The sisters Mary and Martha both loved and served Jesus; no doubt about that. Jesus equally loved them. A reflection on Mary and Martha shows similarity with our ways of serving in the Church. We know the importance of serving in the church, however, we may lack understanding how to serve God in spirit and in truth.
Imagine we engage in several church activities, we reach out with the gospel, and we clean the church premises now and then. On one of those busy days, we already arranged the chairs in the church auditorium, copied the leaflets for after the service, when we proceed to the children’s area to cross-check the baby-rooms. We intended to move on to the washroom block afterwards to check the state of the sanitary bowls.
While rushing to the washrooms, the main church service has already started, we perspire. Just then, we spot a fellow church member, nicely dressed, with a sweet-smelling fragrance all over her. She enters the prayer room to kneel and spend time in prayer. Our heart beats, blood pumps up to our heads, and we feel angry and treated unfairly.
According to us, this lady excludes herself; she does nothing! The feeling of unjustness flows through our whole body and causes us to slow down our pace.
Why do we feel this way while we serve God? Because we often serve based on the need to receive praise.
This causes us to feel as if we do all the work but barely get recognition for anything we do.
Martha and Mary Bible verse
Martha felt similarly. She thought she knew what it means to serve God. Martha believed she was accurately serving Jesus with her diligent dinner preparations. So much that serving occupied her totally. She may even have wanted to impress Jesus, expecting praise from Him. She felt her sister was the rotten apple, because she was doing nothing!
“As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.’ But the Lord said to her, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her’.”
Luke 10:38-42 (NLT)
Do we know how to serve in the church?
Are we not much like Martha? We often convince ourselves that we do the right thing and work hard and deserve recognition. We engage in church activities and function in various departments of our local churches (which is not wrong).
As a result, these activities wear us out. Our focus and attention are on the activities we do instead of on Jesus. Our busyness distracts us and we become blind to the true cause of our serving: to serve God.
We want praises
Why do we expect to be praised and thanked for our work in our churches? Didn’t Jesus say that we are just servants doing what we are told to do (Luke 17: 9-10) and that we are just doing our duty? Why then is that not enough for us?
When we expect to be seen, thanked, and praised, our efforts will weary us. Our labor will exhaust and can even upset us. If we don’t recognize this, we may end up with a nervous breakdown because of our ‘Christian serving’.
Sometimes we go just a step further and ask Jesus to step in on our behalf to let the other party know that we are treated unjustly: we do all the work and they do nothing!
When we launch our complaint to Jesus, we expect Him to avenge on our behalf. That is so fleshly, mortal, and ungodly! Yet we do this often. It seems that we Christians are much like other humans….
Serving God wholeheartedly
What does it mean to serve God wholeheartedly? Let’s have another look at Mary and Martha and now focus on what Jesus’ reaction was.
Jesus gave a surprising answer to Martha when she complained to Him. He turned the accusation back to her and pointed to her as the one who was wrong. This must have been an extreme shock to her. She had been convinced of herself and even thought she had the right to complain. Because of the way she served God, she had become blind to any counter opinion.
Jesus didn’t recognize her work as a service to Him. He pointed out to her she was too worried and too occupied with the wrong things, and told her to adopt the same attitude as the very person she was complaining about: Mary.
Why needed Martha to stop focusing on her hard work? Because living a Godly life and serving Jesus with our gifts and talents is not about hard work. All our efforts and hard work are not as important as serving God wholeheartedly and listening to Jesus.
Yes, he expects us to serve Him in Spirit and in truth, with all we have, and to engage actively in our churches. But what He considers is the attitude of our heart and the reason we serve Him. He does not look at our sweat and numbers of hours spent. What He wants from us is to spend time with Him.
When we want to serve God wholeheartedly, what matters most is the time we spend with Jesus. The reflection on Mary and Martha shows us the true meaning of serving God. Our time spent with God has eternal value.
We may have an idea about the importance of serving in the church, but we may not grasp in full how we should serve God.
If there would be anything like a heavenly resume, our time spent with Jesus would appear on it, not our hard work. Listening to Him and obeying Him would appear as valued characteristics at the top of our heavenly CV. Our church activities would appear somewhere down on our CV, under the paragraph about our experience. The highlight would be the attitude of our heart, not the activity itself.
I must admit, I am not free of the Martha-behavior. Yes, I have done it. I have complained in my heart and yes, I have filed complaints to Jesus as well. The way I served Him caused me to weary down. The good news is that when we find out how to serve Him wholeheartedly, we will not tire of helping in Church.
If we want to prevent Martha-behavior, we must remain alert and check the attitude of our hearts. It is only then that we will be truly able to serve God the way He wants, in Spirit and in truth. As a humble servant, just doing our jobs. That is how we serve God by serving in our churches.
Is being a Martha our outlook for our serving in the church?
Does our human nature destine us to be like Martha? No.
Will we ever measure up to God’s standards? No.
If this last one scares and intimidates us, we only must understand we don’t have to be perfect Christians, because we have a perfect God. We don’t need to know it all, because we have an all-knowing God. We don’t have to be free of mistakes, because we have a flawless God.
The way we serve in church is not about us, but about Jesus. So, let us not focus on ourselves, but on God. Let’s not concentrate on our service, but on the One we serve.
The God we serve is a forgiving God. He knows our human limitations, and He sees the desires of our hearts. In our weakness and shortcomings, He will even forgive us when we are more concerned about ourselves and our efforts than Him.
Even though this is true, we shouldn’t use it as an excuse to allow other people’s behavior to offend us. With His forgiveness, God also gives us the chance to repent. And that is what Christian living is all about: to obey Him as much as is possible within our human nature, to repent when we go wrong, and to return to Him with an open mindset.
The power to change from being a Martha to a Mary
Besides His free forgiveness, God has given us the power to change our attitude. We don’t have to remain Marthas. God has equipped us with a powerful tool to change into the person He wants us to be. He gave us a mind. We can change our life by changing our mindset. We can transform ourselves by renewing our mind; and transformation is what genuine, godly living is about.
How do we do that?
Whenever we realize we placed yourself in the Martha position when serving in our churches, we can pause, reflect, take a deep breath, and then change our attitude. We can change, we can adjust, no matter the feeling of injustice and unfairness in our hearts. That feeling is just our flesh.
And no matter how much our thoughts bombard us with complaints about others in the church, we can overcome them and choose to listen to Jesus instead of our own minds. We can bring an end to the ongoing accusations in our heads.
God gave us the power to change:
“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
Philippians 4:13 (NLT).
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Romans 12:2 (NLT).
How to change our Martha-mindset
If we want to prevent letting the feeling of unfairness to become a stronghold in our lives, it is vital to deal first with our minds and to stop complaining about others. Because if we don’t deal with it properly, it would hold us back from truly following Jesus.
But again, our faithful God has given us the tools to tear down this fortress in our minds:
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. “
II Corinthians 10:4-5 (NKJV).
We can take a step and tear down that feeling in our hearts and minds and then move on.
How do we take that step? We do that by committing ourselves fully to Jesus and making Him the foundation of our faith. When we ask the Holy Spirit to help us, He will do the rest.
It is never too late to change. We can become a Mary instead of remaining a Martha; we can serve God in our church, the way God wants us to do.
Father, forgive me for dwelling on my feelings of unfairness. Forgive me for feeling treated unfairly and thinking I deserve to be recognized for my work in my church. Lord, I am sorry that I am so often occupied and distracted by my selfish, hard work. I am sorry that I missed the most important thing, that is listening to You and spending time with You. Please forgive me and help me be alert next time. Help me, Lord, to serve You as You want me to serve. I simply want to do my duty. Thank You, Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
© Copyright 2022; Christel Owoo