How many things can you think of that you are concerned or stressing out about? Wouldn’t it be nice if there were only one thing that was worth worrying about? There’s a story in the New Testament that says just that. It is the story of two sisters and two very different reactions to the arrival of Jesus at their house. It is the story of Mary and Martha, found in Luke 10:38-42.
Jesus arrives in the village where Mary and Martha live, and Martha welcomes Jesus and the disciples into their home. Martha proceeds to scurry about making preparations for a meal, but her sister, Mary, goes out and sits at the feet of Jesus to listen to what he is saying. Martha, the gospel of Luke tells us, “was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing.” She complains to Jesus, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” Jesus’ response to her complaint is this, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Only one thing worth being concerned about! What a freeing concept! It’s not that all the details of dinner were unimportant, or that the details of what you do in your life are unimportant. Notice that Jesus didn’t rebuke Martha for preparing dinner; he chided her for being worried about it. There is a big difference. The “one thing” we need to worry about in our lives is whether we’re spending enough time at the feet of Jesus. All too often we let the details of our lives, work, and ministry get between us and the time we spend at the feet of the Master.
“But,” we say, “look at all the things I’m doing for God! Surely that’s important!” And so it is. But it’s not as important as spending time with God first. You see, once we learn to make a habit of spending time at the feet of Jesus, the rest of the things that need to get done will get done, and with much less stress and worry than before.
From the simple story of Mary and Martha (see Luke 10:38-42), we realize that the only thing worth being concerned about is making sure that we’re spending time at the feet of Jesus. There is, however, yet another application that we can draw from this passage. Jesus says that Mary has discovered the only thing worth being concerned about, and that is sitting at the feet of Jesus. But why sit at the feet of Jesus? Jesus here is elevating the importance of relationships over tasks.
At first glance, this may seem obvious. Of course relationships are more important than tasks! But do we really live our lives that way? Or does the daily grind so often seem all important, and even perhaps like an emergency, distracting us from what is really important: our relationship with God and, flowing out of that, our relationship with the people that God has placed in our lives?
If we look back at trends in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, we see him spending a lot of time with people. Adding everything up that Jesus accomplished during his lifetime doesn’t produce much in terms of how our culture views success. After all, he was a homeless itinerant preacher who never wrote anything down, couldn’t manage to keep a consistently large following, and managed to get himself killed after he annoyed the religious leaders of the day by saying that he was God.
What then was his accomplishment? Relationships. This is the heart of Jesus’ life. He became human in order to restore the relationship between him and us. And throughout his ministry as an adult on earth, he spent the vast majority of his time hanging out with a small group of disciples, living his everyday life with them, including them in his ministry even though most of the time they had no clue what was going on.
How powerful were those relationships? You and I are sitting here now, having this dialogue because of those relationships. What came out of the disciples’ relationships with Jesus was the start of the church, the writing of the New Testament, and a movement that is still moving anywhere followers of the risen Christ gather in his name.
So next time you start to panic over all the things you have to do, stop and take inventory of the status of your relationships and make sure that those are where they need to be first. The rest will fall into place.
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Anna Aven Howard is the Director of Youth Ministry at Trinity Episcopal Church, Winchester, TN. She has an M.A. in Youth, Family, and Culture from Fuller Theoloigical Seminary and writes regularly for youth ministry journals.