Devotion and Expression
What is the correct balance in a Christian’s life?
We know from the scriptures that Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, lived at Bethany, a village near Jerusalem. Now the name Bethany means house of figs or house of dates; so it is that we find Jesus and His disciples going often to the home of his friends at Bethany to enjoy the hospitality of these three. I’m sure that He found it a place to rest, to relax, to fellowship. He was always welcome there.
At these times, Mary was that sister who would sit at the feet of Jesus and listen attentively to His every word. It was her priority. The presence of Jesus struck a chord in her. When He visited, she had one desire – to hear and meditate upon His message, to sit at His feet. Mary was apparently in touch with eternal purposes, eternal values. Mary had a special gift, for few there are that tune in to the Lord in that way – to put all other concerns aside when He is present.
I recall a time in my life when I held a very responsible position as an assistant administrator of a Christian human services facility. This meant that when the administrator was absent, I was in full charge. Sometimes the administrator went on missionary trips and was gone for a month or so at a time. When this occurred, the decision-making process, the dealing with emergencies that would arise, coping with situations with other employees – all of this demanded a knowledge, a fine-tuning of my capabilities to perform the duties as the administrator Himself would perform were he there. I had to know his mind in the matter, his value system, and his methods. His decisions had to be carried out through me in his absence, and he had every confidence that they would be. At times it was nerve-wracking, because invariably the unpredictable would happen.
But here is the strange part. When the administrator was present, I made the same decisions, carrying out my responsibilities and performing pretty much the same tasks as I did when he was away – because his administrative method was to hand me the ball and let me pitch it. That’s how he had trained me. I had followed him around like a puppy dog to “learn the ropes”. In this facility, we dealt with children and teens with behavior problems and various disabilities, such as autism, hyperactivity, brain damage, etc. This man, my mentor, had an uncanny way of applying scriptural principles to the situation. So I followed his example. In a sense, I sat at his feet and learned. Eventually, whether he was present or absent, I was in charge. I just didn’t realize it back then. But in his presence, I could assume responsibility and relax – because he was there – REALLY there. In his absence, I did what needed to be done, but always in my thoughts was the question, “how would he handle this?”
When I get to Glory, I want to sit with Mary of Bethany. I have a few questions for her, not answered in the scriptures. For example, “Mary, what was your occupation after Jesus had ascended?” I believe she will tell me that she continued to sit at His feet daily with the hope that He would manifest His presence to her. I think she will disclose that this was the strength of her life, and it was this practice that enabled her to live the life He had taught her to live.
We have this privilege today. We may become a house of devotion in which the Lord visits with us. As we establish this practice in our lives, and consistently, daily, give to Him a time, a place, to meet with us, He will indeed make known His presence to us. Jesus said in John 14:18:
“I will come to you;” and again in John 14:21, “He that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him and will manifest (show, make known) myself to him.”
So we learn from Mary of Bethany that one key of experiencing God is devotion. But this is not the complete picture, for we must remember that the Bethany household was a unit. Thus, we must think of each member of the Bethany household as an example of what the Lord desires to work into us so that our Christian experience is balanced. Mary helps us to find the reality of God. But Martha helps us as well, for she gives us an outlet, an expression for all that is imbibe at the feet of Jesus.
Martha expressed her devotion to Jesus another way: By taking care of household tasks, such as the meal preparation for the visitors. Certainly, these things needed to be done. On one occasion Martha complained to Jesus that Mary was leaving all the work to her. But Jesus gently chided her, and said,
“Mary has chosen the better part.”
One writer has put it this way: “Martha is a good woman, pursuing worthy and necessary tasks. Nevertheless, these cannot compare in importance with the eternal truths that claimed Mary’s total attention.”
John Wright Follette wrote, “Jesus had to correct Martha, not for serving, but for too much serving and lack of vision.” He was dealing with her choice – not a bad choice – but rather, a poor, limited choice. The first choice must be of spiritual value, and then, the out-working of that choice, made at Jesus’ feet and manifested in the service rendered. In a general sense, Martha represents the necessary out-working and service manifestation of what Mary discovers at Jesus’ feet.”
Isn’t it true that we tend to remember the negative things, the faults about people, and forget the good traits? Just as Thomas is remembered as the doubter, rather than that one disciple who urged the disciples to accompany Jesus to Bethany even if it cost them their lives, Martha also is thought of as the sister who complained to Jesus. When she complained to Him, however, Jesus did not rebuke her industriousness, but rather brought correction to her outlook. Nor did He view Mary’s dedication to Him as laziness, but rather as a sign of her desire, her holy desire to learn of Him.
Jesus loved Martha, and it is apparent that His teachings had reached her; for from the lips of Martha expressed one of the most profound confessions of faith recorded in the gospel narrative.
It occurred when Jesus arrived in Bethany after the death of Lazarus. Martha ran to meet Him, distraught that He had not arrived in time, so she thought. Lazarus had been dead for four days. She declared that had Jesus been there her brother would not have died.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and He asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” Without hesitation she said, “I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.”
So Martha also adds an important ingredient to experiencing God: not rest, repose, and devotion alone – but also expression.
Jesus did not expect Martha to be Mary. He taught her that everything we do must have a meaning that reaches beyond this life to the kingdom of heaven. He works with each of us where we are, for we truly are His workmanship. As we bring to Him our DEVOTION, we will become His EXPRESSION to a world that desperately needs Him.
(Taken from the Experiencing God Series aired on Gateways to Growth radio broadcast sponsored by Agape Fellowship in Christ)