Distractions from spiritual growth are common. They come in various forms–material, emotional, relational, spiritual, etc.—and each one must be a source of concern to every Christian, as they all affect our spiritual journey in some way or the other. Oftentimes we find ourselves absorbed by those things that are less important. For instance, one may become less-focused on the main goal of nurturing faith when distracted by issues about jobs, bills, relationships, family concerns, etc.
To add to these, we have gadgets of modern life—television, mobile phones, and social media–constantly competing for our time and distracting our attention from major to minor concerns.
The Bible is full of stories where people were distracted from larger concerns only to worry about the lesser. The story of Mary and Martha is one great illustration as to how we may fail to focus on the significant in the face of lesser concerns.
Jesus in Martha’s Home
Tired and hungry after a long journey from Jericho, Jesus and His disciples reached the little village of Bethany, and entered the home of His friends–Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-41). The two sisters were indeed excited to welcome the guests.
Martha immediately set about caring for the needs of the weary. She got busy in the kitchen. Hospitality is something she had inherited from the customs of Abraham and the historic traditions of her forefathers, and it should be defined by love and extended in the very best of traditions. The table had to be set. Plates and goblets should be made ready. Preparation was almost done but there were always a few things to make the meal perfect.
She still had to slice some fruits, make some fresh salad, and give the final touches to the special meal under preparation. A dozen details needed to be attended. The guests couldn’t be allowed to wait. Martha was alone in her mission of hospitality, and her sister Mary was not anywhere in the kitchen.
When Martha did find her, she was “at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (Luke 10:39). Mary’s sole attention was focused on listening to His teachings.
Martha was deeply troubled and upset. How could Mary remain be like that when there was so much to do in caring for the guests?
Tired and disappointed, she did not come to Mary but approached Jesus with a question that betrayed her anxiety: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40).
Martha’s query was legitimate. But Jesus’ answer must have come as a surprise to her. The Lord commended Mary over Martha. “’Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:41, 42).
Between Martha’s anxiety for caring for the guests, good in itself, and Mary’s choice of sitting at the Master’s feet, Jesus showed the priority that should govern in life’s choices.
Martha was focusing on the less important. Sometimes distractions—that is, gravitation toward the less important–can become destructions.
For instance, the phone text message could distract one while driving and eventually lead to a destructive car accident.
At school, students distracted with gadgets or mobile devices during instruction time find themselves in a disoriented and ineffective learning environment.
Digital media often poses a challenge for reflection and staying in focus with God, and often prayer and meditation become shallow and superficial. Time spent on social media may reduce the time available for worship, prayer, Bible study, and those activities that strengthen the soul.
In an age when society is preoccupied by concerns of consumerism and pressures of materialism, it is not surprising that worship and devotional life are at risk. How often do we experience praying yet the mind is disconnected and interrupted? How often the body is in the church but the thoughts are on the shoe sale in the mall or on the designer bag on eBay?
How often do emails, text messages, news flashes disrupt the daily reading of God’s word? Have you been tempted to fiddle with your iphone while the pulpit is streaming down God’s message for that Sabbath service?
The issue is simple and yet most damaging: even as the risk of disruption is at the fingertip, the risk of destruction is reaching out to your heart.
Making a Better Choice
The central issue is: is it possible to serve Jesus yet being misguided? Martha thought she was doing the right thing. She was busy cooking, setting the table for an important meal, and was involved in meeting a specific need of the Master. She thought that she was serving the Lord.
But the idea of serving Jesus was so totally different from His perspective than from Martha’s. She must have been surprised and possibly even disappointed when Jesus rebuked her telling, that she was “worried and upset about many things” (Luke 10:41).
She was too preoccupied with so many things and missed the most important. The peripheral and the marginal in her pushed aside the central and the crucial.
Ellen White makes the point well: “The ‘one thing’ that Martha needed was a calm, devotional spirit, a deeper anxiety for knowledge concerning the future, immortal life, and the graces necessary for spiritual advancement. She needed less anxiety for the things which pass away, and more for those things which endure forever. Jesus would teach His children to seize every opportunity of gaining that knowledge which will make them wise unto salvation.
The cause of Christ needs careful, energetic workers. There is a wide field for the Marthas, with their zeal in active religious work. But let them first sit with Mary at the feet of Jesus. Let diligence, promptness, and energy be sanctified by the grace of Christ; then the life will be an unconquerable power for good.”
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