The past two weeks, my schedule has been non-stop…literally. Last week, the earliest I got home was 9:30 PM. On Sunday, I left my house at 8:45 AM and got home at 11:00 PM after three different gatherings and a fellowship dinner afterwards. I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually spent. So, I took Monday off—completely off. I turned off my phone—no calls, no email, no text messages, and no social media. Instead, I slept in. I spent time with Jesus. And, I worked in my house. I worked with my hands instead of with my head. And, I rested.
I experienced a teachable moment last weekend. This famous exchange between Jesus and Mary and Martha illustrates it well:
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. 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, ESV)
Transitioning back to another full week, I’ve recognized my need for soul care. If you are anything like me, working in the Kingdom comes far easier than feasting with the King. In our fallen state, we are hard-wired to serve and work for Jesus rather than being alone with Jesus. We are most like Martha and most unlike Mary. But, to serve Jesus fervently, we must know Jesus deeply. For that to happen, we need to be reminded of a couple realities:
1. We must understand the imperative of priority. As Christ-followers, we have many responsibilities: work, family, school, and mission, among others. Each is important and honors God when done well. But, we have just one priority. Jesus says, “only one thing is necessary” (v. 42). Mary chose it. She sat at the feet of Jesus listening to His teaching. We do this today by devoting ourselves to prayer, biblical meditation, and other spiritual disciplines. This is God’s spiritual physic for our souls, and we neglect it at the peril of ourselves and others. There are many things we should do, but only one thing we must do.
2. We must resist the danger of distraction. Some distractions are obvious. Think about the works of the flesh in Galatians 5 (sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and things like these). But, other distractions are subtle, and their subtlety presents the most danger. Here is the most tragic phrase in this account: “But Martha was distracted with muchserving” (v. 40, emphasis added). By all accounts, Martha was a friend of Jesus—a believer. She wasn’t running a brothel out of her basement or sacrificing animals through polytheistic ritual in her backyard. Jesus rebukes her for being distracted by “much serving.” She was so concerned with doing things for Jesus that she missed being with Jesus.
This reality should make every Christ-follower pause. A danger lies in being so busy working in the Kingdom that we miss intimacy with the King. This neither minimizes our responsibilities nor negates our mission. It simply orders our priority and guards us from distraction—even from good Christian things.
Ultimately, Jesus wants us to know that we are to live for ONE thing: knowing Him. Knowing Him deeply then fuels doing the many things of life. This is one of the reasons I was so tired and so spent last weekend. I got them out of order. Working tirelessly for the Kingdom without consistent, restful time with the King leads to frustration and exhaustion. It can even lead to burnout. But, knowing Jesus deeply and resting intentionally leads to serving productively.
Chris James serves as Boston Collegiate Coordinator for the Baptist Convention of New England where he serves as Pastor of Mill City Church & Christian Student Fellowship, a multi-site ministry reaching students at UMASS Lowell. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi (BA) and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv).