Where Are Your Priorities?

(This is from a sermon I did August 10, 2014)

The American Bible Society recently released the results of an annual study that monitors beliefs and behaviors of U.S. adults toward the Bible. Christianity Today reported that while some of the 2014 results were not surprising given the nature of society and busy lifestyles, they found that more than 88 percent of American families own a Bible with most having four or more on their bookshelves. But only 37 percent of those adults read a Bible more than once a week. In 2011, 86 percent of adults surveyed viewed the Bible as sacred – a number which dropped to 79 percent in 2014.

More than 47 percent of Bible readers said their #1 frustration on the topic was never having enough time to read scriptures. More than 81 percent of Americans surveyed believe that the values and morals of America are declining, but in 2014, it was found that participants were more likely to blame this decline on movies, music and television rather than lack of Bible reading.

There are even devotionals that Christians can buy that specifically target those with “busy lifestyles”.

I read an article recently that announced that Scottish researchers have recently diagnosed a brand new syndrome called “Busy Lifestyle Syndrome” This syndrome is caused by those who lead very busy lifestyles and give themselves little to no rest. Symptoms include: small frequent memory lapses, like forgetting why you entered a room, why you pulled your phone out, where you left the remote, etc. You may feel aloof and confused with too many tasks to juggle during the day. You may also feel emotionally overwhelmed and may have difficulty dealing with stress. This article also assured the reader that it’s okay to have Busy Lifestyle Syndrome; just take a break or vacation.

But the last time I checked, Western culture is a very busy and hectic culture. Everyone is always busy and agendas are always full. To be honest, I am most definitely a product of our culture and furthermore, when I am not busy, I have to find a task that will keep me busy or I simply just do not know what to do with myself.

When you step back and look at the big picture, all things in life can be a distraction. It just so happens that in our culture, the busy-ness of our culture is a huge distraction. Most of the time, we don’t even realize that it is a distraction. But a distraction to what?

In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus is comparing Mary and Martha and asks Martha what really matters. Martha was distracted by the busy-ness of preparations for the meal, which distracted her from her spiritual health. As Christians, much of what fills our schedules is things for God, like helping out with something at the church, showing God’s love by spending time with someone who is going through tough times right now, helping people do some yard work, and simply living our daily lives and letting Christ shine through you. I think we can all identify with Martha; where would the church be without all of its Marthas? But surprisingly, Jesus is telling Martha to get her priorities straight.

Jesus puts into perspective for Martha about why she needed to set her priorities straight. I found a letter written by a college student to her parents who goes above and beyond to try to put into perspective for her parents why they need to set their priorities straight. As I read this, for all of those here today who have daughters, try to put yourself in the shoes of the parents who received this letter and bare with me:

Dear mum and dad,

It has been nearly three months since I left for college. I have been remiss in writing, and I am very sorry for my thoughtlessness in not having written before. I will bring you up to date now; but, before you read on, please sit down. You are not to read any further unless you are sitting down. Okay.

Well, then, I am getting along pretty well now. The skull fracture and the concussion I got when I jumped out of the window of my dormitory when it caught fire shortly after my arrival are pretty well healed now. I only spent two weeks in the hospital, and now I can see almost normally and only get those sick headaches once a day.

Fortunately, the fire in the dormitory and my jump were witnessed by an attendant at the gas station near the dorm, and he was the one who called the Fire Department and the ambulance. He also visited me at the hospital; and, since I had nowhere to live because of the burnt out dormitory, he was kind enough to invite me to share his apartment with him. It’s really a basement room, but it’s kind of cute.

He is a very fine boy, and we have fallen deeply in love and are planning to get married. We haven’t set the exact date yet, but it will be before my pregnancy begins to show. Yes, Mother and Dad, I am pregnant. I know how much you are looking forward to being grandparents, and I know you will welcome the baby and give it the same love and devotion you gave me when I was a child.

The reason for the delay in our wedding date is that Michael has some very large debts from his three previous marriages that he needs to work off before we can afford to be married.

Now that I have brought you up to date, I want to tell you that there was no dormitory fire, I did not get a concussion or a skull fracture, I was not in the hospital, I am not pregnant, I am not engaged, and there is no one in my life. However, I am getting a “D” in History and an “F” in Science, and I wanted you to see these marks in the proper perspective.

Your loving daughter,

In her own unique way, Edna went all out and above and beyond to try to show her parents that although she flunked History and Science, things could be a lot worse. She was simply trying to tell her parents to get their priorities straight.

I very much doubt Jesus walked away from that meal with Martha and Mary completely awestruck by all of the preparations and how good the food was. But I bet Jesus walked away from the meal with a strong impression of who had their priorities straight. Was it Martha who spent her time worried and distracted by the busy-ness of the preparations in the kitchen? Or was it Mary who spent her time at Jesus’ feet, spending quality time with Him by listening to what He had to say? In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus was asking Martha what really mattered: that Mary wasn’t helping her with the meal preparations or that Mary had chosen to do what is better, spending time and listening to Jesus.

Speaking for myself and I’m sure many here today, we can all identify with Martha; if not now, sometime in the past. When I read this story about the meal Jesus had with Martha and Mary, I took some time to really reflect on how I spend my time. Am I like Martha who is caught up in the busy-ness of life including doing this FOR God? Or am I taking the time to purposely spend quality time with God by reading His word and talking to Him through prayer.

In our own cultural context, most people are forced into busy lifestyles. Our lives usually have a busy schedule with activities of good merit or something that is worthy of your time or else it wouldn’t be in your schedule in the first place. Our schedules are often prioritized; some things come high on the list and other things must wait. Sometimes our priorities must be shuffled to meet needs at last minute. This is found in the story of Martha and Mary when Martha invited Jesus into her home for a meal as a guest.

The fact that this story has not one but two women in the story would have been shocking in its 1st C context because women were of little importance in society. The fact that Jesus commends Mary and has a meal with Mary and Martha shows that Jesus is concerned about all people. Therefore given the cultural context, the fact that there are two women in the story and given that Jesus is actually giving them his time, this story is obviously designed to make a strong point about all disciples.

This story shouldn’t be read in a way that frowns upon Martha…what Jesus is trying to show Martha is the difference between something good and something better. As Martha works away in the kitchen preparing the meal for Jesus, I can imagine that her frustration toward Mary was rising and rising until she just blew up. As Martha is getting all the preparations ready for the meal, Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to him and Martha is not going to have it! She says to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Verse 40 says that Martha was distracted by all the preparations and so her point of view is questionable not only by Jesus’ reply but also she made the comment while she was “distracted by all the preparations.” To further emphasize her questionable comment, in the Greek, Martha asks this question in a way that Jesus is expected to have a positive answer. In other words, according to the original Greek, Martha makes the comment fully expecting Jesus to tell Mary to get up and help.

Knowing this, Jesus’ response would have taken her by surprise. He responds tenderly by saying “Martha, Martha” which shows that He cares. He says, “You are worried and upset about many things.” Put another way, Jesus questions her not because of her activity but because of her attitude about it. Jesus compares what Martha is doing and what Mary is doing. One is concerned about the preparations of the meal and one is concerned about listening to Jesus. In other words, one is concerned about doing things for Jesus and the other is concerned about spending time with Jesus. Jesus sets priorities and says, “only one is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Jesus is telling Martha to get her priorities straight. Mary is essentially taking part in the “right meal”. What she has done by sitting at Jesus’ feet will remain with her; what she has spent her time doing will last. Jesus is not condemning Martha’s activity but more so commending Mary’s choice of activity. He is showing Martha that Mary’s priorities are in order.

As Christ’s disciples, of course He wants us to do things for Him. But he also wants us to spend time with Him. Jesus wants us to sit at his feet like Mary and devour His teaching. There is no more important meal than that. Doing things for God is of course good, but if we get caught up in those things and they get in the way of us spending time with Him, then those things become a distraction.

Now, I want to emphasize that I am not discouraging anyone from doing things for God, the church (and when I say the church, I mean the body of believers gathered here), needs its Marthas…those faithful followers who clearly have such a big heart for God and want to live their lives for Him and do things for Him. What I am trying to say is that it is just as important to check our priorities to ensure we are not neglecting what Jesus says is even better. Mary and Martha both loved Jesus dearly. In this passage, Martha was doing things for Jesus and Mary was spending time with Jesus. Sometimes we can get so caught up in doing things for Christ that we become distracted and neglect the most important thing of all: spending time with Jesus.

It is true that much of our busyness and distraction stems from the noblest of intentions. We want to provide for our families, we want to give our children every opportunity to enrich their lives, we want to serve our neighbors, and yes, we want to serve God. Indeed, where would the church be without its “Marthas,” those faithful folk who perform the tasks of hospitality and service so vital to making the church a welcoming and well-functioning community?

Matthew 4:4 says, “It is written, man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” In other words, we cannot only feed our physical bodies and neglect our souls…our souls need food and that food comes from the Word of God. Martha was distracted from her soul’s need for spiritual food. What distracted her are not bad things. I think I would be safe to say that even if our schedules are filled with good things, sometimes even the good things are a distraction, which causes us to neglect our souls.

“But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about so many things.” We all know people who are worried and upset about many things. Or maybe you are worried and upset about many things. It’s an inevitable consequence of our hectic busy culture. As we learned earlier, there is even a newly discovered syndrome called “Busy Lifestyle Syndrome” that is caused by too much stress, too much worry and quite simply getting caught up in all the busy-ness.

Martha is certainly a stressed out lady at this point in time. Her exasperation can be seen in the way she forms her question, “Lord, do You not care…?” Of course He does! But not nearly as much about the problem as Martha sees it as He does about the real problem of which Martha is unaware. Jesus is more concerned about Martha’s priorities than He is about being served food.

According to Jesus, what Mary had chosen, spending time with Him, was better. In our culture, it is common to hear the phrase, “I’m too busy”. But if we are so busy that it distracts us from spending time with God, then perhaps we may need to reflect on where our priorities are. If our relationship with God consisted mainly on doing things for Him while neglecting spending time with Him, then we are not experiencing life as He has planned for us.

Have you ever went a day or perhaps even a few days without opening your Bible or talking to God? I really don’t recommend it…but if you’ve been there, you can speak to the difference it makes in your day.

In John 10:10, Jesus says that He has come so that we may have life and have it in abundance; in other words, until it overflows and is contagious to others. God wants us to enjoy life but life cannot be fully enjoyed if we are caught up in the busy-ness of life and neglecting time spent with God. The truth is, God wants you to enjoy your life every day. This clearly tells us that God doesn’t just want us to be alive, but He wants us to enjoy being alive.

A recent survey determined how the average person spends their time and the results really make you think. In a lifetime, the average person will spend:

6 months sitting at stoplights

8 months opening junk mail

1 year looking for misplaced objects

2 years unsuccessfully returning phone calls

4 years doing housework

5 years waiting in line

And 6 years eating

Both listening and doing, receiving God’s Word and serving others, are vital to the Christian life, just as inhaling and exhaling are to breathing. Yet how often do we forget to breathe in deeply? Doing things for God without nourishing our soul by spending time with God is like expecting good fruit to grow from a tree that is undernourished.

Luke’s story is left suspended. We do not know what happened next — whether Mary and Martha were reconciled, whether they were all able to enjoy the meal that Martha had prepared, whether Martha was finally able to sit and give her full attention to Jesus. But what we do know is that God doesn’t want us to be “too busy” to spend time with Him. He wants us to spend time with Him, know that we are His loved and valued children. He wants us to be renewed in our faith and strengthened to do work for Him.

Jesus wants us to set our priorities straight if other things are distracting you from spending time with Him. Doing things for Him is so very important but if those things are getting in the way of spending time with Him, Jesus says we need to set our priorities straight. Remember, Jesus wasn’t condemning Martha, we need to be like Martha and have a genuine heart for God and do things for Him but we also must not neglect to be like Mary and nourish our souls by spending time with Him. American writer and editor, Carl Sanburg, once said, “time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent.” Like Jesus said to Martha, “…few things are needed or indeed only one” and that thing is paying attention to our guest. As Christians, Christ lives within us so as it turns out, our guest is also our host.


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