The Secret to Doing What Matters Most
Martha, God bless her. Busy. Industrious. Practical. But preoccupied. And destined to be contrasted through the ages with her sister, Mary.
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. But Martha was distracted with much serving. (Luke 10:38-40a).
I feel for Martha. Maybe because I see more of myself in her than I want to admit.
Here the Lord of heaven is sitting in Martha’s living room and she is scurrying around. She’s not listening, she’s… serving. And it bothers her that the Lord seems oblivious to the fact that she’s overworked. Finally, exasperated, she interrupts Jesus:
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
But the Lord answers 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 10:40b-42).
This gentle, loving rebuke must have caught Martha off guard. She assumed her tasks were necessary. She thought that she was serving others, while Mary was obviously serving herself. But that wasn’t the Lord’s take on it. He saw something else at work in Martha’s heart, something so important that he not only corrected her, but ensured his correction was recorded for millions to see for millennia.
Love wasn’t motivating Martha’s serving. Anxiety was. Anxiety over what? I don’t know. But if she was like me, it was probably rooted in pride—in how she thought others perceived her.
I am very familiar with prideful anxiety. It tempts me frequently to give precious time to things that aren’t wrong in themselves, but unnecessary. They are distractions. The thing is, I often don’t recognize it as anxiety. I usually experience it as an urge: “I need to get this project done.”
But what’s behind this urge? If I stop to honestly assess my heart, what is exposed is a belief that if I don’t do ____, others will think I’m ____. Maybe they’ll think I’m disorganized or messy or lazy or an ineffective leader. Maybe they’ll see a weakness or sin that I don’t want them to see. What’s motivating me is a desire to impress others.
But that isn’t love and it’s not real serving, at least on the heart level. It is self-exultation masquerading as diligent, competent, productive service. What’s driving me is a fear of man or a desire for the praise of man. I’m anxious and troubled because to be admirable requires getting more done than I can possibly do. And doing more than Jesus requires. So I scurry around and, in the process, often neglect the most important things.
Why wasn’t Mary distracted? Because Mary was enthralled with Jesus. She was captivated. What she heard as Jesus taught were words of “spirit and life” (John 6:63). She was drinking “living water” (John 4:10), and eating the “bread of life” (John 6:48). Whether or not Mary was aware of Martha’s busyness, she simply couldn’t tear herself away from Jesus. And Jesus commended her on having chosen the good portion.
Being enthralled, engrossed, captivated by someone or something has a powerful clarifying effect on our priorities. We make time for what we are passionate about and we neglect what is less important. We can be tempted to think that the right time-management technique is the answer to a well balanced life and getting the important things done. But it’s not true. Techniques may increase our efficiency, but they can’t determine our priorities. The heart does that.
We order our lives by what we love.
That’s why our mission at DG is to help you stir up your love for Jesus Christ. We want him to be your treasure. We want you to be enthralled with him—so much so that you neglect unnecessary things because you can’t help yourself. You just want to be near him.
One way to help you is to point you a fantastic message that John gave in April at our “Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ” conference in Portland. It’s titled, “Piper Favorites: Four Portraits of Jesus Christ.” In it John describes four things that he loves about Jesus Christ! They are riveting. I could have listened to him all day. If you have time, listen to all four messages.
These messages, like everything in our Resource Library, are free. If you are able to help support us this month, you will be helping to extend this ministry to tens of thousands of others, and we would be very grateful.
Martha was wasting her time—her life—and Jesus mercifully corrected her. If you feel worried and troubled about many things, if you feel overwhelmed by tasks, if you recognize that you are easily distracted from Jesus, stop and ask him for help. Sit at his feet. Soak in his word-saturated presence. Because only one thing is really necessary.
Pursuing the One Necessary Thing with you,
©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org