Just a quick recap of what we’ve been seeing over the past few weeks: there is far more to the story of Mary and Martha than we typically understand. First, working for Christ is not always a good thing, especially if our work destroys our ability to listen to Him, or transforms us into people whom we don’t want to be. Moreover, listening to Christ is not a passive or easy thing, because at the feet of Christ we hear difficult things that we are expected not simply to ponder, but to obey.
Pretty awesome! Now…how do we actually put these insights into practice? How do we practically distance ourselves from work that is divorced from God, and engage instead in a posture of hearkening, as we talked about last week? How do we develop some sense of balance between the ideas that we gleaned from Luke 10?
I think the answer lies in the very next passage of Scripture, which is Luke 11:
1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”
I think the story of Mary and Martha profoundly affects our approach to prayer. When you think about it, prayer is a very good case study of the principles that we have been talking about for the past few weeks. Superficially, prayer seems passive and easy. You just sit there, talking to God, not doing anything. Far better to get out there and work for God, pursue justice, preach the gospel! We perceive prayer much in the same simplistic way in which we perceive Mary and Martha, that Mary was being lazy and Martha was being hard-working.
But that is not the case. Prayer, as most of us know, is very hard work. It is not passive, but an active engagement with God. In prayer we rest and listen, but not as end unto itself, but a means to an end, because prayer leads to action. And if we try to work for God without prayer, our work is disconnected and deprived of power. We burn out, failing to make the connection between our toil and its purpose. Prayer is the perfect application to what we learned in Luke 10.
And so as we pray, I think it is very helpful to keep in mind what we have learned from Martha and Mary. If we fail to first pray, to sit and listen at Jesus’ feet, then there is no guarantee that we will really know what God wants from us, or that we will pursue His will in the way that He would want us to. And when we pray, know that you are not being lazy or passive, but are actively seeking clarity and strength to follow marching orders from God. You are hearkening!
So this week, let’s all pray – not as Martha, as impatient and bitter people who feel we are wasting our precious time when we could be doing something more productive. Instead, let’s pray as Mary, resting and listening at Jesus’ feet, so that we might know and be empowered to do His will!