The other day, as I often do every January, I was reflecting on the new year. Like so many of us, I have my new years’ resolutions, too: things I’m going to do, ways I’m going to be a better version of me. My new year’s resolutions are so often doomed to failure, however, because under the thinly-veiled surface of the promise of the new year, lurking in the darkness, waiting to undermine every new vow, are ancient, fatal flaws in my character and my thinking.
In this context, a close friend advised me to spend some quiet time with the Lord, imagining myself as a character from a passage of Scripture. Following his counsel, I chose Martha in Luke 10:38-42. A young Judean woman might seem an odd choice for a middle-aged American head of school, but God used this woman to reveal to me how much we have in common, and to expose how far off I am in going about being a better man.
Picture yourself as Martha in this famous story: Think about how hard it is to entertain guests in a first-century Judean house: stoking the fires, grinding wheat for bread, kneading dough, pounding it into cakes, drawing water from the well. What if you were doing all that back-breaking work yourself while your sister just sits there? Wouldn’t you resent it, feeling the anger boiling up inside you? “Look at all the good work I’m doing for Jesus!” you think, “Look how I’m serving Him! My sister is just sitting there doing nothing. The Lord is focusing all his attention on those He’s talking to and ignoring me! What about me? When will I be blessed for all this work?”
Finally, when you can take the injustice of it all no longer, you speak up, commanding the Lord to order your sister to help (which, in itself is remarkable: First, that a first century woman had the ability to sit at the feet of a rabbi when he was teaching, that this was even an option in this culture where women were second-or third-class citizens. Second, that Martha even thinks that she can command this Lord of hers! She wants vindication and blessing for her hard work so badly that she’s willing to call out the rabbi in front of people, a scandalous thing for a woman of that culture to do).
Jesus turns to Martha, and instead of rebuking her for her insolence, for having the nerve to speak to Him like that, He’s patient and loving, like a father or an older brother explaining something to a clueless, ignorant child. “Don’t you get it?”
No, she, and I, obviously do not. “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.”
I am scurrying about, anxious and troubled about all the things I have to do. Jesus, kindly and gently, convicts me. He says, “I’m not going to commend you, cheering you on for running around, engaging in mindless activity that mostly ultimately distracts you from the one and only thing that’s necessary: being with me, in my presence. The blessing is not in the fruit of all your activity, as you always believe it to be—that the harder the work, the busier you are, the more you run around and do, the greater your blessing will be—that’s not how My Kingdom works, or how your eternal reward works.”
God calls Martha, and me, to realize that simply being with Jesus, in His presence, at His feet, is the reward. He commends it when He sees that desire in Mary because that is the heart of God. That’s what eternity with Him will look like. God definitely calls us to work, but to work in the light of His presence, not apart from Him, anxious and hurried, simultaneously asking him to bless us with even more stuff that will draw us even farther from Him. Why would He want to order Mary, or any other believer, into that exercise in futility? Instead, Jesus wants to draw us into stillness and fellowship with Him. He calls us to choose wisely.
This frustrates me at first, Lord, because I want to justify myself, and for You to just commend what I’m doing and send me some help in doing it. In my core, though, I know You’re right. Acknowledging You’re right, however, means coming to the place, for the thousandth time, where I acknowledge the truth about my identity, the truth I’m so stubborn that I keep forgetting: You want me at your feet, with you, in your presence, so you can love me. I’m not just an employee you want to put to work; I am your Beloved Child, who pleases you only because You love me, because my older brother died so I could be in this relationship with you.
Lord, thank you for calling me to this rest as I head into the new year. Call me again and again to rest and trust in You this year. Let the only resolution that matters to me this year be not to do, but to be—to be with you, quiet, and still, and alone in Your presence, remembering who I am, letting everything about You and me and all of them become rightly ordered in my heart all over again. Thank you for being the faithful Abba who loves me in the midst of my distractedness, anxiety, and frazzled-ness. Thank you for loving me for who I am, yet calling me to be so much more.
Jay Ferguson, PhD, writes regularly on his blog, The Head and The Heart.