I had spent most of the week in what you might call "Mary" mode, and was really enjoying the time I'd set aside for intensive prayer. So far, things were going very well. The house was quiet and I managed to spend several hours each morning in focused prayer. Although intercession is not my primary calling, it is, for me, a powerful passion. But as the end of the week neared, all hell broke loose.
On the evening of the 5th day, our washing machine flooded the basement - not once but several times. My sweet husband (who likes to remind me he is an electrician, not a plumber!) could not resolve the problem. My frustration mounted as I surveyed the endless piles of dirty laundry our boys create. With no money to pay a plumber and no solution in sight, I foolishly began imagining myself bent over a washtub, scrubbing clothes by hand... and prayed it wouldn't come to that!
The next morning, I was awakened early by my son, white-faced, who announced that he had thrown up three times already and felt very ill. He would be home from school that day. Because he struggles with diabetes, I knew that we'd be fighting to keep his blood sugar numbers down that day, which is not an easy task. Sicknesses like these have sent him to the hospital in the past. Bleary-eyed and struggling to remember our sick day protocols, I turned on my phone to call in his absence to school.
Immediately, my phone began screaming with notifications. (Does this happen to you?) I checked the messages and realized that Google had arbitrarily locked me out of ALL of my email accounts, and was insisting that I now pay them for the privilege of using “work” email. What?! At the same time, I discovered that the main link to my ministry website did not work and was preventing people from accessing His Inscriptions. Turning on my computer, I groaned, wondering how I would sort out this mess.
It seemed the enemy had woken up earlier than I had and was causing all kinds of chaos, long before I even opened my eyes! It took me several hours to tend to my sick kiddo, disinfect the mess, circumvent Google, and fix the website. It was 11:00am before things were quiet enough for me to sit down and pray. I'm sure you’ve had days like this, too.
God Speaks in the Chaos
My scripture reading that morning just “happened” to be the story of Martha and Mary. (Luke 10:38-42.) What a timely word! Because I had functioned very much like Mary all week, I was already upset with myself for being so distracted from prayer. It had definitely been a “Martha” morning! I missed that place of rest, where Mary listened to Jesus’s words, as I read her story. But my mind was as troubled as Martha’s; I still didn’t know how I was going to wash clothes, or what I could give my son to eat that he could hold down.
Far from reprimanding me, God used this sweetly familiar story to deepen my knowledge of Mary's blessing. Here’s what He showed me.
When Martha asks Jesus to make Mary serve, Jesus responds with two interesting truths.
First, only one thing is really needed in life: the “good part” that Mary chose, sitting at Jesus's feet and hearing His word.
Our prayer lives are the most important and only required thing in Jesus’s estimation. Everything else is a distraction unless it is flows from what He tells us to do in our time with Him. Serving (which in the Greek here is diakonia - the same word we use for deacon), is not bad; it is a biblical virtue. But serving at His direction is better.
Second, the “good part” is not taken from Mary, even when Martha submits the noble goal of finding someone to help her serve Jesus. Jesus said He would not command Mary to leave Him and help serve, because she was already exactly where He wanted her. John 6:37 confirms His viewpoint: “The one who comes to Me (Jesus) I will by no means cast out.”
When we see distractions pulling us away from the ministry of prayer and the Word, we can be fairly sure that they are not from God. The trick is to get ourselves back to that place of peace and rest in Him.
The apostles in Acts faced a similar problem. Widows were being neglected in the daily service of meals. The apostles's response to this complaint was similar to Jesus’s response to Mary: “It is not good that we should abandon the Word of God to serve (Gr: diakonia again) tables.”
The twelve appointed others to serve, so that they could “give themselves continually to prayer and to the ministry (again diakonia in the Greek) of the Word.” (Acts 6:4.)
I hope that you are seeing what I saw as I studied. There are two types of ministry, or service. One is the diakonia (service) of the practical: serving meals and meeting the needs of the people around you. The other is the diakonia (service or ministry) of the Word, which is what the elders in Jerusalem were called to. The same Greek word is used in all of these scriptures.
There are also two key "takeaways" from these scriptures. First, we must be sure that the ministry (diakonia) of people's practical needs does not distract us from the ministry (diakonia again) of prayer and the Word. Second, we must be sure that our ministry of the practical is rooted in our ministry of prayer and His Word.
When the disciples resolved this complaint so that distribution was fair and they were able to devote themselves again to the ministry of the Word, the result was a multiplication anointing in Jerusalem. Signs and wonders followed (Acts 6:8). Even the priests obeyed the Word (6:7) and the number of converts increased exponentially.
The question is, what are you serving today? Are you serving only the food that perishes, or including the food that endures? (See John 6:27.) When we choose to listen to Jesus first, our ministries serve enduring spiritual food. When we wait for God's leading in ministry, even our service in practical things is blessed and multiplied, just like during feeding of the 5,000.
As I finished reading this short story, I couldn't help but wonder: “If Jesus didn’t make Mary help Martha, then what practical good was she at the time? She didn’t do anything!” It does seem that way, and the Marys of today still fall under similar judgment from those who are more inclined to be Marthas.
But Mary earned Christ's favor. She didn’t “serve” people in any obvious way. It was Martha's home cooking that Jesus ate. But by the grace of God, Mary put food on the table for thousands of people after her, without ever visiting Martha's kitchen. Because she chose the “good part” of listening to the Lord, her restful posture of prayer was immortalized by the Lord. She reminds countless believers throughout the ages of the ministry that’s foundational to the Christian life. Her service - diakonia - shows us the way to everlasting life.
When she's not taking care of sick children and broken washing machines, Deborah Perkins loves to help others connect with God in life-giving prayer. She writes about knowing God and hearing His voice at His Inscriptions. Subscribe to her free weekly blog for inspiring teachings, or join the growing community onFacebook for prayer and encouragement.
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.