There are sections of the Bible that annoy me. I fully recognize that this is a reflection on me, and not on scripture, but none the less the truth is that certain passages cause me to roll my eyes. This is usually because I find them patronizing, and that I associate them with platitudes delivered by well meaning but painfully mislead people.
One such scripture that I’ve been annoyed with more times than I care to recall is the story of Mary and Martha (how many times have you been told you should be more like Mary and less like Martha?)
To recap Luke 10: 38-42 “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
The thing that used to annoy me about this story was how obvious the lesson was. I mean, if Jesus – God incarnate – was coming to dinner at your house wouldn’t it seem kind of self-evident that you should probably just leave the dishes till tomorrow and go hang out with Him? I found it so frustrating to have scripture dedicated to such an obvious matter, and it irritated me to be reminded of it through asinine platitudes.
Suffice to say that for many years my perception of this story was heavily filtered a very literal interpretation. But recently God has been speaking to my heart on a much deeper level about the true message: that He wants to spend quality time with me every day.
The truth is that every single day God is in my home, wanting to spend quality time with me. But often I’m so busy doing chores (ironically often “for Him”!) that I completely fail to recognize that He’d simply like me to sit down and hang out.
I know that chores need to be done. Bosses need to be appeased, sales targets need to be reached, children need to be car pooled, and fridges need to be stocked. These are all legitimate responsibilities. But to reiterate Jesus’ words: “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one.”
I believe that the key to Jesus’ advice on this matter lies in the contrast between the words “many things” and “few things”.
If we’re honest, most of us would confess to having a schedule that is overcommitted. It’s as though we choose to carpet bomb our schedule with all manner of activity just in case the way to salvation really is through works.
Which leads me to yet another section of scripture that for many years irritated me: Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” This verse used to frustrate me no end, because my understanding of meekness, otherwise referred to as humility in other translations, was that it was a character trait, like extroversion, eloquence, or intellect, and as such was something you either had or you didn’t have. It seemed painfully unfair to me that people who had been arbitrarily blessed with a certain character trait were the ones who would inherit God’s blessings. It seemed to me as arbitrary as one saying “Blessed are the extroverts, for they will inherit the earth”!
If I’m completely honest, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be humble, as my perception of humility was that it was synonymous with impotence, self-righteous piousness, and that kind of wimpiness that is absolutely of no use to a world in crisis. I wanted assertiveness, solutions, and pioneering warrior-like action. The whole “who am I but a lowly worm” thing didn’t appeal to me in the slightest.
But of late God has been radically shifting my understanding of humility from the idea of it being a character trait, to the truth that it is actually a lifestyle choice.
I’ve come to understand that the actual definition of humility is “Not operating at full capacity”. And the more I see of life, the more firmly I become convinced that not maxing things out is really the key to inheriting God’s blessings.
For example, humility in our personal finances means not spending all the money we receive. By following the Bible’s directive to not spend more than we earn, to avoid debt, and to live under our means we place ourselves in a position where we can much more easily embrace the good things that God has for us. Lack of humility in our finances can absolutely rob us from being able to fully embrace what God has planned for our time here on earth. In these times of economic hardship, and the foretold difficulty that is increasingly going to be present in the final days, I believe that humility in personal finances will be absolutely crucial to the Church remaining unscathed.
Humility in our careers means advancing slowly but surely, as Proverbs 13:11 says “whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.” This allows us to build our character as we build our skills, so that when responsibility is placed upon us we are truly ready for it. In an age that has seen many charismatic young leaders fall from grace due to lack of character development, the need for humility in the vocational field, whether it be in the marketplace or in ministry, is very apparent.
Humility in our personal life means that we await the right seasons for sex, for marriage, and for the bearing of children. Rather than rushing ahead, knowing that it means pushing ourselves to the limits of our emotional capacity and our financial stability, we humbly recognize the reality of our current limits and the season that we find ourselves in.
Humility in our schedule means choosing to do less than what we know we could get away with. It means not being a workaholic, and not cramming our free time with endless meetings and social engagements.
Please understand that I’m not saying that an accomplished career, meetings, and social engagements aren’t necessarily good endeavours, because they absolutely can be. But it does cause me great alarm, and an increasing level of anger, to see how absolutely unavailable a good portion of the body of Christ have rendered themselves through schedules that completely fail to take into account Christ’s exhortation and example that we should seek to do less, so as to remain available to Him.
A good part of my anger regarding this matter is the motivation that seems to lurk behind so much of it: Greed. We call our greed nice little names like “ambition”, “being responsible”, “going full-tilt”, and “being a good example”, amongst other things. But the reality is that it is no more than materialistic, money-whoring, selfishness. It is ungodly, and I believe is a big part of the reason that the Western church is failing to operate in power at present.
If you doubt me in this, just think back on how many times you’ve asked a fellow believer how they are, and have been met with a monologue about all the different ways that they’re busy. Or maybe they just responded with the word “busy”, because they were too busy to even have a proper conversation! Sadly I think that we’ve become so used to this response that many of us don’t even question it any more.
You see, materialism is not exclusively about a rampant desire for material possessions. More generally speaking it is actually the prioritizing of earthly reality, material reality, above spiritual reality. And I would venture to say that material reality is the highest priority reflected in many of our schedules today.
I believe that God is calling us to simplicity in our schedules, simplicity in our commitments, and simplicity in our lifestyles. Indeed Jesus praised Mary for making this choice saying “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Humility gives leeway for grace. Humility gives leeway for the unexpected things of life to happen. Humility gives margin for mistakes, and it allows the natural process of learning through trial and error to remain safe. Humility provides protection.
So I call you to a life of less. Less acquaintances. Less hobbies. Less work. Less purchases. Less recklessness. Don’t accept any more responsibility than you have to! Spend time with God. Real time, not just fifteen minutes at the end of a hectic day. Spend time intentionally with carefully chosen friends, being fully available to their hearts and minds. Spend time noticing and enjoying the beauty of creation, and spend time simply being. Because those that choose such a lifestyle of humility, such a radical, subversive, freeing lifestyle of humility, are, according to Jesus, those that will inherit the earth.
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