As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“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 10:38-42
“Failing in his frontal attacks upon the child of God, Satan often turns to more subtle means of achieving his evil purpose. He resorts to devious methods in his attempt to divert the Christian from carrying out the task God has committed to him. He often succeeds by involving the saint in some other lesser occupation and thus distracting him. …
“Satan’s distracting words often come from the most unexpected quarters. Martha would call Mary away from sitting at the feet of the Master. Sometimes, if we are not careful, our best friend may distract us. Or it might be some very legitimate activity. This daily bustle and hurly-burly would too often and too soon call us away from Jesus’ feet. These distractions must be immediately dismissed, or we shall only know the ‘barrenness of busyness.’”
– A. W. Tozer, We Travel an Appointed Way
Tozer brings up an interesting concept here. If you said that Satan is alive and well, living in the church, it is possible that more than 99 out of 100 church members would argue against what you said. But look at the evidence. There is the faithful 10% of the church. They are so overworked that they have no time for prayer and Bible Study, because they do 90% of the work that is done in the church. It seems to be true across all denominations and non-denominational churches. Oh, what about the other 10%? They do hardly nothing. Think Christmas = Easter Only crowd (CEOs), if they ever show up.
Jesus tells Martha that the only thing that is important right at that moment is to be at the feet of the Master. What was the work that Martha needed help with? I am sure with many guests in their small house there was a lot of work. But Jesus knew that most of that work could be handled easily. They didn’t have fast food restaurants or Chinese take-out, but his disciples had probably been picking grain along the roadside as they approached Martha and Mary’s home. Something simple could be thought of at the last moment.
Martha was a planner. Martha had the old-time social graces. There were things demanded of the proper hostess. Jesus did not condemn those social graces. In a different setting, He would possibly have applauded them. Remember the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50. She kissed Jesus’ feet and washed his feet with her tears and hair. Jesus chastised the host for wanting to have her removed. Jesus pointed out to the host all the social graces that the host did not observe. Yet, Jesus knew that His time was limited, and Mary was doing the better thing.
Yet, in our churches, we have that 10% working their fingers to the bone for what purpose? Is God being glorified? Is the program highly successful in glorifying God? Let’s take something simple, something easily successful in worldly terms: coffee and cookies after the service. After the first service, some stay in the coffee area and skip Sunday school. Does that glorify God? Maybe yes, maybe no. Of the hundreds of conversations, is God mentioned in any of them? Maybe yes, maybe no. Is the sermon discussed? Maybe yes, probably no. Do any of the conversations get around to church gossip, especially the juicy stuff? Probably yes, maybe no.
From the answers, it sounds like the coffee thing is a flip of the coin whether it is worthwhile, but it is tremendously successful when simply counting heads or looking at the excitement on people’s faces. They are much more alive spreading gossip than they were in sitting in the pews during the hour prior.
And what of the workers? Is it hard getting volunteers to make coffee and spread cookies on a serving tray? Forget cleaning up afterwards. No one wants to do that, but someone is stuck with it. When church leaders are conscripted into serving coffee, do they fail to show? Oops, I forgot. No, they did not forget. They just didn’t wanna.
In my first post on the topic of “Getting Over Myself”, I talked of how it was okay to do something silly, just for the fun of it. In a social gathering, like coffee or a church dinner, it is okay to have conversations about the children and grandchildren. But Satan is perfectly fine keeping everyone in the room talking about ‘shallow’ subjects. Satan is delighted when he can tempt one person at each table to start spreading rumors and gossip, especially about other church members.
Maybe the church should ask the hard question. At what point of conversational depravity does a purely social event of the church become a detriment?
If you simply looked at how hard it is to get volunteers, evangelism and Sunday school would be cut. Yet, those programs are necessary. Evangelism and Teaching are dictated by Jesus in the Great Commission. Both, in their essential essence, are designed to glorify God.
Sadly, many churches ignore Evangelism entirely, and based on attendance, Sunday school, especially among adults, is the greatest failure of most churches today. Look at the sad historical pictures of the church where they took a picture of the people attending Sunday school 70-80 years ago. There are too many to fit in the camera’s frame, and that’s just the adult men’s class. It is sad when the church leaders do not attend Sunday school. As a result, Satan gives them the idea that for special events, Sunday school can be preempted. You know those special events where learning is insignificant, like Christmas, Easter, and the annual business meeting.
I have often thought the focus on Christmas is overdone in the church, but in reading two books of miracles (Eric Metaxas and C. S. Lewis), I am thinking of one reason that seems too far beyond the comprehension of the congregation to be the subject of a sermon. The greatest miracle of all is that God, living outside time and space, would enter time and space. And to add to that, He entered as an infant. At the same time, God reigns supreme from outside time and space – both at the same time. (Of course, the only ‘time’ is within our existence. See how people would get confused?) That is mind blowing! Yet, who among us can even grasp the vapors of that concept, forget what is solid.
Easter is the greatest tragedy in most churches. Christmas attendance far outweighs Easter attendance. I think most excuses there are that the music is better (but maybe not – just more familiar), and everyone likes little babies. Yet, Easter Sunday is the reason for all the Christian seasons. Jesus conquered death and showed us the path to eternal life with Him. Pentecost is when the Holy Spirit came to dwell within believers, but there is barely a mention. Yet, the large Easter crowd is there to show off their pastel-colored outfits and to welcome Spring. They might even say “He is risen, indeed.” It is a tradition that over half those attending might be unaware of its significance.
As for the annual business meeting, if cancelling Sunday school is required, you have already lost.
Am I wrong, or should I Get Over Myself?
Satan may tempt us to mention at a church social gathering which church leader is cheating on his or her spouse. But we can say what Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan!” And we might add what my old lay-witness friends used to add, “And don’t push!”
But there is that part of me that pleads for us to know who Jesus is. We need to pray. We need to study the Bible. And we need to authenticate what we have learned in those settings by being with other believers and discussing what God has revealed in our Bible study and prayer. In all three of these settings, we are sitting at Jesus’ feet.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.