Many of you will relate to this. Has it ever happened to you that in the middle of a conversation, your spouse asks you, “What do you think?” For minutes, she had been sharing with you something that happened. You were nodding, even adding comments like, “wow, really?” Giving the impression that you were listening and paying attention. But, when she asks, “What do you think?” You are silent. Your body gets cold, and your life flashes before your eyes.
That is a tough spot. No matter how smart you are, you can’t get out of it because immediately after that follows the next question, “Were you listening to me?” You can’t lie. She is asking not because she does not know the answer but because she already knows. And the one thing that you do know is that you are as good as dead.
Why does this happen? Because our ears and mental capacity are busy paying attention to something else. Our body is present, but our mind is absent. Perhaps we are trying to figure out a solution for a problem at work or a concern with our children, or there is something really important on our phone that captivated our attention. The bottom line is that we are too busy to listen. So, we missed the conversation… and now we are dead.
Is your life like this? Busy? Do you run out of time or get distracted trying to keep up with everything you think you must do? (You do not have nine lives as cats do.)
The same thing happens in our relationship with God. We are not good listeners. Life is filled with responsibilities and important things that need our attention constantly, and we struggle to pay attention to the voice of God. If we are not careful, our hearts and minds can be consumed by trying to do everything. And rather than centering ourselves in Christ and letting the other elements of our lives take their rightful place around the center, we shift our attention from one important to-do item to another, frantically trying to keep them all in motion.
This is a recipe for disaster, for we end up burned up and discouraged in trying to do everything. We get into troubles we could have avoided if we had listened first. Perhaps even blaming others for the problems of our own making.
Can you relate? It is easy to forget that while there is a time to work and get things done, there is also a dedicated time to spend with God, listening and learning, so our busy and complex lives may be centered and refreshed in him.
This is the subject of this message, “Listen More.” As we have been studying the Scripture from Luke 10: 39-42 the last two weeks, today I share the third and last message from this text. Here is the reading once again,
“Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at Jesus’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her, then, to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, but few things are needed—indeed only one. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.””
As we have been learning, these sisters, Mary and Martha, were close friends with and followers of Jesus. Together with their brother Lazarus, they hosted Jesus in their home on more than one occasion. Yet, on this visit from Jesus, Mary and Martha chose two very different actions: Martha became worried and distracted by many things, rushing around, serving, and doing her best to make everything good for their beloved guest, while Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet, listening as he spoke.
As the text shows, it did not take long for Martha to become frustrated with her sister’s lack of help. We can picture her irritated, frustrated, and perhaps a bit resentful. Why should she be doing all the work? In fact, she felt so justified in her indignation that she went and talked to Jesus about it, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her, then, to help me.”
But, instead of backing her up in her demand, Jesus rebuked her: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, but few things are needed—indeed only one. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
This must have felt like a slap in the face for Martha. Here she was, doing everything in her power to be hospitable and make it good. And Mary just sat there, and what she was doing was the right thing?
What was Mary doing? What was more important than serving and tending to their guests?
Somehow, Mary knew the difference between work and communion, so she chose to sit at Jesus’ feed and listen to him. Martha did not understand that. Instead, she kept working, being choked by her worries and distractions, and resenting her sister for not being like her. Martha was over-occupied trying to bless others that she didn’t bless the King of kings right in her midst, and on top of that, she blamed her sister for it.
That is why Jesus corrected her, “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” While Mary chose to be with Jesus, Martha’s fault was that she became distracted by many things that she nearly missed the real banquet in the living room of her own home. And her excuse was duty and service. She had cleaning and cooking to do. She did not think she had time for Jesus.
How easy it is to confuse duty with devotion; service with communion; production with purpose. To put it in perspective, that was the downfall of the Pharisees. For example, they had reduced their relationship with God to a set of rules, missing the purpose of actually knowing and being with God. They put on religious work clothes and devoted themselves to showing faithfulness through their works, but this was their downfall, for they changed their relationship with God for dos and don’ts.
In the same way, many of us often try to probe our faithfulness with busyness and work but neglect our relationship with Jesus. As a result, we become Christian experts but poor disciples of Jesus. We judge others for not being like us and claim piety for carrying burdens not meant for us.
That is not to say that good deeds or services are unimportant. On the contrary, what we do for others is a virtue and part of what we are called to do. But service was never supposed to be our first priority. Work is not our first order of business—even working for the church. God did not create us to be human-doings but human-beings. So, when Jesus said, “Only one thing is needed,” he meant our communion with God, and that was happening not in the work in the kitchen but in the fellowship in the living room. The “better part” that Martha ultimately discovered was found not in the hustle of getting things ready but in slowing down and listening to Jesus.
For this reason, the highest priority in our lives needs to be to make time for the better part, as Mary did: to learn from Jesus so we can commune with him and become like him. All our efforts, dos, and rules will never accomplish what Jesus can when we let him have his way in our life.
For many, this is hard to imagine because we feel so unworthy that we must prove ourselves. That is why many of us persist in thinking we must earn our way to heaven and put on all this weight thinking will make us better Christians. But all this “busy with many tasks” will never get us around to knowing and enjoying a relationship with Jesus.
For this, we need to be more children. Think about it. Children love intimacy. “Hug me, Mommy!” With arms stretched upward, they beg, “Daddy, hold me!” From infancy, when frightened or ill, the first place our children long to be is as close to our hearts as they can get. They cuddle in, pressing themselves into our arms.
That is how we need to approach our relationship with God, pressing ourselves into his arms. That is the intimacy God desires to share with us. Because when we are close, we can listen much better for his direction, comfort, correction, and encouragement—all of which Jesus speaks to us from the Bible.
My friends, listening to Jesus is not a duty but a delight. Listening to Jesus is not an exercise in piety but a privilege. We are as intimate with God as we choose to be. The only limitations of God’s presence in our lives are our egos and the limits we set—the excuses we make to avoid “too much” of God. With God is less about what we do for him and more about what we learn from him.
Here is the invitation and good news: The place Mary found at Jesus’ feet is the same place available to us. Come and have it. It is a place where we can be comfortable, kick off our shoes, and let down our hair (most of you, anyway). The presence of Jesus is a place of transparency and vulnerability, a place where we are completely known yet completely loved. A place where we let go of all pretenses and worry and open our ears so we can finally get it.
The good news is what the Book of Revelation 3:20 says, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you with me.” Jesus still knocks on doors and wants to settle in our hearts. And this is not an afternoon visit for supper but a homecoming. When we couldn’t reach out to heaven, heaven came down to us with arms wide open, so like children, let us come into his embrace. And now he is knocking, calling on us. Let him come in, then listen and learn everything he says.