The contrast of sisters, Mary and Martha, in this chapter is well known. Martha nervously toiled to get lunch on the table while her sister sat serenely at Jesus’ feet. In my twenties when I was first learning how to commune with the Lord in prayer and worship, the Spirit pointed me to this story, verse 42 in particular: “Only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” I sensed the Spirit’s word to me: “If you’ll do your part by making yourself available to me I will be available to you and you’ll always have the time and space for communion with me. No one or nothing will ever be able to take it from you.” He’s made good on that promise.
Martha’s, “Tell her to help me, Lord,” might be a good example of the conflict between “worshipful” Christians and those who feel that getting things done is more important than sitting around worshipping! This was the same Mary who later sat at those same feet and wiped them with her hair of the excess of the perfume she’d poured on his head. There was an objection raised that day as well, this time from the thieving one of the twelve. Interestingly, he suggested that more could have been “given to the poor” had she not wasted it on worship! We’re expressly told that he didn’t care a rip for the poor, but that he was stealing from the community purse. It wasn’t enough for him to steal money from Jesus; he tried to steal his worship as well!
My life verse is an uncommon one, “… they that know their God shall be strong and do exploits.” (Daniel 11:32 KJV) I ran across this as I was launching out into a life of service. I knew that it was important to be “strong” in God and I aspired to “do exploits” for God, but that day it became clear to me that my first tier priority had to be to “know God.” I had to devote myself to really know him, not just know stuff about him, but know him for who he is.
I’ve come to believe that being strong and doing exploits are consequences of knowing God. I decided then, as a young man, if I were to pursue anything, it was going to be this. I have to admit that I haven’t been entirely loyal to this goal, but my life since then has only been worth living in proportion to how consistently I’ve followed God’s advice that day.
What Mary did before lunch that day when she sat at his feet is a great example of what it means to be worshipful. For my money, the term “communion” captures it best. I don’t mean the thing we do on the last Sunday of every month in church to commemorate Jesus’ death. Though absolutely invaluable in itself, and which very well has the potential of creating moments of intimate communion with him, I’m talking about something not necessarily part of a church gathering, religious rite, or the singing of God songs with a crazy-talented “worship band.” For the truly worshipful Jesus follower, communion can take place anywhere and anytime. I’ve sat at his feet in hospital waiting rooms and driving in traffic and communed.
I’m enamored with Jesus and treasure those moments of intimacy with him; yet as life-giving as intimate worshipful contact with the presence of God is to me, it’s not all there is. Sitting at his feet is as precious as life gets but if I’m really “hearing his word” as Mary did while worshipping him, I will eventually be gladly compelled to get up on my feet and engage in a lifestyle that is worshipfully missional and merciful. Mother Teresa called her missionaries “contemplatives at the heart of the world.” We live for the heart of God at the heart of the world. Like Jesus, we work as well as worship. We’re his missional, merciful, and worshipful followers.
Is it possible for a Christian or a church to be too active – too much like Martha and not enough like Mary? If it is, what would you prescribe to us to become more “worshipfully missonal and merciful”?
If you think it would help, feel free to forward this post, along with your own comments, to some friends in your church or beyond.