38 While they were traveling, he entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand.”
41 The Lord answered her,“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42 (CSB)
Both Mary and Martha loved Jesus and Jesus loved both Mary and Martha. They, along with their brother Lazarus, were among Jesus’ closest friends. We need to keep that in mind before we go any further. In a minute, I am going to ask if you are more of a Mary or a Martha, but I don’t want you mistakenly thinking that your answer makes you more or less loved by Christ. If you have trusted in Christ, you are fully loved. You are fully accepted. You are fully pleasing to God. With that said, it’s time for us to give the Holy Spirit some space to do heart surgery.
I like Martha. I can relate with Martha. I think we are wired the same way—always needing to do something. It can drive my wife nuts. I am so bad at sitting still and doing nothing, even if she wants us to do just that. I try, but I get antsy so quickly.
Can you relate? Are you on Team Martha? What makes it even more complicated for us is that we often love doing things for others. We are the ones who generally will chip in and help when we see work that needs to be done. We are wired to do that and we try to show love and care for others by what we do.
But there are times, like we see here in Luke 10, when our wiring can become a fault. Martha made two mistakes here. First, she missed spending time with Jesus. Time with Jesus was precious—and here Martha missed it. Her tasks distracted her from what, or Who, really mattered. Second, Martha seems to have been miffed that she was doing all the work and Mary was not helping. That is what she wants Jesus to help with, right? Her service, then, was done with at least a portion of bitterness. And that is never a good thing.
How about you and me? Can we fall into the same traps as Martha did here? Can we be so busy that we miss spending time with Christ? Or miss spending time with our kids and families? Can we serve with bitterness too? Bitter that we are the ones who are always doing endless tasks while other staff members do not?
Here are a couple of tips to help prevent this. First, we need to learn to delegate. This can be a challenge because many of us Marthas like to do things a certain way but when we delegate, we need to let go. Or, we like the attention we receive for doing all we do. The root of both of these concerns is pride, and we need to die to that pride and delegate. Second, we need to be OK with unfinished tasks. We need to be OK if all of the details we envisioned don’t work out. Or if a project is only “very good” and not “perfect.” Or when we need to let something go until another day.
Now let’s talk to the Marys out there. While Martha was running around worried about being a good host, Mary was focussed on the guest Himself. She sat with Jesus, listening to Him. When Martha complained, Jesus made it crystal clear that she had made the wrong choice while Mary had made the right one. So in this instance we see that spending time with Jesus and focusing on Him is more important than anything else we might do.
If you are a Mary, this is a no-brainer to you. Of course it is better to spend time with Jesus. You cannot imagine starting your day without ample time in the Scriptures. And this likely carries over to your ministry where you love spending time with your kids and families.
This is great, right? We cannot fault this ministry posture even if we wanted to because Jesus commended it. But we have to be careful not to push Jesus’ affirmation of Mary too far. The context was a narrow window of Jesus’ earthly ministry—just about three years. Jesus’ point seems to have been that Mary was wise to spend time with Him and focus on Him while she was able. In plenty of other places, Jesus talks about our need to serve Him—not just spend time with Him. So as ministers, we need to be careful not to let a Mary disposition hinder our ministries. In an effort to love Jesus and love our kids and families, we may actually hinder our ministries if we fail to complete the numerous tasks undergirding them.
Here are a couple of tips to help prevent this. First, all ministers should calendar their days thoroughly, but especially Marys. We know that ministry is frantic and it is easy to miss important tasks and details. Calendering our activities is essential to make sure we don’t fall behind. Some people prefer to use to-do lists or apps, but I prefer a calendar app. Schedule your week ahead of time, blocking estimated times it will take you to complete each task. I even color-code mine to see how balanced my schedule is. All of my meetings are one color, all my phone calls another, and so forth. This way, you can block times for spending time with Jesus and your kids and families, but ensure you don’t do so at the expense of preparing for that upcoming talk, securing your spot at summer camp, and purchasing your VBS materials. When you calendar, you can live with confidence each moment, not worrying whether you should be doing something else because everything is covered ahead of time. Second, as a Mary, go out of your way to pitch-in to help with tasks outside of your ministry area every chance you get. The Marthas around you might see you as lazy or not a team player. Pitching in joyfully and consistently will go a long way to preserve those relationships you care so much about.
Brian Dembowczyk served in the local church ministry for over 16 years. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his family live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.