Luke 10.38-42 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. 40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. 41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: 42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
This well known story teaches us something about the time to work and the time to pray. In our culture, we think mostly in terms of “time to work and time to play”. Time to pray gets short shrift, even among Bible-believing Christians. This truth came home to me after some recent experiences.
To wit, I have recently been doing some work for my mother. She has moved from our home town in Alberta to the West Coast so that my brother and sister and I can help her in her old age (though she remains pretty independent at eighty-eight). She left some property behind which we need to sell. One piece of property is a half-duplex. The tenants recently moved out and it needs a bit of work. The kitchen cabinets were a mess – vintage early 70s, a “poster-child” for the worst that decade produced and showing signs of wear and tear. The bathroom wasn’t much better. Both of them would be huge turn-offs for potential buyers, so we decided they needed to be replaced. I volunteered myself and one of my deacons for the task.
The job involved traveling back and forth in one week (my home town is thirteen hours from Vancouver Island, once you get across the ferry) and working like mad to replace everything. We hired a painter to go in ahead of us so all we had to do was replace parts. We left Sunday after our services, drove all night, spent the first day buying parts and supplies. (We managed a quick visit to my grand-daughter as well!) The next three days were twelve hours a day, non-stop work. We fell into bed exhausted each night. Friday found the project almost complete. We worked another long day, from eight in the morning till 6:30 that night, and then we headed for home. We did stay over in a motel on the way back, arriving home at 6:30 pm Saturday night, just in time to prepare for Sunday.
You would probably agree that our week of work was an unusual week. It was a close to 60 hour week of work, not to mention the 26 hours of traveling along with it. There was very little time to pray, much less play. We were definitely ‘cumbered with much serving.’ I think we did manage to snatch a bit of Bible reading each day, but our time was limited, not to mention our comprehension.
As a pastor, I am anxious for the people of our church to develop their spiritual lives. I want them to spend time in Bible study and prayer. I want them to grow spiritually and put God in the first place in their lives. I want them to forget this world and think of (and live for) the next.
I am also realistic (at least, I hope I am). I realize that the people in our congregation work long hours to provide for their families. Some travel many miles commuting to work. Some might even need to work second jobs, and in many cases both spouses are employed in order to meet their obligations. Many are exhausted by the end of the day. Time for Bible reading? Very little is available. Believers go from week to week getting a shot of “force-feeding” in their Sunday services and try to sustain themselves on that. Some will think one service a week sufficient to sustain their spiritual lives.
Some will argue that we have over-obligated ourselves, we have too expensive homes and tastes, we labor much for that which does not profit, and we are too fixated on possessions and their enjoyment. That might be true, but that is not what I wish to argue for in this article. Rather than argue against our indulgences, I’d like to argue for a Christian management of our time — for Choosing the Good Part.
What is the Good Part? According to Jesus, it is what Mary was doing, sitting at Jesus feet. From other passages, it appears that the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus was not a pauper’s home. It was Mary who broke an alabaster box over Jesus’ feet and anointed him for burial. This ointment and its container could never have been the possession of a pauper. Whatever work Lazarus did, he provided well for their home. Martha’s industry shows that the family was not given to waiting for handouts. It is unlikely that Mary left Martha to do all the work all the time. Yet on this occasion, Mary left off work and sat at Jesus feet. Martha’s work may well have been important, no doubt she thought it so, but it wasn’t most important.
In our society, we all must work. There are more things to do than hours to do them in, it seems. We press on, doing those things we deem most important, but… do we take time to pray? Do we really take the time needed to build ourselves up as disciples? Are we setting aside time to read the Bible, and more than read it, to study it? I was so encouraged recently when a man in our church told me about some of the books he is reading, along with his Bible. Such study will bear fruit in days to come.
Many Christians have a very surface understanding of the Bible and theological issues. I don’t expect the average person to have time or interest in theology as a course of study – I don’t expect them to become seminarians. But I do expect Christians to learn to think like Christ, to be able to gain some ability of interpretation and application of the Scriptures to daily life so that they can make wise choices in their daily activities and earthly pursuits.
Could it be that we are too busy “living for the weekend” and its attendant pleasures that we have forgotten how to live for the Lord and his service? Do we have enough disciple-makers in our churches to really staff our Sunday schools and other outreach programs? Shouldn’t our problem be that we don’t have enough positions for our people to fill rather than having not enough people to fill our positions?
Yes, I, too, know the maxim, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” That isn’t the Bible, however. We do need rest, but wouldn’t it be better to rest and relax in the Lord? There may be things of this world that we can enjoy, in moderation, but they shouldn’t rule our lives. Time to work and time to pray — may that be the motto of growing Christians.
Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria and serves on the FBFI board as chair of the Communications Committee which is responsible for this blog.