At RTS Charlotte, Jim Kallam preaches a chapel message on Luke 10:38-40 entitled “One Best Thing.”
So we all got up this morning. Guess what we did? We made a choice as to what we were going to wear because I notice you guys don’t have uniforms here at RTS. I’ve got grandkids who go to schools where there are uniforms, and they don’t have a choice. They’ve got to wear whatever the uniform is for that day. But we make choices. What we wore today is probably really an inconsequential choice. Other choices we make have huge consequences. You’ve chosen to come to school at RTS. There are consequences to that, and that’s not a bad thing, it’s just there are results that will take place.
When I was growing up, my dad, who was in Christian education all of his life—I’ve got many endearing images of my dad; he went home to be with Lord two years ago. But one of those is as a young kid getting up and going to school was my dad teaching an 8:00 class at the college, and a pot of coffee being brewed. My dad would get his coffee and head off to his class. My dad drank his coffee black. I drink my coffee black. In those days you had two choices: regular or decaf. Starbucks now says they have 87,000 choices. It seems like whenever I get in line at Starbucks, I’m behind somebody who can’t decide which one of the 87,000 choices they want to make for their coffee that morning.
When I was growing up as a kid, there were three television stations: NBC, CBS, and ABC. You had to adjust these funny things on top of your television to make sure that they came in the right perspective. Who knows how many channels there are now? There are more ESPN channels alone than there were TV channels. We make choices in life, and that’s our lives.
So here’s what I would say to us: we need to choose wisely. On those things that matter, we need to choose wisely, and so I want to take you to a passage in the New Testament where choices had to be made. It’s in the gospel of Luke. It’s in the tenth chapter. I’m sure for all of you it’s a very familiar story about two sisters. I want to read the story, and I want you to be honest in your own heart with which way you’d land on this thing if you didn’t know what Jesus said. We all know what Jesus said, so we know what the right answer is, but let’s just listen to the story as it unfolds.
It says in verse 38:
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him [meaning Jesus] and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
And if the story stopped right there, here’s what I believe: most of us, if not all of us, would be on Martha’s side. Just envision in your home: you’ve got the most important person that you could possibly have walk through the door of your house to come to dinner. Just envision it. And it’s your home. And your sister or your brother or somebody in your household is not helping you get ready for that meal. We would be on Martha’s side. Here’s the reason why: because we all live in a Martha’s world. We do. We’re going to be busy with life. You take it into the Christian world, into the church world, and there’s an old spiritual that went, “I’m just going to be busy serving my Jesus.” That’s what we want to be. We’re Marthas. We love to do.
I grew up in the church, and in our church every year two things happened: an annual missions conference for a week and an annual prophecy conference for a week. Those are the two things every year in my church you could count on. I remember one of the mission’s conferences—I was probably a young teenager at the time. Very powerful mission speaker, very passionate man who had the world at his heart said this, and it preaches so good: “I’d rather burn out for Jesus than rust out.” Wow. George Whitefield said something similar to that, he said, “I’d rather wear out for Jesus than rust out.”
And I remember as a young teenager going, “Wow, that’s good. I’m going to burn out for Jesus rather than rust out.” You know what the two things have in common? In both of them, you’re out. I mean, think about it. You’re burned out? Great, you’re out. You’re going to rust out? You’re out. I ought to be in. I don’t want to be out. George Barna, in one of his recent surveys, said this, that every month 1,500 people leave church ministry either due to burnout or to conflict or to moral failure. Fifteen hundred a month who are busy doing things because that’s the way we live our lives. Don’t just sit there, do something.
Well, in this passage, there are three words used to describe Martha, and I want to talk about those three words. One is a word that Luke uses and two are words that Jesus uses. Verse 40:
But Martha was distracted [there’s Luke’s word] with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious [second word] and troubled [third word] about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
We Are Distracted by Too Many Tasks and Commitments
Distracted. That’s Luke’s word. It simply means to be drawn in many directions. Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever feel pulled in many directions? You just feel like life is going in so many different ways, and they don’t seem to sync up together. There’s so much to do, and there’s so little time to do it in.
In 1965, the U.S. Senate subcommittee, one of their famous subcommittees, was doing an evaluation of the work week in America and evaluating the work week in America with all of the progress that was being made and all the technology that was being introduced. This was their conclusion in 1965: that by 1985—some of you probably weren’t even born then—but in 1985, the average work week in America would be down to 22 hours a week. How’s that for prognosis? Not real good, I don’t think. I have not met anybody in my church, in my life, including my own, that would say our average work week is 22 hours.
Sometimes the most godly thing you can do is to say no.Because work goes with us, doesn’t it? Our phones, our laptops, our everything that just invades us. You go on vacation and you take your laptop with you, you take your iPad with you, you take your phone with you, and you’re answering emails all the time. We were off yesterday. We had the Monday after Easter off. I’ll be honest, I could not help but go to my phone, check my e-mails. There were issues I had to deal with starting today. They were going to be there today, whether I looked at my phone yesterday or I didn’t look on my phone yesterday, but I chose to. Why? Because we get distracted.
So how do you deal with distraction? Let me suggest a couple of things for you. One is this: declutter. Declutter your life. Don’t keep always adding more. You and I can’t keep going at a high speed all the time. Sometimes the most godly thing you can do is to say no.
I’m not a mechanic. Some of you may be. If my car breaks down, it’s going to the shop. I don’t even pretend to open the hood and look underneath it to feel like a real man. “Oh, yeah. There it is. There is the engine. Got that figured out.” I just take it in. But here’s what I do with my cars. There’s a dashboard in my car, and there is in all of our cars. There are certain gauges that I pay attention to. There are certain red lines that if those gauges go into that red line for any length of time, guess what? The car’s in trouble. I’d better get it to a shop before I’m broken down on the side of the road and I’ve got to walk somewhere. I would say this to us as we declutter our lives: you ought to have a red line for your life that you pay attention to. And when you keep adding and adding and adding and adding, there’s a reality that you just can’t keep doing it all. You have to determine priorities.
I think sometimes, and I think this was true for me early on in ministry, I just thought I could do it all. I can do it all. No, you can’t. I believe one of the most godly things you can do is sit down before God with the calendar and a surrendered spirit in prayer and say, “Okay, Lord, what would you have me to do?” But more than “what would you have me to do?”, “who would you have me to be?” In doing that and determining priorities, develop parameters. Call it margin, call it whatever you want to call it, but you develop parameters.
Because here’s the saying: “God loves you and everyone has a plan for your life.” If you’re going into ministry, let me just tell you now. I don’t know what your professors are telling you, but let me just tell you, from the real world, everyone will tell you this: God loves you (and he does), and they have a wonderful plan for your life. See, no one expects you to do everything, just their thing. They don’t expect you to everything, but, oh, buddy, if it’s their thing, you better believe they expect you to do it.
There is this place in parameters for strategic neglect. True confession: I’m the world’s worst at setting parameters. I am the world’s worst at saying no. We have three daughters, all of whom are married now. We have grandkids, and it’s a great season in their lives. Our youngest daughter, before she got married, she came back home to live with us for a few months just to kind of save up and get ready for her wedding. At the dinner table one night—so it’s my wife and myself and our youngest daughter—and Susie and I are talking about our weeks, and I’ve got this, I’ve got that, I’m going to be home this, and go there. And our daughter, who at the time was probably in her mid-20s, looked at the two of us and said, “Do the two of you ever know how to say no?” And I was like, “Just be quiet. You’re my daughter. Don’t say anything to me.”
She was right. And I say all that to say, if we’re going to clutter our lives, if we’re going to stop being so distracted, then we’ve got to set parameters and we’ve got to determine the priorities.
Distraction Eventually Leads to Fear and Anxiety
Look at the two words Jesus uses. The first word that Jesus uses, he says this to Martha, “you’re anxious.” You’re anxious, you’re conflicted, you fear. This is where the distracted heart leads to. It leads to this, “But I have to do these things. What if I don’t do this, what will happen? What will people think of me if I say no?” And that anxiousness is the result of that distracted heart.
Peter says it this way. 1 Peter 5: “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” But when we allow our lives to get so cluttered with doing that we can’t even hear the voice of God then there’s this anxiousness that arises within us. That’s Martha. “Lord, don’t you care? Tell her to serve with me.”
Philip Melanchthon is reported to have said to Martin Luther one day, “Today you and I will discuss the governance of the universe.” To which Luther replied, “No, today we will go fishing and leave the governance of the universe to God.” I think I really would have liked Luther. I’m going to look him up in heaven one day because I think he was a cool man. Anxiousness. Maybe you wrestle with anxiousness. Maybe you wrestle with that sense of I cannot say no.
We Feel Troubled When We Believe Jesus Must Meet Our Expectations
And then he uses a second word with her: “you’re anxious and you’re troubled.” Troubled is a violent word. It’s the idea of being thrown into an uproar. It’s the idea of things coming to a full boil. Can’t you just see Martha in this scene? I know we have words on the page, but can you not see? If you have a sibling, and that sibling is supposed to be helping you with whatever the chore was, and that’s siblings not. Her boiling over point is just continuing to go higher and higher. She’s walking around the kitchen, slamming pots, throwing an evil eye at her sister, and she finally can’t take it anymore. So she finally comes to Jesus and she says, “Tell her to help me. Don’t you care?”
We get to a dangerous place when we believe Jesus is obligated to cooperate with our expectations.Why would she assume that Jesus didn’t care? I mean, it’s a family he’s relatively close to. There’s going to be a pretty significant scene a little while later with her brother Lazarus. So why would Martha assume that Jesus, the one who she had a deep relationship with, who cared for this family, why would she assume he didn’t care? That’s what she says: “Tell her to help me. Don’t you care?”
My belief is simply this: Jesus wasn’t cooperating with her expectations. He wasn’t doing what she wanted him to do. And the end result is: you don’t care. We get to a dangerous place when we believe Jesus is obligated to cooperate with our expectations. The end result in Martha’s mind is: you don’t care. I don’t know if you’ve been there. I know I have been. Those times when I think I know what I need to have done, I know what needs to get done, and it’s not working out. And I go, “God, don’t you care about this? Don’t you care?”
Don was asking me, because we’ve known each other for a long time. Back in 1997, my wife we found out had breast cancer and went through all the protocols at the time. I’m terrible for starting stories and never finishing them. She’s still with me. We just celebrated her birthday yesterday. She’s a survivor and I’m grateful for that.
But I can remember the day that the diagnosis came back that she had breast cancer. A number of our friends gathered in our home that night. People who love us dearly, people who love Susie dearly, came to pray for us. It was a surreal thing on many points because I’ve walked into countless number of homes praying for people. As a pastor you get the privilege of doing that. Well, the roles reversed. They were in my home praying for us. I’ll be real honest, as people were praying, my mind kind of drifted off of what they were saying. I begin to think, I’ve got a roomful of people in my home who love my wife dearly. If any one of them could have, they would have taken the cancer away like that. And then here’s what hit me: but the Lord is here, and he loves Susie more than any of us do. Oh, and he could take away her cancer just like that.
He didn’t, and I battled with that expectation of “don’t you care?” This could be a great story. We could write this story up and it would be to your praise and your honor and your glory because the doctors didn’t do it, you did it. When God doesn’t cooperate with our expectations the danger we have sometimes as we get to the place where we wonder whether he cares or not. And that’s a dangerous place, when I think somehow God is obligated to the expectations in my life.
Spending Time with Jesus Is the One Essential Thing
Well, real quickly, Jesus said: Mary made a good choice, not just a good choice, she made the best choice. The one essential thing, and the one essential thing was spending time in Christ’s presence. It’s not just one of many things that we do, but it’s the one necessary thing we must do. “Mary has chosen a good portion which will not be taken from her.”
I’m drawn to Acts 4:13 when Peter and John get released from prison and they’re before the religious leaders and they recognize that they’re uneducated, just ordinary men. But they were amazed. The verse closes this way: “they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” That’s what Mary’s doing. Martha isn’t doing anything wrong. She’s doing what everyone would do if someone was coming to your home for dinner. She’s preparing the dinner for Jesus. She’s not doing anything wrong. But what happens with her is she can’t see that what Mary has chosen is the best thing, is the essential thing, and she finds herself distracted, anxious, and troubled.
Following Jesus is not a cookie cutter thing because everything in life looks different.So what’s it look like to spend time with Jesus? I wish I could tell you what it looks like for every one of us, but it’s different for each of us. Oswald Chambers said this: “Never make a principle out of your own experience. Let God be original with other people as he is with you.” That’s good because we’re all different. This is not a cookie cutter thing. Following Jesus is not a cookie cutter thing because everything in life looks different.
For some of you, spending time with Jesus is journaling. Can I just tell you, journaling would be a near-hell experience for me. I finally got freed from the reality a few years ago when somebody said, “Hey, guess what? You don’t have to journal to spend time with Jesus.” And I was like, “Oh, thank you, God,” because for me nothing could be more painful. Now those of you who journal and spend time with Jesus by journaling: God bless you. Keep journaling. Go into my library one day when I go home to be with Jesus. I guarantee you will not find a journal. You’ll find a lot of empty books that people have given me down through the years so I could journal my thoughts, and they’re still empty to this day. But whatever it is for you, whatever it is for you, that helps you find that time to be with Jesus, you can’t ignore it.
This just happened recently at church, within the last year. We’ve got a whole group of people, it’s not a large number, but we’ve got a group of people who do this during sermons: they doodle. They draw. I’ve got a lady who has a wide-margin Bible, and she draws as she hears the sermon. As she hears the Word of God, she visualizes it, and she draws pictures to help bring it alive to her. I think it’s great. I think it’s wonderful, whatever it looks like to sit at his feet, to spend time with him. That’s what Mary did.
Because here’s what I believe with all my heart: you’re getting prepared, some of you are in ministry, you’re getting prepared to go out and serve, whatever the capacity looks like for you to serve our Lord. And here’s what you’re going to get inundated with over and over and over again: what are you doing for Jesus? You’ve got to be doing things for Jesus. But at the core, I believe, is: who are we? Who? Who are we becoming for Jesus? It’s not a matter of just doing. It’s a matter of being. The only way the “being” part of my world and your world is going to be developed in a way that is pleasing and honoring to the Lord is when we’re willing to sit at his feet. That’s what Mary chose, and I hope and pray for each of us that’s what we would choose.
Let me pray for us. Father, thanks for this time. Thanks for these men and women. I thank you for this school. I thank you for all of the professors here. I thank you for their preparation for ministry to serve you Father, whether it’s in the local church, whether it’s around the world, whatever it may look like, Father, that you’re using RTS to prepare men and women to serve you. Father, they will be busy doing things, but may we never forget that we need to be something as well. And that means we need to sit at your feet and learn from you and simply sit to be with you. May we do that. We ask this in Jesus’s name, amen.