A Martha Spirit

I’ve been in ministry of some kind or another since 7th grade. That’s a long time. Close to 25 years long. I’ve taken a few stints away into the workforce. Construction, concrete, maintenance, human services, but in some fashion or another I still had a toe in ministry somewhere. Helping in worship mostly but I’ve done design stuff, and small groups, and trainings, and youth, and sound/lighting/video, and the list goes on. 


You know the feeling when you do something for a long time. Repetition sets in and things have a habit of becoming rote.


I’m sure you can relate. The car drive where, in some way, you zone out and the next thing you know you’re parked in your driveway and you’re wondering how in the world you got there cause you don’t, at all remember the last 10 minutes of driving. 


Ministry can get that way if you’re not careful. I know this because I’ve lived this.


The task becomes king, and the purpose behind the why takes a back seat.


Some years ago I was helping out at a church. The worship was still great, the media still fired on all cylinders but a close friend of mine pulled me aside and pointed out something.


“Perfection does not equal purpose.” he said.


“Just because everything is as it should be doesn’t mean that it actually is. Ministry is a heart thing first before it’s anything else, and I’m sensing a Martha spirit in you.”


A Martha spirit?


Let me explain, but in order to get it clear we’re going to have to do some scripture digging.



Got a minute?



The interaction of Jesus with Mary and Martha happens in a book called Luke. Now normally I’d do a down and dirty retelling of the story but I think theres some interesting things to note so we’ll word for word this thing.



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.”


The first things I noticed as I was reading was that Martha was the one who extended the invite. She saw likely the importance of this unique Rabbi and felt her opportunity to invite a distinguished religious teacher into her home. 


Martha, we're told, had a sister named Mary. From the story we glean that the personality types of these two sisters couldn't be more opposite. Martha is seen as and A type, always in control type person while Mary, we get a sense, is a bit more B type, with a laid back relaxed attitude. 


It's important to see that the personality types here are not the things being called into question from Jesus' conversation with Martha. 


One could be easy to think that is the case. But it’s not and we’ll get to that.


Martha is hard at work and Mary is lounging about with Jesus and Martha approached Jesus and says "tell my sister to pull her weight!"


Of course we see Jesus come to Mary's defense here. Not for the least of reasons that Martha should have gone straight to her sister with her issue as opposed to talking(read praying in today's context) to Jesus about her and expecting Jesus to change her. 


The big thing to pull from this isn't the "bickering sister syndrome". Rather its that Martha is spending an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to do something we are all guilty of


She’s trying to impress Jesus. 


What with a clean house, some amazing baklava, her aged wines, lamb stew, whatever. The point is Martha is trying to impress Jesus and expecting her sister to take part in the impressing. 


Mary however has a different idea altogether of what they should be doing. Mary doesn’t look to impress Jesus but to be impressed by him. 


It's hard to remember that there is nothing we can do as believers that will surprise the King of Kings. What Jesus calls His children to do is to sit at His feet and be impressed by who He is.


I love Jesus here because his comment to Martha is this "look you really only need to be concerned about one thing here and your sister is doing it" 


Jesus never even says what that one thing is.


He leaves it hanging in the air. 


But Jesus is very clear on what is not important here. 


By pointing out that Mary has the one thing right (which is only slightly fuzzy) He is also saying that everything else to be worried about is way off base.


A quick note here… To me, this story isn’t about whose better, or more spiritual. Remember that Martha was the one to recognize the importance of Jesus and invite Him to her house. She was the one who was likely cleaning all day, and preparing all afternoon, for Jesus’ arrival.


I don’t think Jesus was chastising her for these good things.


The problem was that Martha was still doing these things when Jesus was there.


The time for preparation was over and the time for sitting at the feet of Jesus had started.


I remember sitting across from my friend as he shared his insight with me. 


I was stunned because he was right. I had made worship and ministry about the task and not about the heart. I was too busy setting up, preparing, and running around that I left no time to sit at the feet of Jesus.


I purpose myself now. I intentionally stop and even sometimes I will physically sit and just breathe. I’ll pray, worship, and listen. It takes practice and intentionality because like anything else if you do something regularly it can quickly become mechanical and lost in it’s purpose.


So, pastor. Church leader, believer, friend. Stop with the theatrics. Quit worrying about the carpet. The walls and the chairs. Forgo your stress about lights and sound systems, songs, and placements. Let go of your attempts at hyper righteousness for the sake of impressing. Forget about how you think you may be doing things to capture Jesus' attention. 


You already have it. 


The cross proves that. 


The real question is does Jesus have your attention?