments. We all liked the pink stuff, but the green stuff was really what helped take away the cough and stuffy head that made us miserable.
This story reminds me how often I miss the point. I get so caught up in busy work and doing stuff and hiding from my inner voices that I forget God wants me to be with Him...and that out of that presence...out of that relationship...then and only then do things get done!
God wants to spend time with us.
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.”
In this story we see both Mary and Martha want Jesus’ presence in their lives. He was present and available for both of them, but only Mary truly enjoyed His presence. There was a lot of things that had to be done in preparation for a visiting Rabbi and his disciples...so Martha, wanting Jesus to come to her home, was busy doing all those preparations.
Mary...simply sat with Jesus.
It is so easy to get caught up doing all the stuff to spend time with God that we forget to actually spend time with God.
We are willing to read all the books on prayer and how to study the Bible and the Christian living books and the devotionals...the conferences and the church services...listen to all the latest worship songs, and yet at rarely do we stop, sit quietly with God’s Word open in front of us and speak with Him. We spend more time doing and thinking about spending time with God than we do actually seeking to spend time with Him.
One of the most powerful things about being in the Vineyard movement is how they speak of God...in relational terms that fully expects God to speak to His children...but so often we miss out on hearing him...or we begin believing that he doesn’t really speak to us like that...when we haven’t taken the time to cultivate that relationship and carve out the time to invest.
Have you every been working on a project, reading a book, or watching a show on television...and you were so engrossed in it you never heard the person walk into the room? They may have even spoken to you, and yet you didn’t hear it.
Busyness in our lives is like that. What we need is some buffer zone...some quiet time...some separation from all the stuff that wants our times.
Our time spent in Scripture and prayer and solitude are important because these are disciplines God uses for a growing relationship. He speaks to us through the Scripture and prayers. He uses the solitude so we can hear him; away from the din of our everyday lives.
And this takes time. We cannot build a relationship on flashes and bit prayers and rushed moments. Our earthly relationships suffer when we don’t have time for the relationship. We appease ourselves with things like “Quality time over quantity time,” but we know that quality time only comes with quantity time.
Marriages disintegrate when the couple gets so busy they no longer spend enough time together. Parent-Child relationships suffer when the parents or the child are involved in so many things they spend no time together. Friendship suffer when busyness gets in the way. So too our relationship with God. It requires time.
And the whole time there are some challenges...
First, Necessary things will get in the way.
“Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”
Martha opened her home to Jesus. He was a guest and a loved friend. But being a guest in someone’s home carried some expectations just like we have today. You needed to have the right foods, the right wines, and plenty of them. You had to have certain arrangements made for guest care...
We have similar expectations. Guests coming over to our home are a Level 1 Cleaning Emergency! I have been scolded, appropriately I must agree, for what was left on the floor where company MIGHT have walked in and seen...
I have this thing with having enough food...I overdo it because the first rule of bad hospitality for me is for anyone to leave hungry or to not have enough on their plate.
Martha was caught up in all the things that had to be done. They were necessary.
I don’t think Jesus was saying that what Martha was doing was unimportant or unnecessary...but what she failed to do was MORE important and MORE necessary.
Our lives are never going to have a shortage of stuff that will vie for our time and require our attention. There is always something that HAS to be done.
Spending time with God, in His Word and in prayer, is an “In Spite Of” activity. We do it in spite of all the other necessary things that have to get done. We have busy lives that include jobs, family, taking care of our homes and our health...we are called that in spite of all these things to spend time with God.
It will always be an “in spite of” thing...because we always have something necessary that needs to be done.
But let’s be honest. We also waste a lot of time. One pastor said, “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that our lack of prayer was not from lack of time.” A little light on the grace side, but I understand what he is saying. I spend time I should be working on other things Facebook stalking people.
We tend to do whatever it is we really want to do. We want to eat and sleep and watch some TV and we find ways to do that most of the time. God’s presence is something he always wants us to want. He isn’t guilt-tripping. He is waiting.
Probably one of the biggest challenges in this whole thing is...
Being with Jesus seems unproductive.
“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
Martha was focused on the work she knew needed to be done while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. Sitting there...doing nothing...just listening. If Mary really wanted to make Jesus feel worthy should would get up and do something. Make something happen.
Sometimes it seems like the time we spend praying and reading God’s Word is just so unproductive. It just seems like I am sitting here doing nothing. I may read. I may talk/pray. But I’m just sitting here. Then my ADD kicks in and all the shiny-flashy-computery things in my office start beckoning me.
If every time we read Scripture it was like a lightening bolt from heaven revealing something to us, we would do it all the time. We would pray all the time if we felt God’s imminent presence every every time we prayed. The problem is...we don’t. We don’t always feel that connection...that relationship...that presence. Sometimes there are season of what seems like complete absence.
It seems even more unproductive when I could I just get up and go DO something.
And while we don’t want to substitute prayer when we are faced with immediate need which we can do something about...as we are warned against in James 2:15-17, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
Our prayers must be accompanied by action when appropriate...but we are too often guilty of immediately substituting action for prayer...and completely missing what God is doing.
God uses that time spent together in prayer and in His Word to build our spiritual awareness. It isn’t always noticeable. It isn’t always “productive.” But it is always taking place. It is out of this ongoing relational time with God that we are able to discern the right actions when face with challenges in our lives. Out of this time we grow in our understanding of where God is leading and what He would have us do with our lives. We are better able to sense when He is opening a door for us to share His love with others.
But it all takes those day-in-day-out times where is may appear on the surface that absolutely nothing productive is happening.
In the end...
We have to choose what is better.
“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.”
So many things will clamor for our attention. You will have job and family responsibilities. You will have emergencies. There will be all kinds of things that are absolutely important and necessary. Spending time with God and Praying will seem like the least productive thing you could do with your time...
In the face of all the preparations that had to be made Jesus told Martha, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
In the face of everything in our lives we are constantly making a choice of whether we are moving closer to God or farther away. His invitation is open to each and everyone of us...but our schedules and all the necessary things and all the stuff we can do for God will often challenge us...it can seem like this is just one more thing to add to an already overwhelming schedule...but there is something here...there is something important about this.
It is so important that when faced with whether or not food made it to the table Jesus was able to say that Mary, choosing to sit at His feet and learn and listen and live in relationship with Jesus, was far more important than anything else being done.
Eric Hoffer wrote, “We are warned not to waste time, but we are brought up to waste our lives.” We become slaves to the demands of the immediate and miss out on what is most important.
“Aren't you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don't you often hope: 'May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.' But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out. This is the way to spiritual death.”And yet Jesus never offers us death. That is the offer and reward given to us by the enemy. John 10:10 Jesus says “I have come to give you life to the full!”