The Story of Two Brothers
(Written by Dennis Henderson)
Over the years when Daniel and I have spoken together at prayer gatherings or conferences, I mention that we are the modern day version of Mary and Martha, the familiar story of the two sisters found in Luke 10:38-42. Let me take the suspense out – Daniel is in the role of Mary and of course, I am Martha.
Daniel has been given many titles. I remember a couple years back when the students at Liberty University had T-shirts made with a sketch of Daniel and the caption “Prayer Guy.” I have never been described as the “Prayer Guy.” I could easily walk into an AA meeting and say, “Hello, my name is Dennis and I am a workaholic.” I remember actually saying to Daniel, “I’ll work, you pray.” Thus, over the years when it came to prayer, I walked in the shadow of Daniel, learning as I walked.
Back to the biblical story, Martha opened her home for a visit from Jesus. Wishing to show her love and appreciation for Jesus, it appears that Martha wanted everything to be perfect. Clean house, good food, and a beautiful table setting were the things I am sure Martha desired. It was for Jesus. He was the guest of all guests. He was becoming her Lord and Savior. I cannot see her heart, so I cannot make a lot of judgments on what drove Martha that day. I am sure she was thinking, “I want to do my best for Him.” She could have just been geared differently than Mary; maybe by nature her motor ran faster. Service may have been the only expression of love with which she was familiar. Whatever the case, there she was, busy, feeling the pressure of the moment, and growing isolated from the moment. Her work was drawing her focus to herself rather than to Jesus.
Luke gives us a couple of observations. He mentions in verse 40, “She was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” What seemed to be important to her, the preparations, became the center of her energy rather than Jesus, the special guest. Feeling the pressure of preparation and performance, she finally bursts out with, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?” Her busyness had resulted in a self focus of “I am the only one doing anything.” When busyness moves time with Jesus to the side and time working for Jesus moves to the center, it always ends up back to self. Martha was feeling isolated. She felt everything depended on her. Thus, her busy heart moved around the room to criticize Mary, who Jesus noted had found the right thing.
In over fifty years of following Jesus, I have had to keep coming back to this story, because it is my story in so many ways. I love ministry. I love the Gospel. I love the work of seeing people changed from lives of darkness to light. Yet, I have found the Mary and Martha story the tension of my life. I feel secure in my busyness of work. It is measurable; it is visible. I get a sense of accomplishment when I can see the work of my hands. In contrast, the work of my heart with Jesus often times is not immediately visible. It is hard to measure what He is doing as I cannot control it or see it. With dependence on Him through mere expressions of adoration, worship, and cries for help, the focus moves to Him and not me. I continually have to remind myself that Jesus is the focus, not the details of the work. I am no longer in control. He is. I must move to trust in a God that I do not see. This is not natural. For one who has a motor with RPMs that are geared high, this is hard. Thus, Martha and I can walk together often.
Let me quote a passage from Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Life, which describes me and the professing American church:
“American culture is probably the hardest place in the world to learn to pray. We are so busy that when we slow down to pray, we find it uncomfortable. We prize accomplishments, production. But prayer is nothing but talking to God. It feels useless, as if we are wasting time. Every bone in our bodies screams, ‘Get to work.’
When we aren’t working, we are used to being entertained. Television, the Internet, video games, and cell phones make free time as busy as work. When we do slow down, we slip into a stupor. Exhausted by the pace of life, we veg. out in front of a screen or with earplugs.
If we try to be quiet, we are assaulted by what C. S. Lewis called the ‘Kingdom of Noise.’ Everywhere we go we hear background noise. If the noise isn’t provided for us, we can bring our own via iPod. Even our church services can have the same restless energy. There is little space to be still before God.”
Possibly you need to hear the soft invitation of Jesus as I do: “Come, sit.” For years I have repeated, “Busyness is not godliness.” The best is at Jesus’ feet. The work will get done. The project will be completed. Our energy has to be harnessed to be in front of Jesus so that He truly does the work He wants done in our long list of ministry.
I invite you to come along with me today and just sit with Jesus. Just listen. Just worship. Choose the best rather than the busy.
About Dennis Henderson: Dennis’ background includes 45 years of pastoral ministry. He currently serves as Senior Pastor at Sherman Bible Church in Sherman, Texas. Before coming to Sherman, Dennis served at Church on the Hill in San Jose, California, Calvary Community Church in Manteca, California, and Marsh Lane Baptist in Dallas, Texas. He also has 12 years of experience in youth ministry and has taught at three colleges:Dallas Bible College, Liberty University, and Pacific Coast Baptist College. Dennis is the founder of Monday Morning Ministries, a ministry for refreshing and encouraging pastors and Christian leaders. He also serves on the Board of Strategic Renewal and as a Founding Resource Leader for The 6:4 Fellowship.