*Editor’s note: The current article is the work of a guest writer, Brad Merchant. Brad is a dear brother in the Lord and he serves as Lead Pastoral Resident at my home church, College Park Church in Indianapolis. Would you take a moment to visit the Brad Merchant Blog ? I know you will be blessed by the Christ-honoring teaching found there.
Jesus Matters Most: A Plea to Easily-Distracted, Always-Busy, Usually-Anxious People. -Brad Merchant
We will look at a story in which Jesus has a conversation with a woman who is on a journey to know Him more.
Luke 10:38 “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.”
As Jesus is entering a village with his disciples they are welcomed by a woman named Martha that graciously welcomes them into her home. So, Jesus and his disciples come into Martha’s home and as they do Luke points our attention towards another person in their presence.
Luke 10:39 “And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.”
Martha’s sister, Mary, is also in attendance at this home gathering. Luke does not tell us how Mary got into her house, but chances are that Martha and Mary had agreed prior to Jesus’ coming to house Him and His disciples together in Martha’s home. So, the scene is set: Martha welcomes Jesus and His disciples into her home with Mary. Nothing out of the ordinary until we read this… “(Mary), sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.” Jesus gathered His disciples around Him and He began to teach the Word of God. And as He began to teach, Mary stopped what she was doing previously, sat down, and began to listen to Jesus—hanging on every word He was saying.
Now, the reason this is quite odd is because of the fact that in second century Judaism women were expected to be engaged in domestic preparations while the men were engaged in study. For Mary to stop serving with Martha and to sit down with a group of men to listen to Jesus would have been seen as out of place by most and wrong by many. But Jesus does not rebuke her, instead, He approves of her behavior and commends her actions by continuing to teach. And she continues to soak up every word He speaks. But while all of this is going on, one must ask: what is Martha doing?
Luke 10:40 “But Martha was distracted…”
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word ‘distracted’ in this way: “having one’s thoughts or attention drawn away: unable to concentrate or give attention to something.”
To understand the significance of this we must take a step back and understand that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the One who the Bible says “holds all things together”, the One who hung every star in the sky, established the mountains in their place, made you and me from the dust, is now standing in Martha’s living room—teaching, speaking. And Martha has her thoughts “drawn away” from Him.
And this, friends, is the first hindrance to knowing Jesus: Distraction
Surely there is not one person that has not felt the nagging pull of distraction. You wake up in the morning after having made a plan to sit down and read your Bible unhurried and as you sit down to fix your eyes and heart on the Word of God your heart beams with excitement. You begin to read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word… I wonder if so-so ever replied to my email… checks email… Okay, back to it… “and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with… phone vibrates… Wow, this text has a lot of emoji’s, it has to be important…” And sooner or later you quit because you can’t seem to overcome all of the distractions. All of us feel this tension—but perhaps more than ever before. After all, we live in a day and age which Baylor Professor Alan Jacobs has called “The Age of Distraction”—which in large part, he argues is due to the widespread influence of the internet. In his book, The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, Nicholas Carr explains this when he writes:
“The internet’s interactivity gives us powerful new tools for finding information, expressing ourselves, and conversing with others. It also turns us into lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment… (the internet) seems to be chipping away (at our) capacity for concentration and contemplation. Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the internet distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”
Think about how the internet has evolved over the last twenty years:
- In 1995 laptops were created. We could carry the computer wherever we went (weighed 40 lbs).
- In 1996 email was first becoming a thing.
- Freshmen in college this year were born in 1998: the same year Google was created. No one googled before then. If you would have asked someone to Google something they would have thought you were weird.
- Text messaging started in 1998.
- Facebook in 2004, YouTube in 2005, Twitter in 2006, Instagram in 2010, Snapchat in 2011, the word selfie wasn’t invented until 2013.
- And the iPhone came out in 2007. Which meant that we could carry the worldwide web around with you wherever you went. And now it’s reported that 75% of Americans feel “panicked” without their phone. Ever experience that?
Why do I bring this up? For this reason: Whether we want to admit it or not, the internet has changed the way we think such that when we try to sit down to focus on communion with God we often feel like lab rats—constantly being poked and prodded with new distractions. Distractions hinder us from knowing Jesus more deeply. But notice the particular distraction that plagued Martha:
Luke 10:40 “But Martha was distracted with much serving…”
Martha traded the enjoyment of Jesus for the execution of tasks. And can I tell you that often we are no different? We get so busy working for Jesus that we forget Jesus. Like a man walking past the Niagara Falls that chooses to look at the ground, we tend to fixate on service to the King instead of the enjoyment of Him. Martha was distracted with much serving, but as she sees Mary sitting and not helping her, she comes to Jesus and says…
Luke 10:40“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
Martha sees that Mary is not doing her domestic preparation duties like she expected, so she goes to Jesus assuming that Jesus doesn’t care and demanding Him to rebuke her “tell her then to help me.” But Jesus responds not in stern rebuke towards Martha for complaining. Rather, he responds with tender love and patience…
Luke 10:41 “But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things…”And with that statement, Jesus reveals the second hindrance we face when wanting to know Jesus: Anxiety.
Anxiety is an invisible problem that shows visible effects.
Jesus, being the Son of God, very well could have peered down the corridors of Martha’s heart and seen very clearly that Martha was anxious. But isn’t it true that often times anxiety can be easily perceived?
I have found in my own life that my wife Clarissa often knows when I am anxious before I do. My anxiety takes many forms: frantic living, easily irritated, quiet, etc. But, being the wise woman she is, she never comes out and says, “Stop being anxious” Instead, she asks me questions that que me to check my heart. Questions like: “Are you doing okay? Do you need to sleep?” Or my favorite… “Do you need to eat?”
So, Jesus sees Martha, perhaps her irritation with Mary or her anger towards Himself. So, he says gently, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious…” But what does it mean to be anxious? David Powlison, in his book: How Does Sanctification Work? describes anxiety in this way:
“Anxiety feels like barbarians rioting in the streets of your mind. In part because anxiety presumes a great distance between God and my present concerns. Anxiety puts a distance between myself and others—it is the opposite of loving people. It is the child of self- trust, over-concern for the opinions of others, desire to control outcomes, and love of ease—all of which erase God and make this my universe, not his.”
Martha was in the vain pursuit of trying to be God. Worrying about Mary not pulling her weight, worried about if her guests were served well, worrying about what Jesus might think of her if the house isn’t all clean and tidy… Yet all the while not enjoying Jesus’ presence. But Jesus goes deeper and uncovers the fountain of her anxiety when he says, “you are anxious and troubled about many things…” Where is Martha’s anxiety coming from?
From the third hindrance we face when wanting to know Jesus more deeply, and it is this: Busyness
Jesus is showing Martha that her frantic, overwhelmed, anxious living was actually being fueled by her mind and life being consumed with “many things.” And friends, many of us relate. As one busy Mom once said, “On a normal day, my life feels like something between a perpetual summer camp and a three-ring circus.” And yet friends there is great danger lurking in living a life filled to the brim with “many things.” Pastor and Author Kevin DeYoung expounds on this when he writes:
As Christians, our lives should be marked by joy, taste like joy, and be filled with the fullness of joy. Busyness attacks all of that. One study found that commuters experience greater levels of stress than fighter pilots and riot police… When our lives are frantic and frenzied, we are prone to anxiety, resentment, impatience, and irritability all the while neglecting God… Busyness has killed more Christians than bullets.
Yet in light of the story, we must ask this question: what is busyness and how does it keep us from knowing Jesus? In order to answer these questions, we must first understand that busyness isn’t inherently bad. After all, Jesus Himself was busy going from town to town, healing people and preaching the gospel. The Apostle Paul told the people in 2 Thessalonians 3:8 that he toiled “day and night” for the sake of the gospel. In many respects, God calls us to be busy with Him as He works in the world.
But the busyness Jesus is pointing out in Martha’s life is the kind that is always looking ahead at the “next” thing, causing her to miss out on enjoying His presence in the now. Here is how I would define it: Busyness (the kind that hinders us from knowing Jesus more deeply) is the habit of running toward “the next” while missing God in “the now.” Think about it: Martha was busy. She had a lot to do, after all: The Son of God was coming over (and some of you freak out when a family member comes over for supper…). She had tasks to get done, food to make, floors to sweep, and laundry to clean.
This is precisely the danger of busyness. We become so concentrated about what’s coming next that we miss God in the now. Adele Calhoun expounds on this danger in her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook when she writes:
We can get so busy doing urgent things and so preoccupied with what comes next that we don’t experience the now. Afraid of being late, we rush from the past to the future. The present moment becomes a crack between what we did and what we have yet to do. It is virtually lost to us. We don’t get to our futures any faster if we hurry. And we certainly don’t become better people in haste. More likely than not, the faster we go the less we become.
So Jesus reminds Martha that in light of all she has to do, there is only one thing she MUST do… Luke 10:41 Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.”
Surely Martha must have perked up at such an audacious statement: “one thing necessary?!” What is this one thing she must do? Luke 10:42 “’Mary has chosen the good portion which will not be taken away from her.”
It is as if Jesus played a recording of video of the past hour of him arriving at Martha’s home with two scenes. Scene 1 stars Martha. Running around, stressed out about what needs to be done, worried about what others might think of her if she fails, busy with many things. Scene 2 starring Mary. Sitting down, listening to the words of Jesus. Giving Him her full attention and overflowing with joy.
It is as if Jesus turned to her after watching this film and said to her, “Martha, you’ve done a lot of good and noble things, but you have neglected the most important thing. Mary has chosen the good portion.”
Do you find yourself feeling like Martha today? Easily distracted, usually anxious, always busy?
Life is full of things that matter. Friends matter. Your marriage matters. School matters. Your job matters. Church matters. Your small group matters.
But like Martha, these things can be all-consuming such that we forget what matters more than anything. This is why Jesus calls sitting at His feet the “good portion” or perhaps a more accurate translation: the “better portion.” What does this mean?
We desperately need to be reminded of this because the world has been selling you a bag of lies all week. The Devil tempts us and tells us that there is joy and pleasure to be outside of Jesus: “Click on that website, buy those clothes, don’t confess that sin, neglect the Bible for something else, chase that next job promotion” on and on he goes and what Jesus is saying is this: don’t buy it! Jesus is better than all of it. More satisfying than all of it. And though the devil will tempt us to believe otherwise this week, we must remember the words of Thomas Watson: “If there be enough in God to satisfy us, then sure there is enough to satisfy us.” Jesus is the better portion.
But then Jesus gives one of the most precious promises in all of the Bible… Luke 10:42 “Mary has chosen the good portion which will not be taken away from her.”
How does this promise help distracted, busy, anxious people? By calling us to acknowledge two things:
1. There is nothing we have that won’t one day be taken.
There is nothing in this life that can’t be taken from you: your job can be taken. Your house can be taken. Your car can be taken. Your money can be taken. Your friends can be taken. Your spouse can be taken. Your children can be taken. Even your very life can and one day will be taken.
And often it is suffering and pain that God uses to reveal this to us. Tim Keller put it this way: “When pain and suffering come upon us, we finally see not only that we are not in control of our lives but that we never were.” There is nothing we have that won’t one day be taken from us. But at the same exact time Jesus wants us to also acknowledge this:
2. Jesus can never be taken from you.
When Jesus bore our sin on the cross and took God’s wrath in our place, He did more than justify us before God—He purchased for us the guarantee that Jesus will always be with us! Do you know what this means?
When you get in the car to drive home today, He is with you. When you go to school on Monday, He is with you. When you go to work this week, He is with you.
Friends, Jesus bought not only our redemption, but also the access to talk with, enjoy, and listen to the Lord of Heaven at all times—and here is the thing: He will never be taken from you. J.C. Ryle explains this further when he writes:
“The true Christian’s possession shall never be taken from him. He alone, of all mankind, shall never be stripped of his inheritance. Kings must one day leave their palaces. Rich men must one day leave their money and lands. They only hold them till they die. But the poorest saint on Earth has a treasure of which he will never be deprived. The grace of God, and the presence of Christ are riches which no man can take from him. They will go with him to the grave when he dies. They will rise with him in the resurrection morning, and be his to all eternity.”
Busyness can’t take him away. Anxiety can’t take him away. Our sin can’t take him away. Cancer can’t take him away. The devil can’t take him away. Even death itself can’t take our Risen Christ away from us.
Perhaps you’ve been overwhelmed by distraction, busyness, anxiety, suffering or some circumstance in your life. Be encouraged by this: Jesus is here with you—right now. He is all around you—calling you to abide in Him, talk to Him, enjoy Him, and to worship Him above every anxiety, task, and distraction—reminding you that Jesus Matters Most.
Starting now, will you embrace Him or will you rush to the next thing?
*Editor’s note: Would you take a moment to visit the Brad Merchant Blog? I know you will be blessed by the Christ-honoring teaching you will find there. Brad Merchant is a dear brother in the Lord and he currently serves as Lead Pastoral Resident at my home church in Indianapolis College Park Church. Follow Brad Merchant on Twitter.
All for Him,