As I walk along my country road each day I have many opportunities to just take in my environment and listen. It’s amazing what a person can digest when there are not a lot of other influences to permeate the brain. There are intricate sounds everywhere. The gravel crinkles as I walk. Leaves rustle in the trees. Underbrush snaps with the scurrying of small creatures. The birds flit about with their delightful songs. My mind is acutely aware of all that is going on around me because there is nothing or no one else around to interfere.
Now if only I could do as well listening when God is speaking to me. I’d like to think that I do but I know that many times I falter as I get ahead of myself with my to do list and other things in life and I forget to take time just to listen.
Sadly, I tend to take after Martha instead of Mary. These two sisters host Jesus in their home. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet listening to all that He has to say. Martha, on the other hand, is busy with meal preparations and caring for their guests. The work Martha is doing is important and needful but it is not what is most beneficial at this time. Scripture says Martha is “distracted” (NIV). She gets so caught up in her to do list that she loses sight of what is most important.
Martha asks Jesus to make Mary help her. I think Martha wants Jesus to notice her too. She hopes that Jesus will acknowledge all that she is doing for Him and His followers who have descended on her home. Martha wants recognition for her work but goes about it the wrong way. She is trying to build herself up by showing that Mary is in the wrong.
What happens is that Martha gets scolded by Jesus. It is likely that Jesus spoke with kindness but He is also firm: “Martha…you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10: 41-42 NIV)
Mary chooses the higher road. She wants to learn all she can from Jesus while she has the opportunity. At a time in history where it would be young men sitting around the teacher, she steps up and includes herself with the group. Listening to Jesus opens her heart and mind to new wonders – teachings she will need to lead the life to which God calls her. Mary senses the truth Jesus provides and her heart knows this is what she needs.
Martha does not have a listening heart in this account – the type of heart that is open to hearing God’s wisdom. She finds her value in doing, especially when she can show off her accomplishments like a splendid dinner or attractive home. Jesus knows her thoughts and motives and reaches out to her with the better way – showing her she has options.
I have heard the Mary/Martha account many times. I know the focus of its message. Why is it still so hard for me to be more like Mary and just listen?
On a regular basis I feel a great sense of accomplishment in things that I have done, whether it is a well cleaned kitchen or a professional success. As much as I don’t like to admit it, I feel good when others comment on or praise things I have done. While I don’t do tasks or set professional goals specifically to be acknowledged, I do work diligently hoping that my efforts will be a useful part of the team effort or keep my home operating smoothly.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to try to do your best or feel good about finishing tasks and doing them well. What is important to note here is where a person’s main focus is. If these tasks interfere with our ability to listen to our Saviour’s voice, then something isn’t right.
As I tend to get caught up in the busyness of my day, as does Martha, I find it useful to take just 15 minutes before leaving for work to study God’s Word and listen to what He has to tell me. Sadly, when I began to work from home and my routines changed, this slipped. Thinking I will get it into my day somewhere, some days it just doesn’t happen.
Somehow, I need to get this focus back. My day goes much better when I take time to delve into God’s Word and ask the Holy Spirit to guide me in learning what message God wants me to glean from this Scripture. When my heart is open to God’s teaching and I listen to His guidance I have more opportunity to grow in the faith and my day has an improved focus.
In the chaos of living and working at home, many of us feel like we don’t have much peace. How do we be quiet and listen? How do we have the right priorities where Jesus is first?
I know for myself that I have to find the time to be like Mary and be at Jesus’ feet each day. There is just no way around it. I cannot listen to what God has to say to me if I don’t take the time to do so.
There will be lots of days with long to do lists and numerous obligations. What is important is that I don’t want be distracted from what is most important and most needful. I don’t want to be grumpy like Martha because I am working so hard and no one seems to notice.
A true listening spirit is a work in progress. I know I won’t get it totally right this side of heaven. Yet, I can rest assured that God is continually there, speaking to me and guiding me. This is an important fact to remember when things go out of whack or are crazy busy. Just like I can hear more of the sounds around my home place when I take the time to be quiet and listen, so will I be more attuned to what God is saying to me when I take time to be still. Being receptive takes prayer and perseverance. It is definitely something worth cultivating.