Originally published Tuesday, 29 July 2014.
It's getting close to that time of year again. The stores are stocked with school supplies. My inbox is filling with emails about all the after school activities that will start up before too long. The busyness of the school year is nearly upon us. And with that comes a cluttered calendar and more often than not, a cluttered heart.
I don't know about you, but I am not ready for it.
They say that you can tell a lot about a person by what they do with their time and money. When the reformer Martin Luther was very busy, he is known to have said, "If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer." Who among us would spend so much time in prayer if we were busy? It's more likely that when our life gets busy, we would cut out God from our day rather than add more prayer.
Yet that is what Jesus did. In the midst of his busy days preaching and teaching, he made it a priority to get away and be alone with his Father. "And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed" (Mark 1:35). "But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed" (Luke 5:16). The interesting thing is that even though he was already connected to the Father, after all, he is the second person of the Trinity, yet he still made a point to remove himself from people and activities to spend time in prayer.
What about us? In our minds, we know we need to be intentional in investing time with the Lord but when the busy realities of our day hits us, we tend to focus on those things instead. Do you know the story of Mary and Martha? This story speaks to the heart of priorities, what we invest our time in, and what motivates the choices we make with our time.
"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. 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 then 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.” Luke 10: 38-42
Martha's worries and anxieties kept her from sitting at the feet of Jesus. While her sister Mary sat and soaked up his words, she was running to and fro trying to prepare food and serve her guests. The Bible describes her activities as distracting. Jesus said she was anxious and troubled.
While her work to serve and provide food for her guests was a good thing, it became the most important thing. It took priority over her heart, making her anxious and worried. The distractions pulled her away from Christ. She had God incarnate, the Word made flesh, sitting in her living room and her heart was so cluttered and anxious she couldn't think about anything else but her duties.
Can you relate to Martha?
We too can forsake being in the presence of God in order to check off our long to-do lists. We also can get wrapped up in the details of duties and responsibilities and never pause long enough to receive nourishment from the Word. Perhaps we also can feel self-righteous in our efforts to work hard and get everything done.
We often think that if we just "do this one thing" we can feel relief from our stress and all the distractions in our life. Only when we've checked off our lists are we then ready to spend time with the Lord. But it really works the other way around. Our priority ought to be Christ and being in his presence. When Christ isn't our priority, as Luther said, Satan gets the victory. Imagine the joy he and his minions get when we choose activities and to-do lists over sitting at the feet of Jesus!
Jesus said to Martha that only one thing is necessary. David said this about "one thing": "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple" (Psalm 27:4).
There are many things we can do in our day. Some are worthy and even quite important. But nothing, not even good things, should interfere with our relationship and communion with God.
Only one thing is necessary. I think that's what Martin Luther knew, David knew, and Mary knew; nothing else is more important than Christ. In fact, being in his presence often helps us realize and see our lives from a Kingdom perspective. It gives us greater clarity as to what we need to invest our time in. Being in God's presence reminds us of the greater picture. All the little details we think are important fade in the presence of his glory.
And the truth is, whatever God has called us to do in our lives, he will help us accomplish it. Investing our time in prayer and communion with God will not strip away our time for other things. It will only give us greater wisdom to fulfill what he calls us to do. Lack of time is not a problem for God and will not prevent him from completing his purposes in and through us.
So let's not forget that as we make our plans and fill our calendars this school year. When we consider our priorities let's remember the one thing that matters. And let's not sideline our Savior for the sake of busy lives.